Citizenship and Exceptionalism

My friend is undergoing her second period of quarantine in 4 months.

She is not a serial offender she just happens to have the good fortune to be Australian, she could have been a Kiwi,  it would have been the same . 

The first time she came back home after 3 years working away and was required to quarantine in a hotel of their choice not hers,  at her cost,  under police guard. The second time she went to see her parents in Brisbane for a couple of days at Christmas. It was her misfortune that as she left they found a single case of COVID in the city ( as they refer to it,  the “British Variant “) and have now locked down for a period.  On returning to work  she was told that she has to quarantine again, in her flat, no movement from it,  food brought to her, checked on by the police . 

“ It is a pain but it is called citizenship here, you do what is necessary for the collective good“ she said . 

In November my wife and I did a quick review and some forecasting for the months ahead, an over sight of what we fervently hope the Chinese call “ The Year of the Bug.” Given that we had a “ plan” and that was entirely around our joint passion for travel and in my case recording other cultures with my camera,  our findings were perhaps predictable . For us it is a bit like cryogenic preservation without the inconvenience of either dying or the cold, although given the wintery  snap last week I’m not entirely sure about the last comment . 

Our review and predictions were pretty clear. Having very nearly suppressed the disease in Scotland, without the benefit of being an island or a nation state in our own right and thus able to enforce our borders, we would be subject to whatever base of activity took place across the rest of the UK. And that was predictable, very predictable. It has precedence . As was the Westminster Government’s approach to the insistence on a four nations approach . 

If Eid celebrations were curtailed because of restrictions then so would Diwali and Hanukkah. On the other hand the Pagan Winter Festival of Consumerism or as some refer to it “Christmas “ would be preserved at all costs. I’m not going to call it Christian exceptionalism because for most folk there is not much Christian about the period these days and I have far more respect for my truly Christian friends than to paint them with the same brush . 

It was clear early doors, that an easing of restrictions for;  five days , one day, half a day whatever Government  said, many  people would define their own period of festival and do what they wanted. The erosion of personal discipline from what we saw in the first lockdown was clear for anyone to see. The outcome is; patently, painfully obvious now. 

“ I just don’t know what I will do if she doesn’t come home” said one neighbour about her 20 year old daughter in University ” 

I was tempted to say “get a life?” But we don’t do we? We are culturally far more polite than that so we refrain from saying what we truly mean . In any case I would have been wrong. Perhaps what I should have just said was “Live?” Because the consequences of the “festival” actions are gorily obvious now, or rather they are about to be, locally we haven’t quite got to the peak of hospital admissions, that will come in the next week or so. 

I live in Dumfries and Galloway, so for us the causality of the outcomes of the festival easing is pretty clear.  Two weeks prior to Christmas our local status was “disease suppressed” – virtually no cases. Three weeks after Christmas we have the highest prevalence of the disease in Scotland and quite possibly, Europe. 500 cases plus per 100k in the county, many many more in and around Stranraer. Everyone one knows someone who has this, my close friend who has a very severe underlying health condition feels besieged as more than half of his  neighbours either have COVID or are  isolating. 

This  infection has not been something that bubbled up from the dairy farms of rural Galloway. By definition since it was suppressed,  it has been brought in. Tempting to say “ by students coming  home . “ It is true that some didn’t bother to  get checked at University and then went straight to the pubs for four or five days, but that isn’t the full picture. It would be wrong to put the blame on them alone, or as I will suggest later, at all. It is more a collective responsibility. Families were moving around, not just in the county but people came from all over Scotland and over the border against the rules to visit family or to holiday in  second homes here. Astonishingly if you look at the ferries, even now,  people are coming across from Ireland with skis on top of the car . I wonder why ? An essential ski trip to the shops perhaps? 

