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Scotto Voce

20th June 2020

Furry animal syndrome and the curious Government U-turn on badger cull 

By Archie Stirling

It is beyond the pale that the Prime Minister’s fiancée Carrie Symonds has directly interfered in matters where she has no business or authority.

The High Court’s decision to rule in favour of an 11th hour U-turn by the Government to refuse a Derbyshire badger cull despite all the criteria having been met is both bizarre and disturbing.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which sought a judicial review of the decision, was confident it would be overturned, not least because so many farmers’ livelihoods depended on it.

The cull was necessary to stem the disastrous spread by badgers of bovine TB among cattle herds. The Government had initially given the go-ahead for the cull but last September it stunned the farming community with an inexplicable change of heart.

Lobbying by Badger Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer included a meeting in Downing Street with Ms Symonds, a vocal animal rights’ campaigner.

The NFU, describing the reversal of the Government’s position as ‘irrational’, called for the judicial review amid claims that Boris Johnston had been influenced by his partner.

But judge Mrs Justice Andrews ruled the change of mind was not irrational or unlawful. She said it had been a ‘difficult’ decision which had involved the ‘exercise of complex political and ethical value judgements’.

She added: ‘In short, however compelling the case for permitting the licence to be issued might appear, there were countervailing political considerations which legitimately led the responsible decision-maker to conclude that no licence should be granted in Derbyshire for that year.’

I must be missing something here. The Government stopped the cull – exactly what, unless I am seriously mistaken, the Badger Trust and Carrie Symonds were demanding. I can also understand why the Government might have thought there was political gain to be had by refusing the cull, no doubt as a sop to ‘the furry animal brigade’ of which Carrie Symonds and Co are fully paid up members.(Don’t cattle have fur too?)

The political gain, if any, has been meekly handed to Symonds, the Badger Trust and other like-minded groups.

Meanwhile, entire herds of cattle are having to be destroyed – along with the lives and livelihoods of Derbyshire farmers.

The Government’s last-minute decision to halt the cull has a curious and an extremely pungent odour.

15th June 2020

Of course Black Lives Matter. But so too does our history - good and bad

By Archie Stirling

We are in the initial throes of civil war, and although many will not yet understand this they had better wake up or they will find the country they think they are part of gone.

What is happening now, without any fightback, is everything the far Left and the Corbynistas have ever dreamt of. Total control of the ‘state’ media, aka the BBC, run by the wisest fools who, with unrelenting cynicism, pack panels with left leaning individuals to supposedly represent the Right and outright Trotskyists for the Left and call it balanced.

Black Lives Matter? Of course they do and to suggest otherwise is criminal as well as immoral.

Cries of, ‘the Government must do something’ ring round the rafters. But what must it do - other than set up yet another commission to investigate whether racism exists or not? 

Education and equality of opportunity are the only answers a commission needs to come up with. Yes, there is intolerance on both the extreme Right and the extreme Left. And yes, you can legislate against overt and criminal displays of bigotry and hatred. 

Hearts and Minds

But this about changing hearts and minds. The only way to do that is not through legislation but with education. Only then will turn the tide back towards the more tolerant society that we were before allowing ourselves to be suborned by the historically illiterate narrow-minded bigots who now make up the virtue signalling liberal elite. 

We must also re-educate the police, whose job is to keep law and order regardless of the circumstances not allowing one demonstration do as it pleases with senior police officers bending the knee in sympathy with protestors. It is their job to be strictly impartial when policing the population. 

Whether they did this out of fear or to signal their personal sympathy is irrelevant – they should not have done it.

One of the problems with the police is that there is no real leadership almost anywhere in the service and little understanding of their proper role in society. If you doubt this listen to senior officers when obliged to repeat their mainly incoherent opinions in public.

Lawlessness must be stamped out wherever it occurs. There is no excuse for it.

You may think it is only totalitarian states that supress freedoms – but make no mistake there are many, here and now in the UK, who do not believe in free speech unless it supports their particular prejudice. 


At this moment we, the great majority, are becoming the victims. Again, make no mistake there are those on the Left who want to stifle dissent and crush any attempt at debate.

