Below is the text of the speech made by Steven Bonnar, the SNP MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, in the House of Commons on 12 May 2020.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to take part in this general debate on covid-19 and to be a voice for the people of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill in these unprecedented times. This pandemic has presented completely new challenges for us all, demanding responses that have no precedent, but this is by no means an excuse for the response of this UK Government.
This is not the first time that these nations have been faced with a crisis. Indeed, just last week, images of world war two were again broadcast into our homes. It was a time when our nations fought bravely together and when strong leadership provided the ultimate protection against our enemy threats. Today, we face a new fight and a new enemy, but there is no protection in the leadership of this Prime Minister. Where we looked for leadership, calmness, and direction, we found stand-ins, mixed messages and confusion. Covid-19 is no more a natural disaster than a famine; both are highly politicised events. We can waste time blaming the outbreak of disease on global agribusiness, but it would be an insult to the intelligence of the people of these nations if we do not recognise that the true failure in preparation lies at the very heart of the UK Government. For years, this Government have tried to fool us into thinking that their austerity-driven attack on our vital public services has been a societal necessity. Yet the current crisis has magnified the absurdities of these complacent assumptions. Will they now admit that austerity has always been an entirely political decision from which we are all now suffering: hence, the failure to implement immediate isolation and contact tracing for all those entering our borders; hence, the fatal delay in implementing lockdown; hence, the vast shortages of PPE in our hospitals and care homes; hence, the failure to meet revised testing target after revised testing target; and hence, the thousands upon thousands of lonely, untimely deaths that could and should have been prevented.
Despite those vast failings, a vague optimism has been added to proceedings: a vague optimism that people can go back to work but only if their work is open; a vague optimism that we can travel as far as we desire for exercise, but as long as public transport is not involved; and a vague optimism that we can meet with another outwith our household, but only if we do not plan to meet up with them beforehand. This vague optimism has become the epitome of the UK Government’s message. It is a strange pretence that everything is suddenly normalised: that witnessing the news of hundreds of deaths on our TV screens every evening is just to be accepted and that we can continue with life as we did in the past. A de facto muddling-through has emerged in this UK Government, one that is concentrating on maximising market power rather than on prioritising public health. It is quite disgraceful.
My constituents, like many others up and down these countries, are bearing the brunt of this confusion. No one should be forced to risk their health or the health of their loved ones in order to maintain their employment, and yet that is the very dilemma that my constituents are facing after this Prime Minister, on Sunday night, chose, as he always does, to prioritise one-nation Conservatism over a four-nation approach.
Let me finish by saying this, Madam Deputy Speaker: our death toll is nothing short of catastrophic. Our daily counts have far surpassed that of our neighbouring countries and somehow there is a determination to cloak this in the illusion of a Great Britain; a mythology built on inflated pride and lowered expectations. It is not this Government who are great—far from it—but the people of these nations who make it so. It is the health and social care workers, our security officers, our emergency responders, our till operators, our delivery drivers, and our teachers. It is to them that I give my thanks and appreciation. Those people are the backbone of our society and only when this UK Government begin to prioritise human life over economic prosperity will this country have something to be optimistic about.