I AM the son of a barrier nurse. We knew the tales, we understood the equipment. My mum was first trained to tend to tuberculosis patients, in the immediate post-war period and through the fifties. She told of relentless scrubbing of hands and boiling of objects; how important it was to make connection with the patient through all the protective layers.

In the early, plague-freaked days of HIV/Aids in the 1980s, when no-one knew exactly how the virus was transmitted, mum threw herself into nursing the diagnosed. Like all good nurses, she both had a massive heart and was a geek for technique. Commensurating the two, caring through the danger, was her ethos. If she were alive and active at this moment, I’ve no doubt she would be up to her oxters, deploying protective measures.

So I am aware, maybe a little more than the norm, about what it’s like to live close to an infectious, damaging and maybe fatal bug. But I’m mostly of the Scottish generation who came home from school grumbly and smarting, showing off to cooing parents the purple vaccination lumps on our upper arms.

Measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, were dealt with by nurses with needles at the end of long queues to their offices. (Yet I seem to remember getting the first two of these infections, anyway.) In any case, despite the disgruntlement, there was a strong sense of us all dutifully having to submit to this. It was a collective mutual protection, which you’d have to be crazy not to go along with.

How much of that deeply assumed collective responsibility, facing ancient viral and microbial foes, is alive and operating today, under the threats of Covid-19 and coronavirus? Here, on these islands, it’s hard to measure. My 1970s experience – a compliant population trusting the science and expertise of those in authority above them – seems to have been replicated in nations like Germany, Finland, New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea, Iceland, Canada, Singapore. With the exception of the last, these are democratically advanced nations (half with women leaders). They also have strong bureaucracies and technocracies, and comprehensive welfare systems (Time, 2020).

Yet it’s so early in the game of comparative research, and so difficult to draw conclusions. For example, you might imagine that high levels of trust in government would be a key indicator of anti-Covid success – people’s willingness to follow lockdowns, wear masks, clean hands, input reliably into monitoring apps. But the aforementioned nations are all over the place on (for example) the 2020 Edelman Trust Indicator – indeed, most are nearer the bottom of the scale (Edelman, 2020)

We also approach tricky waters around deep cultural comparisons – where the popular willingness for your personal data to be fully surveilled, and acted on, by a monitoring state is deemed to be rooted in a difference between “Western” and “Confucian/Buddhist” values. Less individualist, more subservient to a paternalistic state, the riff goes (Asia Times, 2020).

I’m not so sure about this. Towards the end of 2019, I reviewed a book by the US academic

Shoshana Zuboff called The Rise Of Surveillance Capitalism (Kane, 2019). In this, Zuboff accused American info-corps – not Asian ones – of being relentless “instrumentarians”. Meaning that Google, Amazon and Facebook are hoovering up our interactions with our products and turning that data into ever more seductive and precisely targeted products. We supposedly sovereign Westerners submit to that meekly enough, speedily clicking through our EULA agreements on the way to the digital sweeties on our apps.

So no, I don’t think the core challenge of Covid is about diverse styles of governance, in the face of a biological threat. I have so little to say about the Brexitannic handling of this crisis – its arrogant exceptionalism, its cronyism, its systemic incompetence – that I won’t bother.

I have little more to say about the Scottish response. The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has certainly stepped forward and tried to inform and engage the Scottish public daily, taking the role of Explainer-in-chief hugely more seriously than her Westminster counterpart. Yet as of the end of July, according to the Office for National Statistics, “excess deaths in Scotland were the third highest in Europe during the first half of 2020, with only England and Spain faring worse” (The Herald, 2020). Imagine that Scotland had voted for the essentially confederal, “indy-lite” package in 2014’s independence referendum. Under those circumstances, I don’t believe we’d have been any less coordinated with Westminster’s judgements and assessments that we were over the first eight months of the pandemic.

THE challenge of Covid in Scotland is much, much deeper than political pointscoring across the devolutionary divide. It seems that Sturgeon recognises this, amidst her calming daily narrations:

I suppose the one thing I know beyond any doubt now is that I will not be the same coming out of this crisis as I was going into it…I don’t mean fundamentally changed as a person, but my perspective and what I value in life. What is important and what’s not important and the things that I get worked up about. I just think I will have a completely different perspective coming out of this. (The Times, 2020)

The National:

We’ll await the FM’s revelations. But I share her sense—if maybe not her conclusions – that Covid-19 compels a “perspective shift” on what we value in contemporary Scotland, and on the wider modernity we are continuous with (and perhaps, still, want to be a nation-state within).

There are three elements to this shift for me:

1. Covid-19 makes climate breakdown intimate and real. It’s here. I resist the idea that the coronavirus is somehow a separate, exceptional issue, compared to the urgencies of climate crisis. Just the latest instance of a perennial threat that humankind has had to deal with over thousands of millennia.

The work of Rob Wallace and Mike Davis (particularly the latter’s The Monster Enters) makes it hugely clear (Wallace 2020, Davis 2020). The relentless penetrations of capitalist agribusiness into virgin forest in Asia and Africa will generate even more virulent animal-to-human bugs in the future – that is, if the extractive and expansionist business model stays as it is.