Even now we have reached a position where any attempt to discuss reasonably the dichotomy between an appalling act by a policeman on an arrested man and the elevation of that man as a symbol of everything that is wrong in the world is preposterous.

Angry people of every hue are demanding action – but what action? Something immediate out of the sweetie jar? Legislation? What kind? Ensure that all representation is proportional? OK let’s look at that: Ethnic minorities make up roughly 13% of the UK population. But if we were to limit our top-notch athletes to a similar level, bang would go our Olympics chances. If we applied the same logic to professional football – well, you get the picture.

What we need to provide above everything else is opportunity. And we get it through education.

How? Reduce class sizes to around 10 and make teaching, as it should be, a vocation and a respected career.

It is a national disgrace that teaching in this country is classed as a second-grade profession. But to elevate it to the status it deserves, requires the recruitment of first-grade entrants and not, as is frequently the case, a lifeboat for people with limited aspiration, precious few qualifications or even less talent.

What we are faced with now is mindless virtue signalling to show solidarity by white people and cries of do something from those of a different colour. 


Our history is our history, good or bad it made us what we are. This is the country where immigrants over many generations have wanted to come. This is the country that has assimilated them and made them part of us - so please don’t try to change us.

There is an old saying that those who don’t understand history are condemned to repeat it.

You want irony? Listen to those ignorantly objecting to Cecil Rhodes on the grounds he had slaves – he didn’t. He was many things - some good, some bad - but slaves he had not.

If the protesting students of Oxford, led by a Rhodes scholar, want his statue taken down so be it. Break up the fund and donate the proceeds to some worthy cause and ensure there are no more beneficiaries of a great scheme which benefits both the scholars and the UK and by promoting understanding between nations.

If we are not careful, and it may be too late, we will end up like the former Soviet Union airbrushing our history, renaming streets, pulling down statues, trolling and defaming those who object.

Black Lives Matter is a worthy movement but not at the expense of stifling debate, disallowing any opinion other than the approved one. That way lies the totalitarian state.

What we are doing now would be funny on some TV sitcom were it not so tragic: Gone with the Wind – gone; Fawlty Towers? Gone; Winston Churchill’s statue? They want gone. The cenotaph celebrating heroes from two world wars – also on the gone list.

Local councils drawing up lists of statues commemorating past worthies, some good some bad, ready to go.

The Mayor of London, grandstanding without a thought as to the future of his electorate, sadly not gone – yet.

Behind all this is the Left’s dislike of British history with it’s grandeur and adventurism with its consequences both good and bad; with its heroes some flawed, some simply dishonest but many worthy and doing the best they could for a country and an empire they were proud of and which whatever you may say took the rule of law to places where it simply had not existed.

Perhaps you may argue that they had no place trying to change other parts of the world but that was the way things were. Today things may be different but only the foolish condemn the past for the mores of the present.  

14 June 2020

Why politicians can't expect society to change when they have no intention of changing themselves

By Sarah Tern

Well, that didn’t last long.

After the full shocking impact of the coronavirus pandemic had penetrated the public consciousness, it was widely hoped that the human touch might just become a little gentler.

Out of the anxiety, chaos and fear caused by the disease (or more accurately the government response), it was thought that maybe – just maybe – a less hostile, more sympathetic and supportive community spirit might emerge.

After all, weren’t we all in this together?

Only a few weeks ago, Boris Johnston expressed the optimistic belief that the crisis had brought out ‘the best in humanity’ and talked about the ‘phenomenal bravery, compassion and selflessness’ of people as they punctuated each day ‘with a million acts of love and kindness’.

New hope? Some hope!

The global revulsion felt at the killing in America of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis policeman is as phenomenal as it is understandable.

But, regrettably, there was an inevitability about the Black Lives Matter movement being hijacked by extremists on both the right and left as they wreaked their insidious brand of havoc and bloody violence.

The scenes of bare-chested, shaven-headed neo-Nazi thugs attacking police as well as demonstrators in London this weekend were sickening but hardly unexpected. Give these brainless buffoons any excuse for a fight and they’ll grab it by the collar and give it a kicking.   

