STRIKING images of deserted platforms at railway stations around the country seemed to trigger still surreal memories of the first lockdown. More than just similarly eerie photographs link the two events – they are both teaching us lessons about the social contract which has guided how we have lived our lives.

There are several definitions of that contract but it can best be summed up as an unsigned agreement by which we live in society through establishing moral and political rules of behaviour. Basically, we give up certain rights to accept a central authority in order to protect other rights in the service of the common good.

The first Covid lockdown was a good example of the social contract in action. The vast majority of us accepted restrictions on our behaviour and our social contacts in order to prevent the spread of the virus and therefore offer as much protection to as many people as possible.

I think we were surprised how quickly and completely we accepted the suspension of those rights –not just, or even mainly, because many of the new guidelines were enforced by law but because we agreed with their ultimate aim. We saw the logic behind them.

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One minute our streets were packed by crowds going about their business as normal, the next it felt like we were living in the middle of a Hollywood blockbuster depicting a post-apocalyptic desolation. If we had been told beforehand how quickly our lives would change, I’m pretty certain that not many of us would have believed it possible.

Nevertheless we did as we were asked, remaining largely indoors and largely in isolation from or friends and family. The milestone events which mark our lives and our deaths such as weddings and funerals were transformed or cancelled altogether. We discovered new addictions and accommodations, whether through Netflix box sets or Zoom calls while working from home.

Of course, not all of us were happy at the changes and not all of us agreed they were necessary. But regardless of such doubts we followed the guidelines/rules, mainly because we believed them to be necessary to cope with a situation that none of us had experienced before but also because to have flouted them would have been socially unacceptable among our friend, families and neighbours.

That experience held many valuable lessons. Among them was perhaps a new awareness that most people, given the opportunity, would act to in accordance with the greater good even it meant considerable personal sacrifice. We learned of the inherent good of humanity and saw the heartwarming benefits of a sense of community our busy, materialist lives had perhaps undervalued. We emerged with a greater love of family and friends who we no longer took for granted because we were no longer able to share precious moments.

We changed our lives because it seemed the pandemic was a great leveller. We were all, to some extent at least, in the same boat. Any of us – rich or poor, powerful or ‘’ordinary’’ – could be struck down at any moment and the consequences could at worst prove fatal. The universal threat provoked a universal response and humanity largely seemed the better for it.

More than two years later the pandemic is increasingly looking like the last successful example of the social contract working properly in the UK. Since then those in power have been largely focussed on tearing it up behind our backs.

This week we are being encouraged by the UK Government and certain sections of the right-wing British media – which is most of it – to view our fellow humans not as inherently good but as as pernicious, selfish and interested only in how much money they can make. Which is, ironically, as good as a description as any of the present Conservative government in the UK.

More than two years after lockdown was first introduced we are facing a new crisis, one which is affecting our income rather than our health but which is having no less dramatic an effect on our wellbeing. But nowhere in the response to the cost of living crisis do we see any suggestion that we are all in this together and we will emerge victorious if only we join forces and share resources and aims.

It is almost as if, having seen the population pull together for no reason other than to do the right thing, Boris Johnson and his cronies have recoiled in horror, all too aware of the challenge this presents to a status quo which worships nothing above eternal economic growth.

Now they are busy undermining everything the pandemic taught us about the principles underlining the social contract.

AND so instead of celebrating humanity’s propensity to do good, the government and its friends in the media are cajoling us to see legitimate industrial action to recalibrate the balance of power away from the rich as greedy and uncaring.

This alternative reality paints those taking part in this week’s rail strike as overpaid (most are paid nowhere near the top salaries quoted), callous (most regret being forced to take action which inconveniences the public) and even undemocratic (rich from a government which denies Scotland’s obvious and clear mandate for a second independence referendum).

The real question is what avenue other than industrial action is open to us when faced with a government whose most recent actions are in direct contradiction to the social contract in which we have placed our trust.

Those who did most to ease the suffering of those affected by Covid have been ignored while the rich and powerful have exploited pandemic to devise new ways of becoming even richer and more powerful.

Those who have heeded requests for wage restraint have seen board members and chairmen pocket astronomical rises without blinking. Behind our backs they feathered their own nests while the economic storm clouds gathered.

Those who sacrificed human contact with dying relatives have been made to look fools by the very people who introduced those rules and virtually the next day attended drunken parties at the centre of government at Downing Street.

Now big business is using a financial crisis brought about by its own ineptitude as an excuse to shed workers and keep wages low, parroting the lie that such action will keep inflation low when it has instead driven inflation to its highest level since the 1980s.

Ignore those who try to depict the financial crisis has a global problem. The UK is doing far worse than most countries in Europe – mainly because we were dragged out of it.

In truth there is so much about the ‘’financial crisis’’ which is incomprehensible. Why are our energy prices spiralling out of control when we are an oil-producing country? Why are our electricity bills increasing so much when renewable energy produced in Scotland meets more than 95% of our needs? Why in the thousands of words analysing the causes of our present despair is Brexit so rarely among them?

Covid should have taught us that we needed to dramatically rethink and restructure our economy to benefit people rather than the bottom line.

Instead, inequality, injustice and poverty are worse than ever, sewed into the very DNA of the British state. This seems the number one reason why the Scottish government is right to prioritise the urgent campaign for independence. Yes, things are bad but there is no other chance of making them better.

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It is the UK government that is ignoring the day job and instead spending its time pumping out propaganda to demonise the strikers and deflect attention from those running the business. While the state turns its back on the social contract industrial action increasingly seems the only rational response; action aimed not just at paying rail workers a fair wage but at protecting jobs and giving the country a proper rail service.

If the price of achieving that outcome is a few days of travel disruption then I for one am more than willing to pay it. Who do you trust to do the right thing for public transport: RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, whose calm and reasoned arguments this week demolished his increasingly idiotic looking media and political adversaries, or the two highest-paid directors who seem unable to be motivated to do their jobs unless they are paid around £1 million between them. Remind me, who are the greedy ones in this dispute?

Of course while we remain in the UK we should stand solidly behind those who refuse to bend to a corrupt, morally bankrupt government. But we must accept that within the union we simply don’t have the numbers to change it.

Surely the best action we can take to help those fighting that fight is to take our independence and show how to forge a new social contract, one that properly gives a voice to those who need it and power to those who deserve it. If we cannot save the UK, we can at least provide inspiration that share our vision of a better, fairer country and prove that it is possible to bring such a country into being. That seems to me the best hope for us all.