As our alliteration-loving politicians love to say, from Glasgow to Gwent to Gloucester, it genuinely felt like we were all in it together. The Covid crisis was a shared experience that many, including myself, thought would strengthen bonds of the Union increasingly under strain because of Brexit.
However, as we ride the second wave and prepare for a long, hard winter that sense of being one nation feels as remote as Operation Moonshot.
A public health crisis, which should and could have brought the leaders of our nations and regions together, has instead created a situation where the UK feels more fragmented and like four completely separate countries than I have ever known.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have chosen to go their own way. There are complaints about a lack of UK-wide coherence, adding to the confusion, but I don’t blame these leaders. The UK Government has reacted to the pandemic with such an overly centralised, heavy-footed and exclusive manner, it has forced regional and national leaders to go it alone.
The tragedy is, it didn’t have to be this way. In a crisis, it’s not only courteous and common sense to create good lines of communication with other players, it’s politically savvy, because as well as sharing best practice, Downing Street could do what it’s really good: sharing the blame.
There has been a woeful, disrespectful lack of engagement with the First Ministers and the regional mayors, especially in northern England, who hit back last weekend.
No 10’s sense of tribalism has clouded its judgement. Even though the majority of northern mayors are Labour, these are not head-banging Jeremy Corbyn followers, figures like Andy Burnham and Dan Jarvis are pragmatic, moderate figures. Why wouldn’t you bring them in and keep them close?
Even the West Midland’s Tory mayor isn’t happy. No 10 argues they haven’t consulted with the nations and regions because of leaks. That argument loses any merit when it operates like a sieve when it comes to favoured lobby journalists who splash the latest Covid policy ideas on the front of newspapers, often the first time regional leaders hear of them.
Not exactly good for unity. It’s pretty obvious the SNP has a clear political agenda but no one can argue against the fact that Nicola Sturgeon is a gifted political communicator who has seen her personal approval ratings shoot up as Boris Johnson has seen his plummet.
Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, also got public backing for his handling of the pandemic even though he has just announced tough measures, effectively closing the border to stop people from high-risk areas in England entering the country. Sturgeon is considering similar steps.
It’s unsurprising that support for independence is at a record high. Next year’s Scottish elections will be a fight for a second referendum. It will boil down to Nicola versus Boris. Bad news for unionists across the UK. Johnson could have used this crisis to show that he was a one-nation Tory even if it was a cynical move to make the case for the Union. Instead, he feels like the Prime Minister for southern England and under his reign, we have become a disunited kingdom.