Statues and slavery

The vandalising of statues of historical figures associated with slavery and alleged racism is further evidence that any inkling we might have entertained of a more compassionate, tolerant society post Covid-19 was a cruel and forlorn hoax. (That said, the decision to board up some statues was cowardly and craven).

Even in our more mundane, everyday lives as we struggle towards some form of new normality, the signs are there that the goodwill we briefly shared are vanishing rapidly.

Whether it’s impatient drivers shouting abuse at each other, shoppers refusing to wear face coverings in packed supermarkets, or people defacing our streets and countryside with their fast-food litter (not to mention unwanted furniture, garden waste and even their own human waste), we are quickly slipping back to the way things were.   

But while we may be disappointed, we should not be surprised.

As Archie Stirling predicted last month in an article on this platform, we could always be certain of one thing not changing post coronavirus – politics.

How right he was.

At UK level, we have a government – and sad to say a Prime Minister - that have proven wholly ill-equipped to deal properly with the epidemic and who have failed to understand, let alone respect, public expectation, mood or perception. 

Fear of Mistakes

So afraid are they of admitting mistakes lest it be seized upon by their political opponents as evidence of weakness, that Ministers are readily and regularly prepared to vacillate, conceal, dissemble – and, yes, lie and cheat – just so they can get through another day without being rumbled.

Well, I have news for Boris, and the likes of the smug, self-congratulatory Matt Hancock and the equally hubristic Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. You have been rumbled!

We, the voters that you treat with such contempt, are not so daft that we fail to notice you never give straight answers to straight questions.

We are not so dense to be taken in by your claims of openness and transparency when you cut off journalists before they can ask follow up questions, or when you manipulate statistics to try to show yourselves in the best light possible when they actually reveal abject and at times catastrophic failure.

We are not so naïve to believe that the establishment of yet another commission into the causes of racial inequality is anything other than a move to push the issue into the long grass.

Set aside that and the coronavirus debacle for just a moment.

Today is the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster in which 72 people perished. Ministers promised that by the end of this month, the type of cladding that was blamed for the rapid spread of the inferno would be removed and replaced on every other building where it had been used. Today, there are still some 250 buildings housing around 50,000 people where the cladding remains intact.

Another promise made. Another promise broken.

The same kind of phoney governmental behaviour exists in Scotland too.

Nicola Sturgeon seems to think that just turning up each day to deliver the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing is enough to distract the electorate from her incompetence and deeply-disturbing penchant for secrecy.

The irony is that come the Scottish Parliament elections next year, Sturgeon will almost certainly romp to another victory, hoisted not only by her self-confidence and presentational skills, but also by a lacklustre, out-of-touch and talentless opposition.   

Sturgeon's swagger

But Sturgeon’s arrogant swagger does not make up for her failures in education, health and economic performance.

And frankly, her continued support for her all-at-sea Health Secretary Jeane Freeman is as ridiculous and disrespectful as Boris Johnston’s backing was for Dominic Cummings.

Politicians need to understand that when they behave in the self-serving, self-preserving manner they do, it is little wonder people feel let down and become frustrated and angry.

I’m not suggesting the dismal performance of our political leaders is the direct cause of the unrest and violence we are currently witnessing in our towns and cities. But it sure as hell hasn’t helped.

Until the way change the way we do politics in this country, which undoubtedly means a change in the type of people who aspire to become politicians - that is people with real life experience – there is unlikely to be a restoration of the public’s faith or in our parliamentary systems both north and south of the border.

One thing above all the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted, albeit fleetingly, is that as a nation we are capable of being more caring, compassionate and tolerant.

But unless our political system and those who populate it changes, I fear we will default to unkindliness, anger and frustration.  

6 June 2020           

Boris must start to show real leadership

if he's to last

By Archie Stirling

When in July 2019 Boris Johnson was elected Conservative Party leader and became Prime Minister, I was both pleased and relieved. Not because he was a Tory, but because there was no other politician anywhere close to his popular appeal at a time when the country desperately needed strong leadership.

Frankly, his elevation was a blessed relief from the decent but dull Theresa May who, whatever qualities she may have had and however swiftly she ran though the growing corn, was not and never could be a strong leader.