Across the UK,  compliance with the lockdown is visibly less than it was in the first one. Even with hideous figures which will see full mortuaries locally, people are still making exceptions for themselves. “ Its wee John’s ( name changed to project the innocent) birthday …it can’t harm to have both sets of Grandparents, Aunty Kirsten, Uncle Jack and the three weans over for a few hours,  can it ?” 

Ask the grand parents in a couple of weeks,  they may have a different view, possibly from their hospital beds .  But it won’t happen to them……will it? 

I’d love to say that is one incident in our tiny  village, I can think of 3 last weekend alone . If you report it , there goes community cohesion, and in any case you’d have to fill in a form and it would need investigating. Even here parties don’t last 5 days . 

Are we surprised? When a Minister makes the surreal and fatuous analysis that  the “local” in the phrase “Local travel “ needs to be defined as what you yourself would consider to be local, in order to justify the PM cycling feats, do we wonder why people are confused? 

If there isn’t, then I think there should be an academic definition of selective individualism in rule interpretation. Shall we call it “ The Cummings Doctrine?” 

I was instinctively quite critical of those officers in Derbyshire Police force who enforced their own doctrine on two women who seemed to be acting with commonsense, but in the absence of a codified instruction  on how to interpret the rules, if that fair? I don’t think it is. They might be erring on the side of “ numpty” but they they have mixed messages. We will praise the police collectively as a notion but expect them to come to the right conclusion in the absence of instruction and will criticise them mercilessly as individuals if in hindsight they get it wrong.

We have become institutionally hypocritical. 

“It just isn’t British “ said our Prime Minister when invited to follow much of Europe in imposing a curfew in London. Eight months after the  rest of the world we impose Border controls on those entering the country. In  the absence of instruction the police sense that they should advise rather  than enforce regulations .   Meanwhile the NHS is under more strain than it was ever designed to cope with. The absence of a backbone is not particularly British either Boris , certainly in terms of those leaders you allegedly admire. 

In a sense though we are all victims of a  homage to exceptionalism that roots from Thatcher’s days . Whether it is the “everyone for themselves”   capitalism that she was so keen on and which created the foundations for  the banking crisis or whether it is the British exceptionalism that leads to the fantasy venture of Brexit, we seem to have this notion personally and collectively that the rules don’t necessarily apply to us . 

This isn’t citizenship, but neither is it the entire description of what we are . We are better than this because collectively we show it . Because we are also about sacrifice that we see daily in the NHS , about those people who put themselves at risk to serve others. We are about genius and invention and the hard work that has created vaccines in record time. 

Citizenship isn’t about clapping for people on a Thursday night , it is about leadership and personal decision making that means we don’t have to clap for people on a Thursday night . 

There is however a fantasy of exceptionalism which causes us to collectively and individually make daft decisions. It seems we have some growing up to do before the consequences overwhelm us.


Click on this link to see easy to follow local, national and UK data on Covid: Scotland Coronavirus Tracker

Today’s stats for Scotland 12th of January 2021

  • 1,875 new cases of COVID-19 reported
  • 17,517 new tests for COVID-19 that reported results – 12.0% of these were positive
  • 54 new reported death(s) of people who have tested positive 
  • 133 people are in intensive care with recently confirmed COVID-19
  • 1,717 people are in hospital with recently confirmed COVID-19
  • 175,942 people have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination and 2,857 have received their second dose

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2 replies »

  1. You write well, Steve – you really do write well. And….you’ve said what needs saying.

    There are so many things to be furious about – the ludicrous ‘food boxes’ – I’m struggling – trying not to go down – that won’t help anyone.

    We will come out of it – we will – our fate is in our own hands – if we each do what we know to be the right thing – even if it make us very uncomfortable at the time.

    We have a friend who lives in London who didn’t go to see her parents at Christmas, much as she would have liked to do so – because – SHE KNEW IT WOULD BE WRONG! Simple as that.

  2. Thanks Bernie , you last comment sums it is entirely it is very hard not to be judgemental so the buck has to stop with us as individuals.

    Keep well keep safe


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