January 28, 2022 - 10:45am

The SNP’s ongoing effort to gain full legislative independence while still enjoying the fruits of the Barnett Formula continue apace, with news that the party has tabled legislation that would give Holyrood the power in perpetuity to impose further lockdowns. At present Scottish lockdowns can only be imposed while the UK-wide Coronavirus Act remains in force — and this law was passed only with the proviso that it should be regularly reviewed, with ministers obliged to make the case for why it should continue in force at intervals.

The UK’s devolved administrations have consistently made more enthusiastic use of the pandemic state of exception than England, with more far-reaching restrictions, enthusiastic uptake of vaccine passports and longer lockdowns. In contrast, at the onset of every pandemic wave our now-embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson was at least sometimes reluctant to impose tough restrictions on individual liberties in the name of pandemic control.

As parties, cakes and other revelations continue to drip-feed into the news cycle, Johnson is now facing calls to resign for his own refusal to abide by restrictions that at different points in the pandemic he was less than keen to impose. In that context, I wonder how much of the furious energy now being directed at toppling our Prime Minister is rooted in his instinctive aversion to the kind of public-health technocracy now being pursued by the SNP?

This is not, of course, to make any claims on behalf of his moral character. Johnson has, over his premiership, emerged as a kind of Lord of Misrule: shooting from the hip, cracking jokes, surrounded on all sides by chaos and improvisation and very little in the way of principles, character, plan or even substantive political ideas.

But despite his now well-documented downsides, Boris’ chaotic, libertine and libertarian nature makes him an intuitive opponent of the sort of impersonal, rules-based Computer Says No governance now being pursued by the SNP and by many other jurisdictions worldwide. (In Quebec, for example, unvaccinated people are now forbidden to enter shops unless accompanied by a Health Warden whose task is to ensure they buy nothing but food or medicine.) Under such regimes, our status as bodies (and potential disease vectors) always takes precedence over our inner lives or individual stories, and the emotional misery caused by submission to this worldview is celebrated as heroic.

Notwithstanding the long lockdowns he presided over, Johnson’s own behaviour implies what he personally thinks of these kinds of impersonal rules-based orders: they don’t apply to him. To a partial extent in the pandemic, he’s extended that reluctance on our behalf too. We might wonder whether that chaos and aversion to rules isn’t, perversely, argument for not defenestrating him.

To put it another way: if they’re the only two options, I’ll take a shambolic, mendacious, libertine but fundamentally liberty-loving Lord of Misrule over grey-faced bureaucrats with the permanent power to lock me in my house at a moment’s notice. We might do well to wonder at the motivations of those currently seeking to persuade us otherwise.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.