I was grateful also that Boris had finally ended the nightmare of Jeremy Corbyn.

Boris, it seemed, was a man for the big picture - a man who would lead, who could take the pulse of the electorate and who could guide the nation through difficult times with the strength of his personality and clarity of vision.

I could not have been more wrong.

Still, regardless of the growing evidence of Johnson’s ineptitude, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he had been seriously ill with coronavirus; he had a new fiancée and no doubt the baby was keeping him up at night.

The Covid-19 crisis has been unprecedented in modern times and dealing with its far-reaching consequences would be a challenge for any government and any Prime Minister.

Sadly, the last few days have clearly exposed Boris’s weakness and lack of vision. He has fumbled the ball whenever it has been passed to him. 

Cardinal Error

Trying to move the UK as a whole out of maximum lockdown when clearly parts of this sadly Disunited Kingdom were at different stages of the pandemic was a cardinal error. All that really achieved was to gift Nicola Sturgeon the opportunity to exploit her relentless separatist agenda.

Compared to Boris’s infrequent and hopelessly muddled appearances at the UK Government’s daily virus briefings, Sturgeon has never missed a chance to be centre stage at the daily Holyrood briefings.

Presentation-wise, she has left Boris flailing in her wake. But her slickness at the podium masks not only the true scale of the serious mistakes she has made during the current crisis, but also her abject failures in managing both health policy and education.

Then there is Johnson’s misplaced loyalty to (or is it fear of?) Dominic Cummings, the Barnard Castle Wanderer. It is not the Prime Minister’s job to be loyal to anybody except the electorate, all else is personal and not relevant to running the nation.

Boris should have cut Cummings down instantly and publicly. If Cummings really were vital to the Number 10 machine, Boris could have started to bring him back within six or so months with little fuss.

Now we have the idiocy of travellers to the UK being made to self-isolate for a fortnight starting in mid-June – it might have made sense if imposed two months ago; it could even be considered immediately – but in a week’s time?

Either it is essential or it is not - there is no halfway house.

Finally – for the moment – consider Hong Kong. Chinese president Xi Jinping is walking all over the agreement of One Country-Two Systems negotiated prior to the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China in 1997.

It was supposed to be a peaceful alignment within the territory of Hong Kong of the competing forces of capitalism and communism. There has been huge unrest in Hong Kong with many public demonstrations against the continuing and increasingly totalitarian imposition of rule from mainland China. 

Boris's Stupidity

Boris barged in offering three million Hong Kong Chinese free entry to the UK and British passports. This was seemingly done straight off the cuff without any consideration for the consequences.

Why? Because Boris wants to be loved. It is his greatest weakness.

I am not suggesting it was wrong to make the offer after due consideration and cross-party consultation (for once a political imperative). But it was wrong to make it without thought, planning, consultation and the wider consideration of the electorate.

Apart from anything, it was perfect grist to the Chinese mill. It removed in one fell swoop most of the external pressure and a great deal of the internal pressure that might have been brought to bear – they would of course have outwardly ignored both but thanks to Boris’s stupidity this card was removed from the pack and can no longer be played.

Now, of course, anyone who argues that it may not be in this country’s interest to offer some three million Hong Kong residents residency in the UK – not that they would all want to come – will be perceived as a bigot, fascist or worse!

Boris has and continues to fail us. Will this change? Not easily. Unless I am missing something, there is a real paucity of political talent at the moment. There is certainly no obvious candidate to replace him.

Matt Hancock is no leader and never will be, Grant Shapps is of no moment and most people cannot understand why he is even in ministerial office.

Rishi Sunak would seem to be doing a good job as Chancellor but should be aware of the fate of William Hague who struck too young.

Priti Patel seems to have faltered and become more authoritarian, usually a sign of weakness. Dominic Raab though at times somewhat insipid, and the more sure-footed Michael Gove are two of the more serious possibilities.

But the real point is will Boris survive? The answer is probably yes because it will be difficult to shoehorn him out. Will he improve as Prime Minister? I very much hope so, but the jury is out.

