Scotland and Westminster governments are failing on Covid, jobs and livelihoods

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (photo World News/Creative Commons)

The latest announcement by the Scottish government of a so-called ‘circuit breaker’, with new Covid restrictions being announced, reflects the growing rates of coronavirus infection in society – approaching 1,000 new infections per day.

Even then, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted that keeping the economy moving– i.e. capitalism – meant a more severe lockdown was not considered.

Most workers and young people may well reluctantly accept these new measures. Although a growing minority will oppose them.

The workers’ movement – in particular, the trade unions – must fight for an independent class policy at all times. Trade unions must fight for the right to be able to check and control all special measures – whether that is in a workplace, university campus or at a local or national level. As well as ensuring all organisations involved in PPE production, test and protect, vaccine development etc., are operating under public ownership.

This is the only way to make sure that restrictions and other steps are only used to safeguard the health and other interests of working-class people.

What is certain is that confidence in the politicians, which for Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party (SNP) were relatively high, is starting to fade and will do so further in the weeks and months ahead.

Sturgeon’s talk of eliminating the virus has gone. Now it is managing the levels of Covid-19 through a series of lockdowns or partial lockdowns.

A severe lack of testing capacity has been obvious in Scotland ever since the schools returned in August. And the pressure on testing will only increase as the winter takes hold.

The SNP first minister is in power and opposition, at the same time. Able to blame the Tories at Westminster for much of the Covid catastrophe, her own government have in reality marched a very similar route throughout the pandemic.

The decisions made by the SNP-led government to allow schools to return in August without social distancing and then, in September, Scottish universities, have proved to be major profit-driven mistakes.

Both schools and cramped university student accommodation halls have, as predicted, become areas where Covid has spread at speed. University bosses with both eyes on tuition fee and rental income for halls called on students to return.

When students did as requested they have been met with lockdowns, scapegoating and an overwhelmingly online teaching model.

Socialist Party Scotland demands that all rent for hall and private accommodation be waived for students and that tuition fees be cancelled for those students studying in Scotland who pay for tuition.

Schools

As the EIS teachers’ trade union has pointed out: “Schools have reopened fully with no physical distancing amongst pupils and with rules which apply outside of school not applying inside e.g. rule of six; two households maximum; and mandatory face coverings in “crowded areas”.

For teachers, the consequence has been: “Workload levels are through the roof, however, and many staff have had little break even over the summer as schools sought to adapt to the Scottish Government’s last minute unilateral switch from blended learning to a full pupil return. Put simply, this term to date has been the most stressful that members can remember.”

School exams for next year have now been abandoned for national five level. The teachers’ unions’ demands for smaller class sizes and additional staff to allow for social distancing are essential, as is the expansion of the school estate. To enforce these demands and more will require action, including strike action by trade unions.

None of the new restrictions announced by Nicola Sturgeon will ease the pressure on schools and universities. In fact, they are designed to ensure schools still stay open, so the economy – aka profit – can function as normally as possible.

With winter approaching and a major upsurge in hospitalisation as a result of flu cases, it’s clear the NHS will be under enormous pressure.

Tens of thousands of routine operations have failed to take place during the pandemic. A huge backlog in cancer, heart, mental health and other serious conditions have also built up which can take month to clear.

Massive investment into the NHS and social care is an urgent necessity to prevent a health catastrophe.

Yet the Scottish government is proving incapable of launching a serious struggle against Boris Johnson’s Tory government for the billions in investment required.

Economic crisis

The Scottish economy will lose around 10% of its capacity in 2020. Unemployment will soar as furlough ends from the end of October. The new Job Support Scheme announced by Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak last month is a joke and will lead to a cascade of job losses.

Young people will in particular be at the sharp end of the jobs crisis. The trade unions must demand that full wages be paid by the governments for any worker laid off or forced out of a job as a result of either Covid lockdowns or the economic fallout.

And the money is there. Tesco, the retail chain, has just reported £500 million in profits for the last six months. The richest 20 people in Scotland have more wealth than the poorest 30% of the population. The global billionaires increased their wealth to $10.2tn (£7.8tn) during the pandemic, an increase of more than a quarter. Wealth concentration across the globe is now as high as in 1905.

More than one million have died from Covid across the world, without doubt, an underestimate of the reality. Capitalism is working as it should, for the rich and against the interests of the billions.

In Scotland, and in most countries internationally, working-class people, have no party to represent them.

What this Covid crisis underlines is that building support for a full socialist programme – and a mass workers’ party to implement it – is necessary to protect and develop the living standards of all.

For that reason, Socialist Party Scotland is working with the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to stand candidates in next year’s Scottish parliamentary elections.

Neither Tory, SNP or right-wing Labour politicians can or will fight capitalism, a system they all support and defend.

Only a socialist society, with public ownership of the major companies that effectively control the economy, would be able to resource and take effective preventative measures against future pandemics.

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