In the aftermath of Sunday’s disorder, the First Minister has casually threatened us all with a prolonged lockdown. If she wishes to do so, we should run some tests on the Rangers fans.
The fires of hatred have in recent years found all sorts of new combustible material to use as fuel. And as our country limps towards its constitutional collapse, the ailing body will be set upon by ravenous hyenas for some time before the relatively benign vultures descend. Things as they are and will be for some time, the periodic disorder and distinctly ancient hatred we have long associated with Rangers FC seems almost a heady anachronism.
Yet not unlike the swivel eyed slavering hyenas of Disney’s The Lion King, come to think of it, are precisely the supporters of that club. Following the SPL title win, they were up to their old tricks at the weekend; vandalising their own city, rampaging through the streets and congregating in George Square to desecrate monuments and memorial benches to the lates of that parish, all the while making an exhibition of their trademark degenerate behaviour in fountains of puke and piss. Yet there is something comforting about a known quantity in such perilous times (although they are not one known well enough to Police Scotland – it would seem – who could have prevented that orgy of belligerence if they’d really wanted to).
But indeed, had we not been in the thick of a pandemic (which means, by the way, that these revellers have quite probably endangered lives) I would only be too happy to wake up again to more news about these gents, who used to regularly threaten my safety before I developed the street savvy to avoid them. They are not, after all, the essence of Scotland’s sectarian problem – they are its effluence, and therefore perfectly good for a chuckle.
Yet this time, the shenanigans of these louts is not simply material for a good laugh. The pandemic has brought more sinister forces to bear on Sunday’s events. What are these and how come?
It all rests on the reaction of the First Minister. I have written at length (here and here) about how Covid has been made use of by the SNP to further the only cause they care about. Way back at the start, Covid was not a devolved responsibility and that was a time of staggering incompetence and chaos, forever tainting what was then the British response. Things are much different now, and with Boris Johnson’s “route map” out of lockdown actually seeming - to give credit where it is genuinely due - sensible and robust, and with the vaccine roll out putting the rest of Europe to shame, Sturgeon is sorely missing the days when the devolved Covid response looked like a tremendous Scottish success (which it never actually was, by the way). Accordingly, the Scottish lockdown easing is deliberately more sluggish and onerous, just because it has to be different from the English one (which is working).
And so, true to form, Sturgeon threatened us all with a lockdown extension after Sunday’s events, specifically saying in a tweet that it “could delay exit from lockdown for everyone else”. Now, it is conceivable that that might be the case, and it’s a reasonable speculation – I might make it, you might make it, but when the First Minister says such a thing, we rather need to ask “How, exactly?”.
Surely the First Minister isn’t going to punish us all solely for a display of bad behaviour from a tiny minority of the population? Surely there would have to be some evidence collected to suggest that this particular mass gathering would or could have some effect on the Covid numbers, thereby necessitating an extension of the lockdown?
Of course, it was simply a knee jerk threat; the George Square celebrations simply offered some pretext for Sturgeon to threaten what she probably wants to do anyway. There will be no actual evidence gathered because there will be no research funded to gather it. And while speculating along these lines (no less informed than the First Minister seems to have been) it suddenly struck me that this is a pity. There is a real opportunity here – an opportunity to run an experiment that has not previously been run and which could possibly return some very bonny data for the prospects of loosening the leash currently suffocating civil society.
That George Square celebration was a congregation about as animated and as dense as that at a rock concert. Furthermore, the revolting behaviour (I do not even mean morally revolting – just revolting) of its attendees probably ensured liberal amounts of saliva froth and urine did not stay confined to their respective mouths and bladders. The hemmed in revellers must have made George Square a temporary infection super-hotspot. Covid must have been passed around like one of those inflatable balls you also get at rock concerts.
So what better way of indicating that we might have the coronavirus under control than to guinea pig these Rangers fans? The likes of the George Square celebration (and other congregations around Glasgow) have not been seen during the period of the pandemic. It would be an intolerably risky experiment to deliberately set up, (not least to the safety of the guinea pi-ahem-I mean participants) but it’s happened now anyway – so why not get some use out of it? It can’t be an impossible task to find out what areas of Glasgow and Scotland most of the attendees came from and mapping orange cowps across the country would give researchers areas to test for coronavirus spikes. If there are none – if Paisley Road is not transplanted to the Royal Infirmary – then it looks like we might seriously have this thing under control (as I must say I suspect we do).
So if Nicola Sturgeon sees fit to threaten all of us with an extended lockdown, then let her put her money where her mouth is and fund some research into the actual effect these gatherings had. We could be in for a pleasant surprise.