To survive he must expunge his need to be loved by all. First and foremost, he must display real leadership, develop and demonstrate vision, show he is command of strategy rather than tactics and above all take decisions that benefit the electorate rather than dispensable individuals.  

27 May 2020

Every death from Covid-19 is a tragedy. But have we lost our sense of proportion?

By Archie Stirling

Behind every statistic recorded in the daily coronavirus death toll is a person lost and a family devastated. Covid-19 is a cruel and indiscriminate foe.

We know that among its symptoms are loss of taste and smell. But could one of the infection's side-effects also be a loss of sense of proportion?

Every year, about 600,000 people die in the UK. How that average figure will be impacted by coronavirus cannot yet be fully assessed while the disease continues to claim lives, albeit and thankfully at a much slower rate than at its peak in early April.

Undoubtedly, more people will die this year than in an average year. A proportion of these ‘excess deaths’ will of course be directly caused by Covid-19. But emerging evidence suggests that some will also be due to people being unwilling or too frightened to seek medical help for other medical conditions such as heart disease and stroke because of the virus.

So, a crucial question that must be asked – however unpalatable it might be - is whether the unprecedented lockdowns imposed by the UK and Scottish governments are justified by, and in proportion to, the level of additional deaths?

My understanding is that about 10% of people over the age of 80 die every year. So, while there is a big risk that over 80s will not survive coronavirus if they catch it, what are the chances they would have died anyway in the same year?

According to Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at Cambridge University: ‘Many people who die of COVID would have died anyway within a short period.’

The average age of people who have died from coronavirus in the UK to date appears to be around 79, most of whom had underlying health conditions.

These are bald facts, but herein lies a greater conundrum. If these statistics are accurate then one might suppose that the lockdown, the ruination of the economy (and make no mistake that is what is happening) and all the interference of the state over the last few months might have been disproportionate and ultimately useless.

However, there is a further complication. It appears that for the elderly death from Coronavirus, if forced into hospital and onto ventilators, is particularly unpleasant.

It is a harsh fact in the midst of a harsh disease: Does this change the answer as to whether the response to the coronavirus crisis has been worth it against the huge longer-term cost, both to the economy and our health?

Maybe such a price is too high, but then the cost to us all might be morally even higher with the knowledge that we achieved financial stability by allowing the elderly to risk a particularly unpleasant and painful death in pursuit of Mammon.

25 May 2020

Life Will Not Be The Same After Covid-19. But Politics Will Never Change Unless We Grasp The Nettle

By Archie Stirling

It has become a daily refrain since the true scale of the coronavirus crisis dawned on a shell-shocked world: Life will never be the same.

What the ‘new normal’ will be is not yet clear. It will not be good, but hopefully not all bad. There are signs the pandemic may result in a more compassionate, caring society, born of a realisation that mutual support and understanding has been key in the fight against a disease that respects neither borders nor background.

As it has become fashionable to say: We are all in this together. Boris Johnston says the crisis has brought out ‘the best in humanity’ and has talked about the ‘phenomenal bravery, compassion and selflessness’ of people as they punctuate each day ‘with a million acts of love and kindness’.

A little florid even by Boris’s standards. But if such changes do occur - and prevail – they will be welcome. However, we can be certain that one thing will not alter post Covid-19. Already there is an abundance of evidence that at Westminster and Holyrood it is, and will be, business as usual. Our politicians are making clear – no change required here.

A different kind of ‘disease’ infects our political systems, both in Edinburgh and London, but unlike the coronavirus, there is little chance of developing a vaccine or finding a cure.

When in 2007 I made a brief venture into politics with the launch of Scottish Voice, my aim was to show there was an alternative to the tragi-comic world of conventional party politics.

Our argument was that politicians had become so mired in tribalism, ideology, petty point-scoring and downright dishonesty, that their service to the electorate was secondary to self-preservation, self-interest and party allegiance.


Scottish Voice championed what used to be a strong Scottish tradition – the election of independents. Not career politicians, but people of real-life experience and expertise unencumbered by party dogma and ideology.

