Nurses and farmers should define our futures, not unionists and nationalists

Nurses and farmers should define our futures, not unionists and nationalists

by Victor Clements
article from Friday 8, May, 2020

WITH ALL that is going on in the world, to think that there are still people in Scotland talking about the constitution is just pathetic, and shows just how shallow our politics and those who report it can sometimes really be. It is a national obsession akin to a virus itself, an indulgence we can no longer afford, but something that has become very difficult to shake off. Nationalists and unionists are increasingly and equally to blame. Some people cannot seem to be able to see the world through any other prism, but for most of us, this way of thinking is now totally irrelevant and redundant. Our future cannot now be defined in these terms, and the parameters set by this debate in the past are now too narrow to allow us to take on the challenges that are in front of us.

Where we are now

It is a fact that this current crisis is being fought at a UK level, with overall strategy being devised and implemented from Downing Street, with input from devolved administrations, and the whole thing being funded by the UK Treasury. No-one can argue anything different. We will face all sorts of problems going forwards for the next decade or more in the aftermath of all this, and what we have been discussing since 2012 is not the answer to any of that. The issues are simply too great. Some will be reluctant to admit it, but it is true. Events have intervened, and that argument is now over, or, at least, it should be.

The bigger picture

The underlying problem we face is not the sort of government we have and whether everyone voted for it or not, but that this is not the only time over the last 10-12 years that we have had huge world wide shocks which we have had to try and endure. The oil price crash in 2014 was devastating for the Scottish economy, but the UK economy was strong enough to absorb that and pull us through it. The crash is being repeated again now.

The 2008 financial crisis was an order of magnitude worse, and ten years later, we are still dealing with the consequences, but we survived thanks to massive financial interventions. During this time, there were 3-4 diseases that arose that could have become pandemics, but mercifully did not. Bird flu, swine flu, SARS and MERS. Any one of these could have had the impact that we are currently having to deal with. The smallest change to the tiniest bit of DNA could have made all the difference, and this is not something that is within our control. These things are often just down to chance. And we know that coronavirus is not going to go away. It is always going to be here now, and we are always going to have to be on guard against it, perhaps having to re-enter lock downs at short notice if it looks like ever getting away again. Almost certainly, it will be sitting incubating and possibly mutating somewhere on the planet.

The reality that we all have to face is that we live on a planet with 7.7 billion people on it, and this is projected to rise to 10 billion by 2050, and most of those people are demanding a higher standard of living that consumes more resources. We are living at the very edge of being able to maintain a sustainable existence, and that inevitably means that we are going to be facing more of these big world wide disruptions in the future when things go wrong, perhaps up to 2-3 per decade. Coronavirus may well come back, but there will be other threats as well, and as we have seen, they might happen very quickly indeed.

The just- in -time world that we live in is just as precarious in practice as we might have feared. Whether you agree with Greta and climate change or not, the world we live in was never designed to cope with 10 billion people, and to get by, we are all going to have to re-adjust our horizons a bit, with each of us individually having to make do with a good bit less, and using technology to cut out the waste.

Acknowledging reality

We all need to get our heads around this and work out how to deal with it so that we can be more resilient to these shocks. This is the real challenge in front of us. We did kind of know this before, but maybe didn’t quite take it in. We know better now. Our constitutional navel gazing has no place to play in this. That issue should now be dead, and it doesn’t say much about us as a nation if we try to keep it alive.

History and learning from it

My hope for the future is that once this immediate crisis has been contained, that the political parties go out and recruit a huge swathe of NHS nurses and farmers to stand as parliamentary candidates, and they can change our outlook and our future in the way that a previous generation did when they returned from World War 2. We owe it to these people to let them have their say. The parallel that I see is that people backed their war-time leader in their hour of need, but when they had the opportunity to then decide afterwards what they wanted for themselves, they then chose something different, and something that was very ambitious indeed. If the people at the cutting edge of things can forge an alternative and credible agenda today, based on supplying our most basic needs, then others will have to react to that, and we will all be in a better place.

There is an outstanding opportunity for the Labour party in particular under Sir Keir Starmer at the moment, if only they could pull themselves together. The Conservatives too will be mindful of what happened post 1945, and if Boris was talking about levelling the playing field before all this, he will have to work out how to genuinely deliver this now.  More than ever we need credible centre left and centre right parties who are strong enough to keep each other honest. There will always be a role for Liberal and environmental parties and other voices as well. The need for a nationalist party is not so obvious or pressing any more.

Looking forwards

The world has changed now, and so must we. The future is yet to come, it is still in front of us, and what it looks like with depend on how we choose to define it. That future needs to be defined by nurses, farmers, shop assistants and bus drivers, not unionists, nationalists, political commentators and journalists. The latter are interested in the problems and the conflict, ordinary people are interested in the solutions. It is the solutions and the future visions that are important now, not the hair-splitting and endless incremental analysis of issues that have no relevance to us in the new world in which we now find ourselves.

Victor Clements lives in Aberfeldy in Highland Perthshire, runs a woodland advisory business and is Chair of Aberfeldy Community Council

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