Covid vaccine ID cards: Why we should be concerned about 'passport' plans – Alex Cole-Hamilton

I put my vital statistics into that vaccine calculator website when it went live. You know, the one which tells you when to expect your first and second Covid jag and where you are in Scotland’s vaccine queue.

"Congratulations!" the landing page cheerfully proclaimed, "There are only 3.6 million people in front of you!"

It makes sense, I’m in my early 40s and enjoy good health, I’m happy to wait my turn and there are many hundreds of thousands of people in this country who for reasons of vulnerability need it faster than I do.

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The vaccines are our route out, but we should resist efforts by either government to use our vaccine status to create a twin-track route out of lockdown.

It’s now clear, if you read the mood music in both London and Edinburgh this week, that so called ‘vaccine passports’ are almost certain to feature in our gradual release from lockdown.

Anything that speeds up the relaxation of pandemic restrictions will have some natural attraction to it, but as a liberal, the idea of these passports, or medical ID cards (which is what they really are), makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Every citizen of this country has weathered the coronavirus emergency shoulder to shoulder over the past year.

At every stage, we’ve been governed by the same restrictions (albeit with some regional variation) and we’ve born those hardships together. Now, both our governments are proposing a two-tier unwind from lockdown. A faster rate for those who have received their vaccine, a slower rate for those who haven’t.

A man presents his 'green passport', proof that he has been vaccinated against the Covid-19 coronavirus at a theatre in Jerusalem. The idea is being considered in the UK (Picture: Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

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Never before have governments required us, on a population-wide basis, to produce private medical data and evidence of clinical treatment, to allow freedom of activity and of movement.

It will require the storage, verification and sharing of personal data on an unprecedented scale and the track record of both governments on the handling of such data is far from spotless.

There have been catastrophic breaches and foul-ups, ranging from innocent people being ascribed criminal records, to bin bags with CD-ROMs of personal information left on a roundabout.

I have a natural scepticism about my personal and medical data being housed in the dark vaults of government and so should you. I’m also concerned that once we get used to carrying around an ID card for vaccines, it’s a short hop, skip and a jump to big controlling governments like the SNP and the Conservatives deciding life would be a lot simpler if people carried ID cards with all of their data, all of the time.

Whilst the civil liberties aspect of this is unsettling to me, there is something deeply unfair about it too. Think for a moment, who will be last to get their cards.

It’ll be the 16 to 20-year-olds. Those same 16 to 20-year-olds who have missed out on more than a year of in-person teaching, who have paid full whack for university accommodation they’ll never use and who will suffer the most in terms of long-term unemployment in the labour market.

A faster release of lockdown for some, via vaccine ID cards may look attractive politically, but could have grave and irrevocable implications for our country and its people.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh Western

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