Coronavirus: Scottish independence and Brexit once divided our politicians. But that's all changed – Alex Cole-Hamilton
On Monday I had one of the most uplifting afternoons I can remember. That’s a strange statement given that at exactly that time Boris Johnson was effectively putting half of the country on lockdown and changing our way of life fundamentally and unrecognisably for the foreseeable future.
It was uplifting because I spent a number of hours calling elderly constituents some of whom are already in self-isolation. Almost all of my afternoon surgery appointments had been cancelled, so I figured that if my constituents couldn’t come in to see me, I’d try to reach out to them. It was inspiring.
I expected to encounter frail people, uncertainly answering the phone with a quaver in their voices. What I found was a proud and cheerful defiance. I talked for a good while with people who were clued up on the expert advice and following it to the letter.
There was a sense of camaraderie to every conversation. It’s something I’ve seen everywhere recently. In discussing the merits of the two different bottles of remaining hand soap on the shelves, to bumping elbows with people in the street. There is a sense of unity in every (albeit socially-distanced) interaction I have nowadays.
That flows into politics too. I’ve been something of a pain in the neck to our Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, since she took office – as the Lib Dem shadow health spokesperson, it’s sort of my job.
Working across party lines
I’ve challenged her on a range of issues and on a weekly basis, but that enmity has evaporated as we both fix our gaze on the problem in hand. We speak most days – usually by text.
It starts with me asking her about a variance in advice or suggesting an idea as to where more space might be obtained for critical care beds. She comes back to me comprehensively and within minutes.
The Cabinet Secretary, the Chief Medical Officer and the National Clinical Director have worked very hard to include the opposition parties in the discussion and planning around this from the outset.
They have patiently taken us through the science that underpins every single policy decision and make no mistake, the scientists – the public health professionals and the epidemiologists – are in the driving seats of those decisions.
There is no posturing. No cynical attempts to steal a march on the other political parties by anyone around those tables. Instead, the atmosphere is one of unified determination with a laser beam focus.
It’s astonishing that things could be like this when we were so divided just six weeks ago. The constitutional chasms of Brexit and independence seem a distant memory and now feel entirely irrelevant when placed in the context of a virus that one journalist described as being to the 21st Century what the Second World War was to the 20th.
It is now certain that this period in our human history will shape everything about our human future.
This week has changed our way of life in dark and uncertain ways, but such light exists as well – in the resilience of our older and vulnerable people currently being shielded away; in the many acts of kindness currently being demonstrated by countless neighbours the country over; and in the evaporation of hostility between opposing political forces, who are for once pulling with relentless determination towards the same singular goal.
So, I will continue to call those people in isolation, even, if it comes to it, from my own period of isolation. The next few months are going to be really tough, but we can and must keep each other going.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western.