Does the Scottish Government have the power to put the country on lockdown?

Boris Johnson coronavirus press conference

Boris Johnson was quoted last week on ITV's This Morning toying with the idea that we should perhaps just allow the Coronavirus to pass through the population.  He told Philip Schofield, "perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures."

While countries around the world close their borders, cancel flights, shut down schools and ban mass gatherings, Johnson and the UK's Tory Government decided to do nothing.

Only last night, Johnson decided to follow Scotland's lead by banning mass gatherings.  Even the state broadcaster, the BBC used the phrase "will follow Scotland's lead."  Surprising?  Not really.  It was inevitable that Johnson's ageing core support would react badly to Johnson's inaction.  He only changed course because he has realised that it would damage him politically.

Telling people just to keep calm and carry on is not an appropriate response.

Johnson's advisers have suggested that a herd immunity would be required in order to prevent the virus from returning in the future and striking on mass.  It is being suggested by many onlookers that Johnson seems to be very deliberately doing as little as possible in order to protect the economy.

So now to the question, "does Scotland have the power to put the country on lockdown?"  Well it depends on what you define as lockdown.

Quite obviously we do not have full powers, because the Scottish Government is currently a devolved administration, a secondary administration to the UK Government.  We have limited powers to control the spread of the virus and to ease the burden on the Scottish NHS with extremely limited control over our own tax revenues and borrowing power.

many loved ones will die, Boris Johnson, Coronavirus, Daily Mail

Whilst it is true that health is devolved, and that we can take lots of strategic action to reduce the spread of the virus, lots of the big decisions can only be made by the UK Government.

For example, the decision to ban flights from certain countries into Scotland lies with the UK Government.  At the moment the UK Government have done very little in the way of preventing people from infected areas entering the country.  In fact, they've suggested during press conferences that it's too late to prevent the spread of the virus and that they will now concentrate on delaying the spread, to ease the burden on the health system.

If Scotland were an independent country, we would of course have 100% control over our tax revenues, and the Scottish Government could for example, suspend other spending priorities, in order to add more funds to the NHS.  We would also be able to cancel flights.

But that doesn't mean that the Scottish Government is completely helpless.  Far from it.  They are already utilizing their limited powers in order to contain the spread of the virus by publishing detailed health advice, and by banning mass gatherings of 500 or more.  A new helpline was announced today for Scottish businesses worried about Covid 19.  They have also issued guidelines for people in the workplace.

ScotGov have also assured overseas visitors to Scotland, regardless of their residency status, that they will be exempt from NHS charges for treatment of Covid 19.  They have also issued travel advice with regard to the virus.  They are also working closely with the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, and the UK Government in order to deal with the crisis.

The Scottish Government have also decided that planned Cancer operations should go ahead.

All football games have been called off, including the Rangers/Celtic game on Sunday.

Perhaps now is the time that the Scottish Government should begin to test the limits of the powers that they do have in order to deal with this crisis effectively and to reduce the harm that it does to the country?  For example, banning flights from affected areas as a very minimum?  We do not have the legal powers to do this, without consent from the UK Government.  But isn't it time we tested the limits in order to protect our citizens?

One thing we should be thankful for, is that Scotland has the best performing NHS within the UK.  That is widely acknowledged, and so we can be assured that any seriously ill people should get the treatment that they require.  But that obviously depends on the ability to slow down the spread of the virus and alleviating the pressure from the NHS.


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