From a standing start, we fielded 10 candidates in the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, all from different social, political and working backgrounds. We punched well above our weight in terms of media coverage. A month before the election, The Scotsman reported an opinion poll showing 21% of the electorate was considering casting their regional vote for Scottish Voice. If that support had held, we would have won at least one regional list seat.

When it dawned on the political establishment that we posed a real threat it went into overdrive to attack and ridicule. People were scared off. In the end we came up short.

Now, 13 years on in the midst of a crisis that once again exposes deep scars in the political landscape, I wonder whether Scottish Voice was born before its time.

What this crisis proves is that politicians seldom learn from their mistakes. And the biggest sin is to treat the electorate with contemptuous dishonesty.

The examples are multiplying, the most unedifying of all being the Prime Minister’s ludicrous defence Dominic Cummings after the aide's blatant flouting o the lockdown rules. 

There are many others: the Scottish Government’s bungling of and subsequent secrecy over the Covid-19 outbreak at a Nike conference in Edinburgh in late February. Nicola Sturgeon could and should have gone public about it, ordered an earlier lockdown and contained the spread of an infection that has so far killed more than 3,000 Scots.

But she chose to stay silent on the flimsy excuse that she was protecting patient confidentiality. The bigger ‘crime’, though, was not the alleged cover-up but - having been caught out - her refusal to accept she had erred. It was long after the BBC investigation had revealed the Nike affair and after relentless media pressure, that the First Minister grudgingly conceded that things might have been handled differently. And even then, she pointed the finger of blame at officials. 

But that pales against the devastating care home crisis and, again, the blatant but hopelessly misguided attempt to conceal the truth. Day after day the SNP administration sought to hide the number of elderly people who had been moved out of hospitals into care homes without being tested for Covid-19.

Then we had Boris’s astonishing claim in the Commons that it ‘wasn’t true’ the care home sector had been advised it was unlikely to face an outbreak of the virus, despite the warning being there in black and white in an official government communique. 

Career politicians

Why do politicians do it? And why, when they inevitably and invariably get caught, do they continue to do it? It is because UK party politics has become a game of PR where deceit, dishonesty and spin are used to conceal the truth from opponents - and, by default, the public. A game in which politicians are terrified of admitting mistakes because they fear the advantage it might hand their adversaries. ‘Never apologise, never explain’ is the only rule in this game.

Career politicians are so immersed in this untrivial pursuit that it never occurs to them that the people who really matter – the electorate, not their opponents – would be prepared to forgive honest mistakes and would accept that politicians don’t have all the answers. All it would take is some trust and humility, two essential qualities that are glaringly absent in most of our political leaders.

We should all pay attention to this. Reform of the larger political parties, I suspect, is a lost cause. As a population, understanding the need to take part actively in the political process is the only sure way to change the system.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron got it wrong when he coined the phrase The Big Society. He should have spoken of The Small Society. In the current malaise of uncertainty, confusion and incompetence, it is participation from within our local communities that will deliver honest political endeavour and more honest, sensible and profitable outcomes.

It is within our own communities that the real experts are to be found – doctors, nurses, teachers, business folk, farmers – all of whom have vital parts to play in creating a more inclusive, trustworthy political system.

We should not be surprised that the current cohort of political masters are not up to the job. Take Health Secretary Matt Hancock: An Oxbridge graduate and briefly a bank economist before entering politics. What makes him an expert in public health?

Or what about his Scottish counterpart, the increasingly accident-prone Jeane Freeman? A former member of the Communist Party, she later joined Labour and became an adviser to First Minister Jack McConnell. She ran her own political consultancy (which became embroiled in a cronyism row) before defecting to the SNP and becoming an MSP only four years ago. What makes her an expert in public health? 

Wise heads

A trawl through the backgrounds of most ministers, both north and south the border, reveals a staggering lack of life experience. And as for their oft-repeated claim that they always follow the science. You only have to tune in to the televised Downing Street daily briefing to realise it is the scientists who are following the politicians. Were they consulted about Boris’s slogan change? No. Did they approve the changes to lockdown restrictions? Probably not.

I speak as someone in the most at-risk age group and who has type-2 diabetes, when I say both governments’ handling of this crisis been chaotic, misguided, at times downright dishonest.

