In the week since Boris Johnson announced the easing of lockdown in England his confused message has rightly been pilloried by the press, by opposition parties, and has been flat out ignored by the devolved governments in the rest of our United Kingdom. While it looks as though most people are still abiding by social distancing measures, after nearly two months of lockdown, we are all starting to feel the strain.
Increasingly, the national unity we all felt during March is unravelling. The dialogue between Westminster and the devolved governments has become fractious to put it mildly as Westminster forges ahead with a London-centric response, ignoring regional concerns – in this at least we are seeing a return to normality.
Here in Scotland, we continue in a state of suspended animation. The First Minister has still not even outlined the plan to ease us out of lockdown, let alone given us an idea of the timeline. For example, while it’s clear to most of us that schools won’t be reopening before the new year starts in August, we need confirmation from Holyrood in order to begin planning the mammoth task of returning to work. Where is the comprehensive testing and tracing system which will really help us to adapt to our new reality? There was a worrying report earlier this week that 30,000 Scottish tests are currently missing: how can we confidently step out of lockdown if we are not using our capacity to test and the system is already apparently failing?
What is becoming clear is that a federal approach to governance, with an emphasis on local government, will be essential in our post-Covid 19 landscape. We need increased local powers to be able to respond to localised flare ups quickly and effectively, so that we don’t need to go into national lockdown every time a hotspot emerges. Local government capacity has of course been severely impacted by budget cuts of up to 40% over the past decade of austerity, something that must be reversed at the earliest opportunity. The time to push for greater regional powers is now. The Liberal Democrats have consistently called for federal governance throughout the UK, the only party to do so, we are therefore ideally placed to start the debate which must happen now to shape our new normal and lead us out of this terrible situation.