THE streets are milling again, the pubs overflowing onto the pavement, the vans and delivery drivers hurtling around. You step onto the undergrounds of your chosen cities, deciding to mask up. And you look at the rest of the carriage, maskless and squeezed together, fully returned to their commuter crush. Sniffing, throat-clearing, coughing, commingling – as if the pandemic was ancient history.

And yet… it’s undeniably good to be out in these streets again. The first few face-to-face business meetings of the last fortnight or so have been a little, well, operatic. Clients and colleagues download on you a lot more than the brief at hand. Some reveal huge life changes: relationships terminated, souls reanimated, optimists gripped with dread (and vice versa).

My music partner and brother Gregory has noticed that we, as Hue And Cry, have done some of our most epiphanal gigs in the last few months, all over these islands. At the end of a night of big-hearted (and high-minded) songs, there’s tears, communal sing-alongs, tight handshakes of gratitude. It’s very tangible: a lust for life, experience and connection, emerging from the frost of Covid restrictions.

You also realise just how big the “third space” – between home and work – had become, in your pre-Covid life. Maybe I speak for myself here, as an inveterate freelancer, hard to tie down to any desk in any institution. But it’s been a big “hello” again to great public libraries, quirksome coffee shops, benches in verdant parks: finding a place to work at the heart of the human hive.

READ MORE: Covid is not over despite the rules changing, Nicola Sturgeon cautions

There’s a beautiful word they use in urban studies, which is “propinquity”. It means the state of always being near to something or someone. Yet being “propinquitous” is not the same as being “in community”. Except in a strange, urban way – where you feel comforted to be following your own creative path among thousands of others. You feel in solidarity with the very bustle itself.

These subtle, modern pleasures, and many more, are returned to you when a killer bug isn’t chasing you indoors. Covid robbed we civic and mobile animals of one of our deepest gratifications – that is, being complexly in the world together. It’s never been a surprise to me that there have been such surges to see the back of the pandemic, often despite authoritative medical evidence that clears the streets.

So as the cases rise and the hospitalisations fall, and immunised citizens make their daily bio-judgements, the Scottish Government has relented a little again. It’s shifted a 10-day domestic quarantine to a looser “stay at home till you’re feeling better”. And this on top of masks recently becoming voluntary in confined spaces.

What will be the cultural and behavioural legacies of Covid? There are some grandiose answers to that question. A massive rebalancing of “life” over “work”. An increased awareness of how respectfully we must co-exist with the natural world, including our fellow humans.

But if you listen to the scientists, the most urgent legacy should be our readiness to respond again, collectively and rigorously, to the next mutation coming along. The stellar Devi Sridhar has just published her account of the Covid pandemic, Preventable. In recent interviews she’s expressed how lucky we’ve been in avoiding more menacing mutations of the virus.

“Imagine if [Omicron] was this transmissible but even more severe than Delta. It would have been an impossible situation,” says Sridhar in the New Statesman. “We would have had NHS collapse. But we don’t know what’s going to happen with future variants. We hope we will get lucky again and this gets more innocuous. But this is so unpredictable as a virus.”

Sridhar also notes that we should be closely monitoring a more transmissible variant of Mers (or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). “Its fatality rate is so high [35%]. It kills young people and we don’t have a vaccine yet.”

So not only are we not out of the woods yet, but we are permanently enforested, in what Sridhar calls an “age of reinfection”. There’s an inevitability about the next big one.

The same return to normal “growth” and “trade” implies the same processes that generate powerful viruses. The return of hundreds of millions, flying across the world. The standard agribusiness model, smashing its way into forests and virgin lands, releasing pathogens as it mega-farms. Not to mention baked-in levels of global warming that are a petri-dish for new infections.

If it’s inevitable, then are we ready? Systemically and scientifically, it would seem we are. However much they were klutzed up (possibly even corruptly so) in the UK, we are now habituated to

public-health phone apps that can use our info, in order to guide us through the epidemiological maze of our everyday lives.

The vaccine makers are benefitting not only from an improvement in how they’re informed about the evolution of a virus. But their exponential software – especially AI and machine learning – is accelerating analysis of the core structures of pathogens.

I’m not crazy about the degrees to which Big Pharma is being insulated from their liability for the long-term side-effects of these vaccines. I also accept that there’s a long Covid generation who will be suffering chronic illnesses, which land heavily on the economy and the NHS alike.

But I have to be properly and honestly ambivalent about what Covid has shown our modernity to be. Yes, over the centuries, it has generated a juggernaut of biosphere-shredding systems: a global capitalism that extracted and exploited the planet at will, sedimenting a toxic legacy.

THREE decades of COP conferences; three decades of inexorable increases in atmospheric carbon. And a biosphere so unstable and enraged, it sends emissaries out to kill us. Not impressive.

Yet, on the other side, our modernity can mobilise both bio-technical ingenuity, and the goodwill of citizens, to defeat (or at least effectively defend against) one of our oldest enemies.

I’ve mentioned Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry For The Future here before. It seems the opening horror of the book (a heat epidemic that kills millions in the Global South) is dreadfully coming to pass in parts of India and Africa.

Yet in the book, such events are the triggers for the endeavour of a bunch of bureaucrats, technologists and activists. Under urgent conditions, they come up with (and implement) startling new ideas to address global warming. A “carbon coin” to incentivise business to zero carbon; restoring ice caps by pumping water from below them; and many others (including the covert invention of an eco-religion).

READ MORE: UK Government loses High Court challenge from women whose dads died from Covid

I’ve thought for a while that some of the thunderclap of an independent Scotland should resound with this kind of systemic eco-innovation. Robinson’s Ministry sits at the UN, and is mandated “to advocate for the world’s future generations of citizens, whose rights, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are as valid as our own… charged with defending all living creatures present and future who cannot speak for themselves, by promoting their legal standing and physical protection.”

Why don’t we aim at prototyping a Ministry which aims at something like that? And not just for utopian reasons, but for national morale as well. What are the collective “missions” or “moonshots” at which Scots could target their self-determination, at a community and national level?

And how might these moonshots be inspiring but also mobilising enough, so that we can mentally and emotionally survive the next scurry indoors? What is the digital platform, or “Scotaverse”, that might support such a national empowerment, under pandemic conditions or not?

See what some spring sunshine, and propinquity to punters, raises in a body! Let’s use whatever respite we have from virality to strengthen our radicalism about the future we need. (Putin permitting…).