An economic black hole looms, yet the SNP is still in thrall to the scientocracy

Graham Grant.
5 min readJun 23, 2020


CUTTING-edge science has prevented the meltdown of the NHS and saved thousands of lives.

But the research underpinning the two-metre rule stems from studies dating back to the 1930s.

The notions of enforced separation and mandatory face-covering are the most dystopian facets of the pandemic.

Keeping 6ft away from other humans is alien to us: possibly by the time we’ve mastered it, coronavirus will be over.

We’re now living effectively in a scientocracy: undoubtedly, virologists have helped to head off a catastrophe of spectacular proportions.

But they’re not elected – despite the enormous power they wield, their word is not sacrosanct, and nor should it ever be.

They’re also rarely in complete agreement, and operate in conditions of secrecy that mean they can’ t be held to account.

We’re told a ‘minority’ of public health experts believe social distancing in Scottish schools isn’t needed, but the government won’t say who they are, or what they said.

Some have broken ranks, however briefly, to defy the party line, so for now we’re left with the nightmare prospect of children attending class for as little as one day a week.

One of those speaking out is Professor Calum Semple, a UK Government adviser, who says the question of reducing the two-metre rule goes far beyond the science.

As a paediatrician, he confirms the Covid-19 risk to children is low and forcing them to keep apart will be detrimental to their mental health.

So the potential benefits of social distancing are outweighed by the psychological distress we’re likely to inflict on them by insisting they stay away from each other, and spend most of their time learning from home.

The consequences for education are unthinkable, with one expert predicting the attainment gap – the one the SNP promised to close – will grow by five times before the end of the year.

For the economy, the ramifications of sticking with two metres are even more disturbing.

Pubs and restaurants had been gearing up to open beer gardens, only for a last-minute U-turn last week.

Again, the scientocracy had ruled: speaking over loud music means you’re more likely to spread the virus.

But no music tends to be a licensing condition – so if there’s no music, where’s the problem?

If the social distancing regime stays as it is, hospitality might be able to function, but only just.

The trade is hamstrung already by the first signs of a tsunami of job losses that will leave it severely under-manned.

The Scottish Government’s approach is now defined by institutionalised risk aversion.

That’s understandable given the tumult of the last few months as hundreds died: ministers were in crisis mode.

You might reflect that this extreme caution would have been useful when elderly people were being rushed into care homes without being tested.

That was allowed to happen, yet now they’re telling publicans to keep beer gardens closed – though in any event they’re now thronged with drinkers bringing their own booze.

So ministers are finding it tough to snap out of that risk-averse mentality, but did they ever really understand or prioritise the economy in the first place?

Bravely, Jeane Freeman took a break from her role as Health Secretary to berate a Tory MSP for highlighting that SNP politicians tended not to have business backgrounds.

It was brave because we know Nicola Sturgeon presides over a lacklustre Cabinet of career politicians, former quango placemen and yes-men (and women) who have never understood the private sector.

(Double act: Benny Higgins and Nicola Sturgeon)

Miss Freeman is a former card-carrying Communist who has done the rounds of public sector boards, which tells you all you need to know about her grasp of free-market economics.

Then there was the First Minister’s casual remark that perhaps employers should introduce four-day weeks to help parents contend with the childcare dilemmas ahead.

In the public sector, that might be more than viable – Miss Sturgeon was keen to state that government would take the lead (very selfless of them).

Companies which narrowly avoided oblivion are desperate to get back to trading, and before the lockdown many self-employed Scots running small businesses were working seven days a week just to make ends meet.

From the start of the pandemic, Miss Sturgeon saw the economy and indeed education as optional extras because the focus was firmly on saving lives.

That was laudable, but they’re not just accessories: without economic growth, there is no NHS, and without education there is no economy.

At her daily briefing yesterday, Miss Sturgeon did find the time to mention economic matters and was accompanied by Benny Higgins, the head of her advisory group, who is the former head of Tesco Bank.

His report contains some apocalyptic forecasts, though some of the proposed remedies, such as guaranteed jobs for young people, seem more aspirational than pragmatic.

If we do not ‘intervene radically’ to transform our economy, then he suggested that ‘inequalities will drastically widen with long-term scarring for communities across the country, and for our young people in particular’.

And he suggested that to ‘create a robust, resilient well-being economy, the public and private sector must now build a new partnership to prioritise and deliver bold action’.

Mr Higgins even quoted Nelson Mandela on the need for courage as a morale boost.

Stirring rhetoric is fine, but it won’t rescue our atrophied economy.

Miss Sturgeon spoke about possible state ownership of failing companies – one can imagine Miss Freeman, with her Communist credentials, might well have been strongly in favour.

Mr Higgins also scored points with Miss Sturgeon by underlining the ‘strong case for the Scottish Government to have greater autonomy to use targeted fiscal measures to stimulate demand or incentivise behavioural change in the recovery period’.

But there’s no need for more grandstanding about fresh powers when they’ve made such as hash of utilising those they already have – to ramp up taxes and business rates.

Mr Higgins was also dismissive about the worth of cutting the two-metre rule despite his own assessment of the economic turmoil ahead, insisting that it wasn’t a ‘binary’ question.

Well, it is – and the answer is it must be cut now before we fall behind England, where ‘one metre-plus’ is likely to get the green light today (June 23).

Could it be that the economists are now part of the scientocracy, and expected to adhere to the party line?

Science has helped us, but now it could put a stranglehold on any chance of economic recovery because of political misjudgement.

There’s an imbalance between the risks posed by Covid-19, and the educational and fiscal trauma that will result from keeping the current distancing protocol in place.

If Miss Sturgeon concludes one metre-plus is simply too risky, then her action plan for a new ‘wellbeing economy’ (no, I’m not sure either) will be worthless.

There are many variables, but one inescapable truth is that the politicians expected to spearhead this renaissance have a disgraceful track record – and are appallingly ill-equipped for the monumental task ahead.

*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on June 23, 2020.



Graham Grant.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Columns on MailPlus