On Tuesday, another 4,323 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Scotland. A reminder, if it were needed, that the pandemic continues even though 80 per cent of the adult population are now fully vaccinated. The schools are back and the start of the new university year next month suggests more new cases are all but certain. The worst of this iteration of the pandemic may be in the past but it isn’t over. Indeed, it is so far from being over that the First Minister felt it necessary to warn that a fresh round of restrictions may be necessary should case numbers continue to rise.
Even if that proves unnecessary and even if you are minded to think Sturgeon’s caution excessive, it is obvious that Covid will be a part of life for the foreseeable future. Not a dominant part, perhaps, but a part of it nonetheless. The fall-out has barely begun to be measured. Part of that measuring process will come in the independent, judge-led, inquiry into how Scotland handled the first months – years, in fact – of the pandemic. That inquiry was also announced this week.
All of which is to say there will be no independence referendum any time soon. Moves will be made pretending there might be a poll by the end of 2023 but there is no sign Boris Johnson’s government is prepared to accept this fixture and for as long as half the Scottish voting population makes it clear they wish nothing to do with a second referendum there is little need for the Prime Minister to rethink his opposition. The SNP may huff and they may puff but they cannot, for now, blow the house down.
So what else is Sturgeon to do? She has seemed an isolated figure in recent months, compelled to devote the full measure of her attention to a public health emergency that distracts from, indeed obstructs, her party’s defining passion and ambition.