Corona and closing the Scottish border

Earlier today, I wrote a Twitter thread on the subject of corona and closing borders in the UK (which in truth are really administrative boundaries within one country). As well as a few typos, there were one or two thoughts I hoped might have a slightly longer life than Twitter usually affords; hence this post, which is essentially a reworking of those tweets.

Some Scottish nationalists are calling for the closure of the border (they mean with England of course) to ensure Scotland can ‘beat’ the virus. Their separatist newspaper The National headlined the subject recently:

At least some of the statistics available tell a different story than Scotland being under threat from England:

You’ll see that the rate of infection amongst the population of  Scotland is marginally higher than England. But the rate in Wales is much higher than either England or Scotland.

I don’t pretend that this simple comparison tells the whole story. But if the rate of infection were your main concern, and closing borders your solution, England might wish to close its border with Wales and might find some marginal benefit in closing its border with Scotland.

The idea that corona in Scotland can be ‘eliminated’ (The National) by closing our one land border is nonsense. The virus is here already and even under lockdown people travel back and forth by ferry to Ireland and by flights to other countries. I notice that even with greatly diminished flight schedules, Scotland’s three largest airports currently have flights to the Netherlands, France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Spain, and possibly other destinations.

Moreover, some of the earliest cases in Scotland that caused clusters of infection came direct from the Netherlands and Italy, bypassing the rest of the UK entirely (recorded here).

The virus will probably only be eliminated when a safe vaccine has been proven to work and is in wide use.

There might be a case for greater restrictions in particular areas of the UK based on evidence, for example as currently being extended in the city of Leicester because of a spike in infections there. But that’s not the same as ‘closing the border’ and could just as easily apply within Scotland. Indeed, in response to my tweets on the subject, someone produced a map showing that the current rates of infection in the two English counties that abut Scotland (Cumbria and Northumbria) are very low. I suspect (to be checked) that they may be higher in some Scottish cities, like Glasgow.

Finally, is it not a remarkable coincidence that the vast majority of people promoting the closure of the border as a solution to coronavirus are also Scottish nationalists (including prominent politicians)? None of those nationalists, as far as I know, are qualified virologists or epidemiologists. They do however want Scotland to separate from the UK. There has to be a strong suspicion that that is their main motivation in promoting the closure of the border, whether or not the Scottish Government has the power to do so.

As a footnote, I might add that after it’s over, but not too long after, we need a thorough, honest and objective public enquiry into the pandemic. It needs to start from the basis of understanding, not blame. What actually happened? What did we do well? What could we have done better? What should we do differently in future? I fear such an enquiry will not happen at any level – international, national (UK) or Scottish.

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10 Responses to Corona and closing the Scottish border

  1. THOMAS HUTTON says:

    In Scotland there have been no new deaths for 4 consecutive days while England has had thousands of people flocking to its south coast beaches for a good old knees up. We dont want these ***** coming here. That is why some people want the very real border between 2 separate countries closed and not just indy supporters. Even some european countries are looking at restrictions on English people coming in to their countries so its not just us.

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    • Roger White says:

      I’ve edited out your bad language. I obviously don’t agree with you but on a factual point no European country is looking at restricting (or encouraging) ‘English people’. Whatever their decisions, they will apply to all UK citizens.

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    • Sam Duncan says:

      And a couple of weeks ago Glasgow saw thousands flocking to George Square for a politicized knees-up. Even leaving that aside, Kelvingrove and the Botanic Gardens were absolutely packed last Thursday.

      So where does that leave us? Don’t try and turn this into a virtuous-Scots-vs.-idiot-English thing, because it just won’t wash.

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  2. Sam Duncan says:

    When did this become about “eliminating” the virus, by the way? As you suggest, that’s a fool’s errand. The original stated purpose of the lockdown was to give the National Health time to prepare, and “flatten the curve”. That job has been done. We never even came close to exceeding ICU capacity.

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  3. MR JON D BISSETT says:

    Hi, saying that the border is just an administrative one in one country is utter rubbish, 3 different countries make up britain and 4 make up the UK, surely you to write this article you have a basic grasp of geography? We are talking about two very different countries with different strategies on tackling the virus.

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    • Roger White says:

      Well I have a degree in geography, but it probably counts for little these days. I’ve given up debating with nationalists the difference between country/nation/nation state as we’ll never agree. On the question of strategies I think you’ll find they’re not that far apart, with the Scottish Government mainly following the UK’s lead, usually a short while later and despite marginally different language.

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  4. Iain Lamb says:

    The rates of infection you qoute are those relating to all infections since the start of the pandemic. Do you think that’s relevant to your argument? Surely what’s relevant is the current rate of infectiousness, which the SG estimate is now five times lower in Scotland than it is in England?

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    • Roger White says:

      Thanks for your comment. I did say ‘I don’t pretend that this simple comparison tells the whole story’ and referred to current rates of infection in Northumbria and Cumbria. Since I wrote the piece you may have noticed there’s a ‘hotspot’ spanning the border in Cumbria/Dumfries and Galloway. That seems to be being dealt with in a sensitive cross-border way, not by applying some blanket closure. You refer to an SG estimate. The more relevant comparison would be between local areas along the border, as I’ve just exemplified. I’d also add that comparing and understanding the statistics locally, within the UK and internationally is a nightmare for many reasons (and I don’t just mean for me).

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  5. Gordon Highlander says:

    I thought that the SNP during the referendum campaign claimed that independence would be simple and easy because no controlled border would be established between England and Scotland. There would be no checkpoints, barriers, barbed wire or anything else and we could all come and go as we pleased. Trade and tourism would be completely unaffected. Now they are keen to try to pretend that after all there is a ‘real’ border between the two countries, although for three centuries it has only in reality existed as a line on a map, a boundary for council spending and policing, and a series of signposts. I wonder how the SNP and the Scots people would react if London announced that it was intending to close the border to all those traveling from Scotland? I suspect that they would start ranting about toxic English nationalism, anti-Scots racism and moaning that we were all supposed to be in this together. Border closure would prove the need for independence. The Scottish nationalist vision is based on Anglophobia (disguised as sanctimonious civic nationalism), downright hypocrisy and an ideological view that whatever the problem the only answer is independence. There are an increasing number of people down south really hoping that Scotland gets it and the border is permanently closed.

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  6. jrknowles1051252520 says:

    It’s all political nonsense and lies! They seem to think they are doing better than anywhere else but I cannot see it.
    Here are figures for 1st July sorted by No. Of cases.
    No. Of cases. Population. Pop Density(pers/sqkm.)
    London -27,680. 8.9m. 5701
    N.West. -27340. 7.3m. 520
    S.East – 22,882. 9.1m. 481
    W.Mids- 17,092. 5.9m. 457
    Scotland-15,827. 5.3m. 70
    Wales- 15,775 3.1m. 152
    Yk & Hum-15,366 5.5m. 357
    E of E. -15,306. 6.2m. 326
    N. East. -10,565 2.6m. 311
    E. Mids. – 9,967. 4.8m. 310 (includes Leicester)
    S.West. -7,973. 5.6m. 236
    N.I. -4,880. 1.9m. 137
    It should have been a walk in the park for Scotland with that pop density.

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