The Big One

It needn’t have been the Big One. In the beginning, scientists assured us it wasn’t. And at first, it wasn’t. The country it started in got it quickly under control. The horror felt by the rest of the world, looking on at the draconian measures that government used to control the outbreak, was balanced by the relief of feeling as if a bullet had been dodged. It wasn’t until much later that the truth of the numbers of sick and dead from the disease in that country became truly known – at the time, no one in power voiced any suspicion – in public – that a zero or two had been dropped in the record keeping.

And then people started returning home from winter holidays…bringing a case here and a case there with them. By the time any semblance of a track and trace system was in place, the disease had been working its way through the world’s nations for weeks.

Even then, if governments had acted quickly and decisively, the worst may have been avoided. One nation forbad travel from the north, with its infrastructure and hospitals, to the south, with its rural, less well served, areas. One island nation closed its borders entirely, and imposed a lockdown on its citizens. By the time the New Year arrived, 11 long months later, that country was the only one able to celebrate in any traditional manner. The rest of the world sat at home, singly or in small groups, staring glumly at digital displays and desperately cheerful holiday shows on their screens.

In one western nation – a nation looked to for some level of world leadership in the past – the leader of the moment, in a mindboggling display of hatred for any policy put in place by his predecessor, had dismantled so much of the preparedness system, of the entire mechanisms of government, that the country was blindsided by the disease. It spread throughout the nation, taking out the poor, non-white, and crowded urban populations first, leaving the leader’s followers feeling immune, and free to think and spread the idea that the disease was no worse than the flu. Any attempt by scientists and health care professionals to counter this, and warn the populace, was undermined by the preceding years of distrust for ‘experts’, sown by the people who had put this leader – expert in nothing but keeping the eyes of the media on him – in power. The numbers of sick and dying climbed higher daily, higher than in any other nation, eventually killing even the young and healthy, as well as with those who had earlier denied the seriousness of the disease.

In another land, the government representing a small union of four nations, was already bogged down in difficult negotiations to extricate itself from another, larger, union with 27 other nations. It wasn’t going well for them or their reputations, and they couldn’t afford to ‘panic’ the populace with scare stories about a few sick tourists. They were sure, ruling from their ivory towers of power, that it would blow over, and they’d be able to claim a victory over not just the 27’s negotiating team, but the virus too. By the time they started taking the disease seriously, it was too late. Later, precious time to track and isolate the disease during a nationwide lockdown was wasted while the leaders were busy doling out billions to their friends to build ferry terminals and produce protection equipment…all projects which ended in disaster, as few of the friends had the experience or knowledge to deliver on their promises. They did, however, know how to turn a disaster into an opportunity.

Worried urbanites fled to second homes, campsites, and even roadsides in the rural areas, thinking they’d be safe there, but unknowingly carrying the seeds of the disease with them to towns and islands ill equipped to either deal with the ensuing crowds, or the numbers of sick they left behind. And when the lockdown ended, the rest of the populace, feeling as if they’d done their bit, and were deserving of a reward, swarmed the beaches and hills, and booked themselves onto cruises and holiday packages. And the disease reared its head even higher, and roared across the land again, killing the old and infirm first, and then people of all ages and levels of health. The government floundered, advised first one approach, then another, as all the while, representatives from the ruling party behaved as if they were not beholden to any of the rules the rest of the citizenry were being advised to abide by. And large numbers of the public took a cue from them, and behaved the same.

By this time, it had become clear that if this wasn’t the Big One, it was its next of kin.  And still the disease raged on, felling the arts, small businesses and large, and lengthening lines at the food banks beyond anyone’s peacetime memory. Hospital beds filled with the sick and dying, and with those who had been sick and recovered, but were now ill with secondary illnesses. Health care workers died, treatments for other health problems were slowed or stopped altogether, and deaths from ailments not related to the disease climbed. The health services began to buckle under the weight of it all.

When the exit negotiations with the 27 finally concluded, the government hid the nasty surprises of the disappointing details behind bluster, the Christmas holidays, and another nationwide lockdown. Those sitting glumly at home barely noticed the moment when their union finally left that other larger one. Except for the people in one of the smaller member states of this union.

In the north of this land, the people of this small nation had wanted to hold onto their membership of that other, larger union. They had voiced that desire decisively, at the polls, and in many ways since. They had been ignored. So when the bells rang out on new year’s eve, signalling the end of the year, and of their membership in that other treasured union, they were not only mourning the loss of loved ones to the disease, the loss of income and comradery… they were mourning the loss of a union with nations they been close to much longer than they’d been a reluctant member of the one they were being left with. Their relationship with the government of this smaller union had been rocky since they joined it. Now it was in tatters: they looked at what the government’s behaviour had cost them during the time of the disease, and they looked at what leaving this other union was going to cost their farms and fisheries, their small businesses and international ones…and they felt rage.

This disease that wasn’t the Big One, but was near enough to lay the world low, and the loss of their membership of a union they truly loved and wished to be a part of, was a final straw in a long list of finals. Combined, these two things became the Big One.

And the people of this small country in the north looked away from the union’s government to their local one, and saw dignity and straight-talking. Sound advice based on science and health care expertise, advice which they could respect, even if they didn’t like it. And they thought ‘what do we need this union for? It is killing us’.

So, while they were still busy trying to survive the ravages of the disease to their lives and livelihoods, and prepare for the ravages of their forced exit from a union they valued more than the one they were left with, they also started thinking about how they could better survive as an independent nation. Free to support their people’s lives and livelihoods to the full extent they wished, during lockdown and recovery. Free to join or leave their own chosen unions. Free to rebuild their nation – once the disease was mastered – in their own image, charting a different course from the current government’s despised trickle-down Thatcherism.

And once this thinking had spread throughout this small nation, it changed the future even more than the disease did. And it spread through the other members of the union…and changed their futures too.

No, this needn’t have been the Big One. But it was.

#IndyRef2021 #FreeScotland #WearTheDamnMask


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