If nothing else, this pandemic is going to leave us with an enlarged sense of irony. On the one hand we were told to step out with our neighbours on a weekly basis, clapping with them, getting to know them, and bringing communities together. Now, we are being encouraged to monitor their activities, and snitch on them to police if they break rules, like the so-called Rule of 6.

For some extra irony texture we were told to do this by Kit Malthouse, Westminster's minister for policing this week, just seconds after he defended the British Government breaching international law with the Internal Markets Bill in a radio interview.

Add to this, a bit of confirmation by the Home Secretary Priti Patel, that she would have no problem with reporting her neighbours, and we’re all starting to get the picture: Dobbing in, is good. But then, an intervention in the shape of the Prime Minister, no stranger to a bit of nosey neighbourliness himself, saying that he isn’t a fan of “sneak culture”.

In Johnson's view it’s best just to have a word with a naughty neighbour rather than calling the cops, unless of course, they are hosting “Animal Parties” with hot tubs.

Meanwhile, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, whilst encouraging us to report on house parties, would rather we didn’t see it as “reporting your neighbours to police” but to look at it from the position of doing this “to protect each other.”

I’m not sure that this slightly cuddlier way of putting it actually helps. Grassing, it seems, has become our civic duty.

For some this will be an easy transition from serial curtain twitcher and loud whisperer: “That’s NEVER just one family!” to full blown caller-in to the police non-emergency number. For others it might be the opportunity for the perfect payback for that refusal to cut the Leylandii which blocked the light eight years ago. But how far do we go with this civic nosiness? Staging a noisy intervention into next door’s toddler’s birthday party is not going to go down well with over-sugared children, who have been together all morning at nursery.

The problem is that as coronavirus cases begin to rise again many are looking for someone to blame – young people, holiday-makers, demonstrators, ethnic minorities have all, at one time or another, taken a hit, and whilst we can’t compare a quick call to 101 with the regular spying on neighbours that occurred in Nazi Germany or Communist Eastern Europe, there is something deeply unpleasant about being watched, judged and reported on by a neighbour.

What if you are being visited by extended family bubble members or you are someone in need of mental health support who’s being spoken to by a couple of friends – are we really going to report these people? It goes against everything positive that has come out of the pandemic – solidarity, neighbourliness, togetherness, humanity.

These were the buzzwords at the start of the pandemic. “Big” government, whether in Edinburgh or London, stepped in to tell us all what we must do – lock down, stay indoors, stay home. Boris Johnson continually spoke about doing things together, and collectively working to get through the crisis and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak regularly talked about a collective national effort.

However, when in May, the UK government message changed to ‘Stay Alert. Control the Virus. Save Lives’ the woolliness of this slogan left its interpretation open, gently sliding responsibility for interpretation onto the individual. Want to go on holiday? You decide. Want to eat out? You decide.

In Scotland, however, the message evolved to ‘Stay safe. Protect others. Save lives’ – retaining at least some sense of the collective spirit. But we need big government to make that collectivism function, and by passing the responsibility to individuals we are handing it to such a wide range of personalities – from the downright blasé and Covid-deniers to the incredibly anxious, and the whole gamut in between, that social cohesion slowly begins to fragment. I have seen it in my own friendship groups – a friend’s children returned from Spain just before Spain went on the quarantine list; a disclosure about this to her hairdresser: a very tense, angry haircut followed; leaving my friend tearful. Add to that, reporting on friends and neighbours and you have a society that’s ever so slightly dysfunctional.

Increasingly we are seeing government passing the responsibility back to the individual to police themselves and others, to create a bunch of Covid vigilantes who take it upon themselves to enforce rules which have become so muddied and unclear. I hope I’m wrong, but it feels as if the spirit of togetherness is being ripped up in front of our eyes and the encouragement for one neighbour to snitch on the other is simply one clear manifestation of that.

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