Scottish independence: Covid vaccine in my veins puts Scotland on course for economic recovery that leaving UK would damage – John McLellan

Right at the start of the pandemic, I received a letter from NHS Scotland telling me I had to shield until it was all over; locked away in a room, food left outside the door, no exercise and all that Cooler King malarkey.

Military doctor Captain Robert Reid prepares to administer a Covid-19 vaccine to Edinburgh resident Derek Fraser at a temporary vaccination centre set up at the Royal Highland Showground (Picture: Andrew Milligan/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

It all seemed a bit much because although I’d had heart surgery five years previously and had a bit of very mild asthma, I didn’t consider myself at particular risk and indeed a phone call from the GP surgery a few weeks later confirmed I was in the clear and the concern was all because of a suspected condition I’d had in my 30s.

A couple of months later a very apologetic follow-up letter from NHS Scotland confirmed what the GP had said, so thank goodness for that phone call or I could have been banged up for the whole of spring.

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So as the vaccine roll-out was being explained and I tried to find out when the late-50s were likely to get their jags, I presumed luck would go into reverse and I’d be in the same queue as all the other 50-somethings around May, but once again it was the GP to the rescue with a call a couple of days ago to let me know I had an appointment.

Yes, dear reader, by the time you see this article I will probably have had my inoculation. Whether it’s because of a heart-valve repair, a bit of a wheeze now and again or the mysterious sarcoidosis which got the cardiologists at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary so excited, it doesn’t matter because I’m getting an armful of either Oxford Best or Finest Pfizer. Whatever’s the house special, mein genial jabber.

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I’ll not have a word said against the Scottish government’s vaccine roll-out. Flagging, thousands behind England, unused vaccines dumped at the EICC? That wee round plaster on my arm says it’s fine and dandy.

For me, the light is now definitely shining at the end of the Covid tunnel, so it would be a bit of a blow if I picked up the virus before the stuff gets the chance to give my system the necessary self-defence course to see off the Chinese or South African invader. But in two or three weeks? Game on again… real world, here I come. Except, of course, it’s not that simple.

For a start, this afternoon the real world for me would involve a couple of jars in The Sun at Richmond and a taxi to Twickenham.

The real world we all want is months, if not years away, despite this week’s optimistic Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee prediction that the UK will rebound on the back of the vaccine roll-out to pre-pandemic levels of economic growth by next year.

The big if is whether British people will splash the estimated £125bn stashed away because there was nothing on which to spend it. With bans on mass international travel likely to last all year, much of the rebound will rely on those bulging British piggy banks being emptied in British holiday resorts or on home improvements which have been on hold all year.

The MPC also found that nearly three-quarters of the people they surveyed said they would not be breaking into their savings because of uncertainty, and with unemployment expected to rise from five per cent to 7.8 per cent by the end of the year ­­­­­– about 2.7 million people – who can blame them?

The sting in the tail of accelerating the vaccine programme is it hastens the end of furlough scheme, so a lot relies on the grey pound and vaccinated retired people getting enjoyment of their twilight years back on track.

Like all economic rune-reading, recovery predictions rely heavily on second-guessing confidence, and after the second wave smashed summer hopes of an end to the pandemic, every little doubt about vaccine effectiveness, like the Irish microbiologist claiming there is no scientific basis for giving over-55s the Oxford jag, dents nascent optimism.

So much focus on pandemic recovery risks overlooking other impacts and the MPC says its November 2019 prediction of slower economic growth – less than one per cent – due to Brexit uncertainty has been borne out.

The Brexit effect is therefore no longer a prediction but a factor, but not so the impact on the Scottish economy of an independence referendum and a vote to leave.

This week’s London School of Economics’ “Disunited Kingdom” report estimated trade costs for an independent Scotland would be up to three times greater than the impact of Brexit and could cost the equivalent of £2,800 a head, although from the resulting social media spat, the result of Brexit and independence could be anything between the LSE’s worst-case scenario of an average 8.7 per cent per-capita income drop or a £35,000 boost if only we were like Sweden.

When the SNP’s own Growth Commission accepts the transition would be hard, the latter figure is somewhat unlikely, and the LSE report didn’t look at currency.

The result of currency uncertainty would be capital flight and some economists are adamant that without home-based commercial banks to generate money the only options would be a new currency or clinging on until EU membership and euro entry was negotiated.

Agree or disagree, messing about with people’s money is a guaranteed vote-loser and what hits confidence hardest is uncertainty. Like all those people squirrelling their money away waiting for the spending siren to sound, potential investors in Scotland are likely to do the same.

If the vaccine programme’s success is key to confidence in the short term, the medium-to-long term is crying out for stability after what has been a decade of economic, constitutional and medical volatility. The vaccine coursing through my veins and millions of others puts us on course to recovery; if only there were injections to deal with the contagion of easy solutions.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor

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