Despite the private doubts no one in Holyrood’s debating chamber wanted to listen

COVID-19 BROUGHT our lives to a standstill and everything we thought was normal was turned on its head. Instead of the NHS being there to save our lives we were suddenly told that it was our job to save the NHS. Thousands of people in need of help didn’t visit their Doctor because they believed it was either too dangerous or that they were not allowed to. 

Children found their education halted and young people had the ‘best years of their lives’ turned into a virtual world with social contact reduced to computer images. A pandemic was sweeping across the world and death was supposedly just around the corner. Nicola Sturgeon appeared daily on television, soberly announcing the hospitalisations, deaths and case numbers. ‘Sacrifice’ became commonly used in daily conversation. Lockdowns, social distancing, compulsory masking, enforced closure of businesses, all actions taken and supported by the collective population. But behind the scenes objections were being raised. 

The Great Barrington Declaration, an open letter published in 2020 was one of the earliest questionings of the Public Health approach, across the World individuals were challenging the science and logic behind Governments decisions. I was one of those people and my experience is not so very different to anyone else’s. Initially when the emergence of Covid-19 was announced none of us knew what we were dealing with, it was not unreasonable to feel and express some anxiety about what was happening. The first lockdown could be viewed even in hindsight as a rational and sensible approach, but it quickly became apparent that Covid unlike Spanish Flu or Ebola was not going to kill healthy people indiscriminately. Instead, it was a virus that attacked the lungs of the old and vulnerable, those with co-morbidity’s whose immune system was weakened. 

For the rest of the population, it was somewhere between asymptomatic and a nasty dose of flu. Yes, it certainly was unpleasant, but it wasn’t a virus that was going to wipe out a generation of young people. Inevitably many people quietly started to question the logic and efficacy of lockdowns and in particular school closures. However, our concerns were met by abuse, accusations, and threats, or even the reality of losing your job. We were accused of being uncaring, naïve and worse of causing deaths by undermining the Governments public health campaign.

Twitter and Facebook accounts were suspended and invites to be interviewed by the media became assaults on your integrity and inference that you were a conspiracy theorist and had bought into fake news. Everyday more propaganda and editorial cover of Covid added to the fear and hostility that opposing the now collective thinking elicited. Scrutiny in Parliament both at Westminster and Holyrood was almost non-existent, rivalled only by the medias lack of meaningful questions as politicians vied to be the most virtuous. 

Nicola Sturgeon basked in her role as protector of the people whilst behind the scenes those who were truly at risk were sent from hospitals out to care homes without proper testing or thought, taking the virus to those who were most vulnerable to its fatal targeted effect. On April 23, 2020, Offcom (the UKs communication regulator) issued strict guidance about Covid coverage. It could be summed up as do not challenge the Governments Public Health Policy. Maybe the fact that news outlets rely heavily on advertising for their income might explain some of the endless negative headlines. With their traditional advertising income halved due to Covid, Government stepping in with huge advertising campaigns perhaps inevitably meant that there would be little challenge to the hand that was feeding them. 

For those of us who were not subsumed by the mass hysteria that seemed to be engulfing free speech our frustration grew. When I moved against the regulation to close the churches in the Scottish Parliament, I received the supporting votes of only four MSPs, the churches then took the Scottish Government to court and won. In Parliament I lamented the collateral damage to our children’s education, to the mental health of our citizens and to our economy that the Governments Covid restrictions would inevitably bring. 

A sacrifice worth paying? No, decisions that I said would in five or ten years’ time cause our successors to ask ‘what were these people thinking?’ 

One thing was certain, no one in Parliament was listening and instead restriction after restriction was waved through with little or no opposition. My anger and frustration mounted, and my logic prevailed, sit down and eat and drink in the room and the virus wont touch you but stand up and go to the toilet and a mask is essential for your safety. The rules were science-less and at best often ridiculous, but their impacts were not. A local minister confided he had overseen more funerals for suicides than Covid deaths during the Pandemic an anecdotal fact that should send a chill of concern through even the most committed covid warrior.

Sadly, we were a Parliament subservient to fear, a Parliament with no opposition to the biggest assault on peoples’ freedoms and free speech. It was group think of the worst kind with far reaching consequences. Those of us who questioned it had to wage a battle against being silenced. Behind closed doors, privately, even politicians questioned the logic of being able to go to the large supermarket but not their local independent store, they wondered how not being out in the fresh air and having social contact curtailed could possibly be the right thing. But it was the emperor’s new clothes, the majority secretly thought something wasn’t right, but nobody wanted to be the one to say it because you don’t build a political career by dying on your sword! 

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A former nurse and NHS manager, Michelle Ballantyne was a Conservative member of the Scottish Parliament who resigned the party to mount opposition to the severity of pandemic restrictions and was leader of Reform UK in Scotland during 2021.