All political careers end in failure. I just took a shortcut. But the more I look at and despair of our political processes, the more I’m convinced that Scottish Voice was on the right track.

Wise heads, unconcerned about party political sensitivities, would not have fallen victim to the kind of ‘group-think’ that has led to some quite irrational political decisions and behaviour. Nor would they have been taken in by the spin masters who dreamt up slogans such as Protect the NHS, Save Lives designed to blatantly divert public attention from the fact that it is the NHS that is supposed to protect us and save our lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I am second to no one in my admiration of the NHS staff risking their lives for the community. But successive government support for, and the hugely over bureaucratic management of the service, has been shameful.

Real experts, too, would have had the confidence and courage to treat us as grown-ups instead of children incapable of fully understanding risk. I am not the only one now questioning the governments’ near-zero tolerance approach to risk. 

Pathologist and former NHS consultant Professor John Lee is one. So, too, is retired Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption [pictured right], who says lockdown is ‘the greatest interference with personal liberty in our history’.

Professor Lee has questioned the validity of the governments’ strategy based on the so-called R number and the claim that if it rose above one the death rate would increase to catastrophic levels. 

‘It is becoming increasingly clear that assumptions central to the models that generate R are flawed,’ he says. ‘One, for example, is that everyone is susceptible to the virus because it is new. But this is clearly not true.’

He says it is likely that as many as eight in 10 people are asymptomatic to Coronavirus and that as many as seven million Britons may already have had the disease.

That being the case, ‘it doesn’t matter if the apparent R is higher than one for healthy people. The best way to deal with the virus is not lockdown but to encourage the R above one for the fit and healthy’ on the basis that this will build herd immunity – probably essential if a vaccine cannot be found.

From a not dis-similar perspective, we do not ban travel on the roads because each year 1,700 people die and 25,000 are seriously injured in accidents.

Sadly, it is inevitable that more people will die from the virus, though thankfully the mortality rate appears to be falling consistently. But the vast majority who get the virus will recover. Efforts to flatten the curve have been chaotic, but at least it is on a downward trajectory, and the NHS is coping.

But we cannot live like this permanently or until a vaccine or cure is discovered. And we cannot, for example, tolerate crass and immensely damaging impositions such as the two-week quarantine on travellers, including returning holidaymakers, arriving in the UK from overseas. 

Personal choice

We need to resume life and hope we don’t get run over by a car when crossing the road in an effort to avoid close contact with another human being.

Our freedoms are being eroded by politicians fearful of their incompetence being exposed (though that has already happened). We are not trusted to make sensible decisions for ourselves or about others, although the evidence suggests most people have behaved with exemplary responsibility.

Personal choice is a pillar of our jealously guarded democracy. It is regrettable when people abuse that right. And no one is suggesting that in the midst of a major national emergency some of those rights should not be suspended temporarily while the experts work out a sensible way forward.

But we desperately need real experts – clear-minded, fearless and frank – at the heart of our political systems. It is true that life might never be the same after the coronavirus crisis.

Perhaps one of the positive changes will be a rethink of the way we do politics.

April 25, 2019

They thought we spoke too soon in 2007. Now more than ever our voice needs to be heard

By Archie Stirling

It is rumoured that the only person Theresa May really trusts and listens to is her husband, Philip. If that is true, we must hope that whatever advice he offered during their Easter walking holiday in Wales was sounder than the pearls of wisdom he dispensed during a similar sojourn to Snowdonia in 2017.

That was, apparently, when Philip thought it a jolly good idea for his other half to call a snap General Election - which infamously led to her Government majority being wiped out.

From that point on, it was as if the body politic had been injected with a massive dose of anaesthetic, slowly but inevitably leading to total Brexit paralysis.

Two years on, it is dawning that there never was any prospect of avoiding the hypodermic filled when David Cameron decided to give the country a referendum on Europe and has now totally immobilised the House of Commons.

country a referendum on Europe and has now totally immobilised the House of Commons.

The patient might never recover. A Survation poll last week revealed a massive haemorrhaging of support for the Tories among grassroots activists because of the Government’s mishandling of Brexit, with one councillor lamenting: ‘The Conservative Party is dead.’

