Covid debate shows why England is another country and I'm glad to live in Scotland – Tommy Sheppard MP

As we drag our way towards the second quietest Hogmanay of my lifetime, we can all agree it’ll be good to see the back of 2021.

We’d hoped for better than this, but the coronavirus mutation had other ideas.

We know enough now to say Omicron is less severe than its predecessors. Perhaps we’re now on a trajectory where each successive wave damages us less and less.

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The pandemic will morph into an endemic viral illness. By the time we get to Omega, for most of us maybe these viruses will just be a seasonal inconvenience.

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But we’re not there yet. And in the meantime, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Much as I don’t want theatres closed and pubs and restaurants a quarter full, I’d rather that than see our NHS unable to cope and our emergency services compromised.

So, I’m glad I live in Scotland. I’m glad we have someone in charge who listens to scientific advice and acts decisively to protect public health. At least the Scottish government is taking responsibility and doing what it can to compensate those businesses affected.

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Not for the first time, England looks like another country. There, dither and delay is the order of the day. And it’s counterproductive. If you’re running a venue, is it better to have the government say you don’t have to close but scares your customers away?

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Scotland is fortunate to have someone, like Nicola Sturgeon, in charge who listens to scientific advice and acts decisively to protect public health (Picture: Russell Cheyne/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Why this procrastination? Well, as with Brexit and so much else, because of an internal argument in the Tory party.

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Two weeks ago, 100 Tory MPs, fully half their backbenchers, voted against even the baby steps Johnson introduced in England before Christmas. Among their ranks are some shocking views. Take Joy Morrisey MP. She decried the measures as those of a “public health socialist state”.

Her comments give us an insight into Tory thinking. It’s true public health mandates are a constraint on individual freedom. For most of us, that’s as it should be.

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But for the right wing of the Tory party the freedom of individuals to do what they want regardless of the consequences for others is paramount. The freedom to exploit people through low wages. The freedom to pollute. The freedom to incite hate.

For most of us, individual freedoms are balanced against social responsibility. That’s why we pay some of our wages in taxes, why we don’t drive when drunk, and why we isolate when we have an infectious disease.

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For me, this applies to countries too. I can’t wait to reset our politics and give people in Scotland the choice of a better way of governing themselves.

I want Scotland to become politically independent so that we have the freedom to run things the way we want. But I accept we have responsibilities to others too, starting with the good people of England, currently being treated like playthings by the Tory right.

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We share this island and whether it’s marine protection, inter-city travel, climate action, or a host of other matters, we need to work together in a better partnership.

Independence gives us that opportunity. Far from keeping us separate, it will be the basis for engagement with others on an equal basis. So, Happy New Year when it comes. Let’s make this a better one.

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Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East

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