And if the bugs don’t get us… then the likely outcome of a two degrees centigrade rise over pre-industrial levels by 2050 will be: hundreds of millions of people displaced by rising sea-levels from melted icecaps; severely damaged food supplies; methane released from permafrost that will likely accelerate warming to three degrees.

And at three degrees, says the eco-thinker Mark Lynas, “we will stress our civilisation towards the point of collapse”. We will endure violently, uninhabitably hot summers, regular extreme weather, and no albedo-whiteness at our barren poles that could reflect sunlight back into space – accelerating change further (NYRB, 2020).

Scotland (and Scots) cannot disappear into a bubble of competently-managed, “normalist” independence – where we pride ourselves on merely matching the average response to these biospheric disruptions (giving ourselves the excuse of early nation-building for mediocrity).

2. We must massively reduce the “material throughput” of our economies – which implies a full-system change. Some of the statistics on the inertia that impedes our response to a climate emergency are jaw-dropping. For example, we may believe we’re raised enough of a fuss about the amount of discardable plastic passing through our lives but it is still on course to increase by three times as we get to the middle of the century (The Guardian, 2020). We seem deeply unwilling—as consumer/citizens, producers or governments—to even countenance something as design-able as a ‘circular’ or “zero-waste economy”, because it may challenge existing business models or our current habits of convenience.

Bill McKibben makes this very strong point about Covid-19, and the near-total cessation of business-as-usual during the main lockdowns (NYRB, 2020). We’ve just had an experience of the kind of thorough-going change in lifestyles and practices that a zero-carbon civilisation might demand.

But there’s a hard truth at its core:

The bottom line was that [during the global lockdown] emissions fell, but not by as much as you might expect: by many calculations little more than 10 or 15 percent. What that seems to indicate is that most of the momentum destroying our Earth is hardwired into the systems that run it. Only by attacking those systems—ripping out the fossil-fuelled guts and replacing them with renewable energy, even as we make them far more efficient—can we push emissions down to where we stand a chance. Not a chance at stopping global warming. A chance at surviving.

We should be “bouncing beyond” our current, self-terminating socio-economic norms – not merely “bouncing back”, to the same or merely better. The crucial, fundamental question is: what is the most effective and coherent polity that could effect these changes? And which could have the executive power, and the degree of collective commitment, required? Many activists and thinkers believe this heralds the return of the city-state: the city being big enough to have effective infrastructures and budgets, and small enough to be able to mobilise and motivate civic and social behaviours (C40 Cities, 2020).

READ MORE: Pat Kane: Digital Christmas can be a chance for something a bit more meaningful

I’M holding out (with faint desperation) for an independent Scotland state, as a potential model for an “eco-nation” or “eco-state”.

3. Scottish independence can be an “Ark” to navigate these futures, and a “Lab” to experiment with new ways of thriving in them. It’s been a truism of Covid-19 that it has revived our belief in the necessity of state action – to enforce lockdown, print money to sustain demand-free (and supply-free) economies, coordinate research and tracing within and across borders, and communicate clear public health instructions to national audiences. Yet (as noted previously) not all states have properly executed their duties – and it’s been a joy to see grassroots, community-level solidarity and mutual aid emerge, to quickly and effectively fill in the gaps (The Alternative UK, 2020).

This Covid mutualism can blend well with Scottish traditions and practices of community empowerment. Common Weal (on whose board I sit) has proposed a broad-ranging report on “Resilience Economics”, which is a deep rethink of socio-economic practice in the era of Coronavirus (Common Weal, 2020). It focuses on making and repairing, the maximisation of territorial resources (land, wood, renewable energies), technology-enabled localism, radically shortened and circular supply-chains.

But the point is that scores, even hundreds, of strategic plans like Common Weal’s should be encouraged in a Scottish eco-society (one of the first items on the innovation agenda being how purposeful projects can be initiated by virtual and remote means – an obvious ambition for a full national-public media infrastructure, beyond relying on Californian corporations to answer this challenge). This is “Scotland as Lab”, acting in a spirit of experimental pragmatism in the face of the dynamics of the climate crisis – what Roberto Unger might call a “high-energy democracy” (Unger, 2020).

But this would hardly be zero-carbon innovation just for the sake of it. Scotland possesses a unique combination of elements – a solid social consensus for a gently prospering country, and our scientific, humanistic and engineering excellence. Independence gives us the chance to be an exemplar: to show the way that modern societies must radically change their course, their speed and their style, as they face requirements to keep their material throughputs within planetary boundaries. This is “Scotland as Ark” – putting our resources, skills and social/cultural imagination at the service of living lightly on a damaged planet; confidently sailing in the right direction, urging others to follow.

Covid-19, and its inevitable sequel, and the climate disruptions that tower behind both, are a piercing challenge to us as individuals, communities, regions and nations. Yet Scots have been in the mood and mode to “constitute” themselves differently for a century or more. To permanently imagine yourself in “the early years of a better nation” was never more relevant or helpful a mindset than now.

Pat Kane (patkane.global) is a musician, writer, futurist, activist and father. He is author of The Play Ethic (2004), curates events for Nesta and others, writes a column for The National, and is still one half of Hue And Cry. Pat is a long-standing supporter of Scottish independence, from a left-green perspective