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Social Care during Covid-19 exposes the failing British unitary state

Writing: Vaishnavi Ramu

I’ve worked in social care for over a year and a half now. During this period, I learnt a great deal about myself, the person I care for, and what really mattered in life. To be able to get yourself out of bed, brush your teeth and make yourself breakfast are simple things, yet many people cannot do this without the assistance of others. So when Boris Johnson announced on the 23rd of March that Britain would be going into lockdown due to Covid-19, I knew that for the next few weeks, or months, what my job was: to do everything in my power to protect the person I care for from the worst. I only wish I could say the same for the aims of the British government.

There is no shred of doubt that throughout the UK, essential workers have been deprived of adequate PPE, both in terms of quality and quantity. Furthermore, I believe all four nations in the United Kingdom, until recently, did their utmost best to cooperate with each other and put out the same message consistently: stay home and save lives. Stay alert, on the other hand, seems to have (unintentionally) given devolved governments the reins to steer their own respective nations from fatal danger.

However, there is only so much one can do in a inherently flawed system. When reports came out in April that PPE had been prioritised to go to England, [1] I had to ask myself this: what if Scotland had the necessary powers to decide for herself the best way through this awful pandemic, or better yet, full autonomy? Is there a chance we would have handled this better as an independent country?

Health and social care is a devolved matter in Scotland; yet trade and industry are reserved matters that the British government deal with. It is no secret that the Scottish and British governments have clashed together on many issues (Brexit for one, which I thoroughly miss seeing on the news nowadays). Nonetheless, Covid-19 has amplified the failure of this cooperation to a level that Brexit didn’t. This lack of coordination is now costing lives.

Scotland is a little bit behind the curve compared to England, therefore making the risk a bit higher here, and the urgent need for PPE more serious (particularly in our care homes).[2] Say you are an NHS worker currently working in Scotland, and you urgently need to order some more PPE. You place the order; this is immediately in the hands of British government policy. The manufacturing of this PPE, and its subsequent delivery, is down to trade and industry. If there is any delay in its manufacturing, quality or delivery, the Scottish government are well within their rights to shift blame to their UK counterpart. Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon said herself back in April if reports of diverting PPE to England were found to be true, it would be “unacceptable”. [3] Scotland was subsequently reassured, though the fact that these reports came out in the first place is highly unsettling. If Scotland’s slower trajectory means we’re going to be in this for a little longer, Scottish essential workers need all the protection they can get; something that a unitary state will simply not allow for Scotland to prioritise.

The Covid-19 pandemic has only amplified ongoing issues with this system with a magnifying glass. If anything, it is a mere catalyst for the inevitable direction Scotland is going in; more powers and eventually, full independence. Scotland has a population of little over five million, but its death toll is over 2000.[4] When you look at other nations with similar populations, such as Norway, their deaths are a fraction of Scotland’s at a mere 235.[5] Finland, also with a comparable population, has a death toll of 307.[6] I realise there are many other factors to be considered here, such as Scotland being extremely popular place to visit and study, as well differences between counting deaths and gathering data from country to country. However, with a difference of around two thousands deaths in each case, along with one of the world’s best healthcare system, there’s no doubt that this country got something wrong. I came to my own conclusions; there is every chance that an independent Scotland would have handled this crisis with far more competence.

The Scottish government shouldn’t come out unscathed from this either. With reports of a government cover-up of Covid-19 cases as early as February[7] to the chief medical officer breaking lockdown rules,[8] it’s clear that Scotland made her own mistakes. Nevertheless, the British government’s handling of this crisis, and failure to tailor to each of the four nation’s needs, are errors that cannot be overlooked. The lack of coordination in social care is a symptom of the failing unitary state in Britain; and is only one more nail in the coffin of a dying union.

Figures correct as of 24th May 2020.

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