IN the compendium of vacuous quotes about coronavirus, this one by a Glasgow University academic the other week was a stalwart example. “Avoid hearing too much bad news and think about your own personal strategy when negative thoughts start to populate your mind.”

You kind of knew what he was driving at but it seemed to be aimed at those whose personal crises might include the failure of their homemade wild garlic pesto to attract many likes on Facebook. I much preferred Oddball’s trippy exhortation in the classic 1970 war film, Kelly’s Heroes: “Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves?”

The Glasgow prof’s reflections on unlocking optimism, though, was a study in rigid rectitude compared with the litany of moonbeams and unicorns masquerading as Boris Johnson’s coronavirus exit strategy. “We must stay alert,” he said on Sunday before producing several of those squirrels he keeps up his duke when confronted by the nodding dogs of the English press.

The Prime Minister had seemed chuffed by the success of his government’s coronavirus choices up until then: “By adopting those measures we prevented this country from being engulfed by what could have been a catastrophe in which the reasonable worst-case scenario was half a million fatalities,” he said. “And it is thanks to your effort and sacrifice in stopping the spread of this disease that the death rate is coming down and hospital admissions are coming down.”

So certain was Johnson about the long-term robustness of his estimates that he felt moved to ease the lockdown restrictions in England. As it turned out, his optimism was to turn to ashes within 24 hours as it was revealed that the UK death toll now stands at more than 40,000. We are now on course to become the worst affected country in Europe, our death toll now accounting for more than a tenth of the entire planet’s. But hey, it’s a lot less than the worst-case scenario of “half a million fatalities”, a number that seemed to have been arrived at by a couple of advisers during their cigarette break … in keeping with his government’s entire coronavirus strategy.

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The Prime Minister’s plan possessed more misplaced optimism than the swimmer who believed that those crocodiles up ahead were the vegetarian of the species. You can go to work, but only if you can’t work from home. You can go wherever you like for as long as you like so long as you promise just to meet one other person at the end of it. Who knew that Ashley Madison was a big Tory party donor? Oh, and don’t for the love of God go anywhere near Scotland. Or Wales. And, er, do try to avoid public transport.

And, if you’re all very well behaved we might even let you loose on the pubs in time for the annual English inebriation season. (This is the one that starts on July 1 and is marked by the wearing of shorts and England football tops). That old rocket who owns the Wetherspoons pub chain was always going to get his reward for backing Brexit. The rest of us weren’t to worry either because Johnson was sure that the English people would use their deep and world-famous reserves of “common sense”. We had been favoured with some vivid examples of that good, old-fashioned common sense just two days previously.

The National: Boris Johnson and Wetherspoons boss Tim MartinBoris Johnson and Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin

That’s when we watched street parties and swaying conga lines all over the towns and shires to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day. The Jerries didn’t like it up ’em during that war and plainly neither does coronavirus, which had obviously taken a break during the bank holiday weekend in honour of the occasion. What a kind-hearted disease this is, bless it! And with such a sense of history too. It will plainly wilt in the face of implacable English common sense.

This is what happens, of course, when your party is beholden to big business and all those chief executives who paid £100k-a-pop for tennis with Boris at the annual fundraising dinners.

WHO cares that those who are unable to work from home are most likely to be poorer people working in the gig economy who lack the employment protection to resist the demands of their bosses to return to work? And if they live in London, the most densely populated city in Europe where you can’t get to work without using a bus or the Underground, well … just try to avoid facing your fellow passengers.

Following Johnson’s address to the nation, the veteran Guardian journalist Martin Kettle, no lover of the notion of an independent Scotland, tweeted: “At 7pm on Sunday, May 10, Boris Johnson effectively ceased to be the prime minister of the UK and became prime minister of England.” Those of us who observed closely Johnson’s conduct during the Brexit campaign have known since July 24, 2019, that he is England’s prime minister, and only England’s. He likes to be described as a “one-nation Tory” and, in every sense of that phrase, he certainly is.

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Nicola Sturgeon has faced legitimate criticism from within the wider independence movement that she had been too eager to fall in behind Johnson at the outset of coronavirus. And she may yet need to explain why Scotland didn’t enter lockdown earlier. And yet, there is some merit in the explanation that to have done so in isolation would have left Scotland, without full fiscal autonomy, profoundly economically exposed. But by choosing to stick with the lockdown in Scotland at this crucial phase, the First Minister has acted in the best interests of the country. She has grown as a leader during this crisis, if you regard the primary duty of leadership to be the care of her people. Thus far she has avoided the need overtly to promote an independent Scotland.

But you don’t need to promote independence when the leader of the UK is making such a good job of doing it for you. Where Boris Johnson talks about trusting to “common sense” Nicola Sturgeon prefers to “err on the side of caution”. There is a time for national leaders to take risks and, perhaps the First Minister has been too slow to take them even when the odds have been in her favour. But good leaders of mature democracies don’t take risks with the health of those they’ve been entrusted to serve, no matter what forces may be adjuring them to do so.