“WE take care of our own; wherever this flag is flown; we take care of our own” sang Bruce Springsteen in his Grammy award-winning single in 2012. The Boss may be famously liberal, but he has always kept a foot in blue-collar populist nationalism. That song could be the anthem for the Covid age.

This pandemic has been nationalism's moment. Suddenly, people have realised why there are borders and what governments are there for: it is to look after their own. It is all about safety. When it comes down to it, other countries cannot make life and death decisions for you.

It was the principle applied by Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand when she decided that, actually, globalisation sucks and it's better to look after your own people, even if this means closing the borders to foreigners. Yesterday she said the borders would not be reopened “for a long time”.

It applies especially to small countries because they are generally forgotten when the chips are down. However, in Scotland, there has been a widespread belief that the reverse has been the case and that the pandemic has “torpedoed” Scottish nationalism as a Scotsman headline put it recently.

Commentators insist that the United Kingdom has been reunited, as in wartime. “The British family has come together to look after each other”, opined a romantic unionist in the New Statesman. I'm not sure there's much evidence for this.

The pandemic could equally be said to have demonstrated the opposite: that it is irresponsible in a crisis to remain tied to the United Kingdom, and to the politics of British Conservatism which this country has consistently rejected. Scots are certainly not enthused by Boris Johnson's record so far. Yet three quarters believe Nicola Sturgeon has done a good job, according to the latest opinion poll.

Personally, I am extremely uncomfortable with all the talk of borders, but I can't ignore the argument that, had it been in control of them, a Scottish government could have attempted the elimination strategy so effectively deployed in New Zealand. Instead, the UK government kept the borders open and some 8,000 travellers a day continued to enter Scotland with scarcely any checks.

Opinion: Teddy Jamieson: Government needs to deliver more than gestures

The influential Devi Sridhar, professor of Global Health at Edinburgh University, believes that if Scotland had implemented border controls early a policy of intensive testing might well have worked here. The Scottish death rate has been around half the UK figure, and Prof Sridhar thinks it could have been halted altogether. Yet, in line with the UK, the Scottish Government abandoned community testing and contact tracing in mid-March.

Now, I don't subscribe to the view that Boris Johnson has allowed thousands to die in order to save his billionaire Brexit chums. The UK government behaved reasonably, according to its lights, muddling through as always. But many mistakes were made and there is certainly an argument that Scotland could have handled the crisis better on its own.

There still seems to be an assumption in the UK media that big countries are better at handling crises like coronavirus than smaller ones. Precisely the reverse appears to be the case – the biggest countries like America, UK, Italy, have had a dismal record in managing the pandemic so far.

It is not only remote antipodean nations like New Zealand that seem to have fared better. The country with the lowest number of deaths per million in the EU is Slovakia, which has a population similar to Scotland's. The wearing of masks was made compulsory there early in the infection.

Slovenia, which borders on Italy, has also emerged largely unscathed. Most small states like Norway and Denmark seem to have managed the disease effectively. The outlier is Belgium which has had the worst headline death rate so far, partly because of its population density, and perhaps because the country which houses the European Commission has been the most open and “border-free”.

The true death rate league table, as the risk guru Sir David Spiegelhalter has pointed out, cannot be known until the pandemic is over. But there is pretty strong evidence that smaller countries do well. They seem able to move and adapt more quickly. They also tend to be more united and able to reach a rapid consensus.

Of course, unionists have always insisted that, Covid aside, an independent Scotland would be too poor and dependent on UK subsidies to survive. It would certainly start life with a budget deficit. But if the pandemic has shown anything it is that large deficits can be managed. They'll have to be, because every country is now in the same boat.

There was never any sound economic reason why Scotland should be any less able to manage its affairs than countries like Denmark or Norway. Nationalism is about security not economics.

Anyway, in the bounce-back, assuming that it happens, Scotland will again find itself tied to policies that it doesn't choose, which may include another wave of Conservative austerity. The Westminster government will naturally look to London and the North of England, where its votes lie. They will be first in the queue for investment.

This isn't out of malice, but simply because Scotland is another country. It seems blindingly obvious that we are entering an age in which voters and their governments are more nation-conscious than ever. Not in a spirit of xenophobic exceptionalism but out of practical necessity. They are nearer to the people and to their pain.

Of course, independence is not coming tomorrow or the next day. There won't be a referendum in the near future, for obvious reasons. But after Covid, Scotland will continue to demand greater control over its own affairs. It will increasingly behave as an independent country, even though it is bound economically to the UK. If and when the next phase of Covid arrives, Scotland will not be following a policy dictated by Westminster.

I think the voters are actually ahead of the politicians on this, and ahead perhaps of Nicola Sturgeon, who has been reluctant to appear to exploit this crisis for political ends. That is to be commended. There would always have to be cooperation between Scotland and England. But far from reviving the United Kingdom as a going concern, this pandemic could be the final nail in its coffin.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald