THE United States of America or the Faroes. The super-power or the tiddler. Whose outlook looks more effective today?

The world woke up this week to a colossal act of sabotage by Donald Trump – epic even by his own destructive standards. His brazen scapegoating of “Chinese-favouring” scientists at the World Health Organisation (WHO) was vindictive. His decision to axe US funding characteristically childish, but also proof positive that Trump’s poll ratings are tumbling – and he knows it. Pray God Joe Biden rapidly emerges as a convincing Democratic alternative, not just the candidate who least alarms Middle America.

Still, while the world was reeling and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates was boldly calling Trump’s decision “as dangerous as it sounds”, the British Government was bravely saying nothing at all.

No condemnation.

No alarm bells.

No glowing praise for the work of the WHO lest that be construed as criticism.

The furthest “our” guys would go was timid confirmation that Britain’s WHO funding would continue because international collaboration is “essential”. Wow. That’ll fairly prompt a rethink.

But it wasn’t intended to, because the vainglorious Brexit project of Boris Johnson remains ludicrously “on track” and without a US trade deal brokered by Trump, Britain’s Covid-ravaged economy will be sailing straight into the doldrums.

So, there’ll be no robust and principled world leadership from Great Britain.

And none from the “world’s superpower” either.

Perhaps it’s time to look north instead.

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The same day Trump was letting his wrecking ball swing against the World Health Organisation, the tiny Faroe Islands were hitting the headlines for a far better reason – they are one of only five European countries without recorded coronavirus deaths and with a larger proportion of their population tested than anywhere else in the world.

The Faroese have tested nearly 10% of their 55,000 residents, identifying 183 cases and tracking anyone in contact with those people. Of the folk who’ve fallen ill, 131 have fully recovered and just one person remained hospitalised last week. The government in Torshavn is now considering a “careful and partial” lifting of its lockdown soon.

How did the Faroese move so quickly and effectively?

Well, it’s partly because they have the world’s most powerfully devolved parliament and are used to thinking and acting for themselves, and partly because 20 years ago a viral epidemic hit the lucrative Faroese salmon industry and they learned from it. Big style.

The outbreak of salmon anaemia in 2001 jeopardised the whole Faroese economy. Fish make up 90% of exports and half are farmed salmon. So, their government funded advanced testing equipment and set up a dedicated laboratory to guarantee fish health. It was this lab that came to the rescue seven short weeks ago, when the WHO first warned of a possible pandemic. Head vet Debes Christiansen adapted his lab for human tests without “too much hocus pocus” and, being a fish disease expert, was able to source materials from a wider range of suppliers than hospitals. As a result, the Faroes can perform 1000 tests a day if required and has research assistants to analyse those tests on the same day, without sending samples to Denmark.

Was that just luck or something more?

Of course, their experience with viruses meant the Faroese took the Covid-19 threat seriously, while other bigger and (to be fair) more densely packed urban societies did not.

But perhaps more importantly, the Faroese are relatively free to act as they see fit, and as an oft-ignored remote set of rocky islands (still nominally part of Denmark), they’ve got used to thinking and acting for themselves.

Other countries have hit problems procuring medical devices and equipment in long transnational supply chains. Last week, for example, the British Government discovered millions of antibody testing kits ordered were not fit for use and the Dutch found a consignment of ventilators were unusable. But the adaptable Faroese – who’ve had the guts and wit to set up their own airline, own broadband network, own university and expand their own Google-Translate listed language – just got on with a “good enough” home-grown solution.

It’s paid off.

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EARLY testing and the collection of relatively extensive data mean that Faroese scientists are now part of the worldwide race to find a viable vaccine. Just a reminder – their entire population is about the same size as the Fair City of Perth. Scientists at the iNOVA research centre are about to start work on sequencing the coronavirus genome. CEO Janus Vang says: “Faroese researchers can create a research strategy entirely based on local circumstances [because] we have the facilities to analyse our own data.”

The record numbers of corona tests on the Faroes means they’ve had a better chance than most to accurately track the spread of the infection, and that helps map the genetic make-up of coronavirus – a crucial step in finding a vaccine. It’s hoped the Faroes – though not an EU member – will be able to access European Commission funding via “mothership” Denmark.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has been exposed for trying to tie a German recipient of EU research funding into an exclusive vaccine deal to save America alone. The Germans refused.

Compare and contrast.

Where is the leadership?

What are the lessons for Scotland to learn?

More importantly, which model should we follow? The outdated big-is-beautiful model – which still exercises a fascination beyond any evidence for beneficial outcomes – or the small-is-beautiful model practised in a variety of ways by our hugely successful Nordic neighbours?

It may seem entirely the wrong time to be asking such a long-term and apparently distracting question. But the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the dodgy defaults of societies and governance structures around the world, and it’s not our small neighbours who’ve been

found wanting. Resilience is the key, along with an emphasis on equality, low levels of bureaucracy, ultra-local government, a respect for science, a belief in planning, a constant effort to achieve fairness and a society where individuals expect to earn respect, not inherit it.

Of course, the Faroes have problems. A relatively small elite owns its vast fishing wealth, and a brave attempt to democratise that recently prompted the collapse of the country’s left-leaning coalition. But at least folk in the Faroes are asking the right questions about the dangers of private hierarchies and concentrations of wealth and power.

Are we?

It’s impossible to dismantle Britain’s destructive “devil take the hindmost” structures in the middle of a health crisis. Agreed. But the mindset is already crumbling amongst citizens who’ve proved more caring, knowing and adaptable than any government has ever given them credit for.

In the midst of Covid misery, there’s also been a surge of human capacity, which governments can either build upon, or ignore. As Matt Hancock announces a new badge for care workers to compensate for low pay, unskilled status, precarious work and a lack of PPE, it’s time for Scotland to decide. What does our post-Covid future look like – business as usual or a country with new goals and a new, explicit reliance on our small-country neighbours?

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