It is not only the Tory Party in demise. Westminster itself may be in the last throes. But like an elderly and increasingly infirm relative, might its passing actually be a blessed relief?

If the Brexit fiasco proves nothing else, it is that the political system to which we (or more precisely our politicians) have desperately cleaved for generations has reached the end of its useful life.

That it is no longer fit for purpose is something I concluded long before now. In 2007, I and a group of like-minded individuals, launched Scottish Voice, a new independent, non-aligned party which sought to introduce a radically fresh approach to the way in which we did politics in both the UK and Scotland. Our aim was to challenge the whip-driven, party tribalism that has for too long held a vice-like grip on our political system.

We said then that neither Westminster nor Holyrood was working as they should. And they’re not working now. The EU debacle apart, you only have to consider the abject failure of the SNP government to tackle the crisis in Scottish schools to understand that, like Brexit, education solutions transcend narrow party-political interests.

Major challenges such as these will never be fully met will until the worn-out mould of 'machine' politics is smashed and the fragments consigned to the historical dustbin.

We said in 2007 that we supported prudent, common-sense government that did not ask whether an idea was left wing or right wing - but only if it worked. We did not believe this could be achieved by using Westminster or Holyrood as political playgrounds where point-scoring, dogma and party tribalism took precedence over the best interests of the electorate.

Jealously-guarded hegemony

With some notable exceptions, Scottish Voice was favourably received by the media. We punched well above our weight in terms of the column inches and broadcast time we commanded. There was a sense of something new and fresh on the political horizon.

But the political ‘establishment’, fearing any threat to its jealously-guarded hegemony, did what we knew it would – it deployed contempt, arrogance and derision in self-serving measure.

Considering we had launched only four months before the May Scottish parliamentary elections, we polled just under 10,000 votes among a small group of candidates spanning a spectrum of political, social and cultural backgrounds.

But the truth is we failed then to make more than a small dent in the armour of the political classes. Now, 12 years after that attempt to at least begin a debate about the nature of the British political process, Brexit has me, and others, wondering whether Scottish Voice was born prematurely. If ever there was a time to set aside blind political allegiances for the greater good of the nation, then surely Brexit is it.

Of course, lip service to such aspiration is being paid by the Tories and Labour, albeit at the 11 hour and driven more, I suspect, to save their own political skins. But does anybody believe the ‘negotiations’ between Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn on the Brexit deal will deliver?

The problem is, that while we hear politicians from all parties talking about compromise, most of them are too steeped in the convention of adversarial party politics to be capable of practising what they preach. Others are simply too fearful of the party whips, either from cowardice or in the hope of gaining a step up the career ladder.

I don’t know precisely what type of constitutional change, if any, is required to replace the dominant two-party system we have for so long endured at Westminster. The change needed, perhaps, is less about structure and more about attitude. We had high hopes that things would be better in the Scottish Parliament, but you only have to tune in to First Minister’s Questions to realise that tribalism is alive and rampant at Holyrood too.

Major overhaul

I am not suggesting that politicians should abandon their political and moral principles at any cost. But when you have politicians who would rather martyr themselves on their party crosses than concede even an inch to an opponent - because they are an opponent - we must examine whether the political process is serving the electorate or is out-of-date and in need of major overhaul.

When the dust finally settles over Brexit – if it ever does – a re-examination of how we do politics in both the UK and Scotland is needed. Fixing the system, perhaps, might be the only way to affect change in the way our elected representatives conduct themselves. Certainly, in parliaments where a range of smaller parties have greater influence, more sensible decisions seem to be made. And by ‘smaller’ I do not mean single-issue parties such as the Greens. What we need are parties made up of independently-minded people from a cross-section of professional expertise and experience who are not hidebound by ideology.

I ran my political race in 2007. But it now seems I jumped the starter’s gun. The sentiments that led to the advent of Scottish Voice and the principles on which it was founded are even more relevant now than they were back then.

Scottish Voice, or something like it, needs urgent revival. My appeal is to those

with the vision, imagination and courage to step forward and help make it happen.

Our future, and the future of generations to follow, may depend on it.