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.