PRIMAL fear envelops us. We fret that, for all our sophistication and brave new technology, this hideous plague might yet prevail, exposing us as weak, vulnerable creatures, scratching our futile, little marks on this planetary crust.

Omicron seems particularly chilling. Perhaps because of its rapid spread. Perhaps it is the weary plyter of this plague’s persistence, one exasperating variant following another.

Even the very name, Omicron, sounds like an archetypal villain, a superhero’s nemesis. We quibble and cower, the scunner factor fully at play.

Our approach is anthropomorphic. Instead of treating the virus as a random amalgam of molecules, we envisage a malign, sentient brute, assailing our peace.

And yet, and yet. There is still, somewhere within our collective entity, a determination to overwhelm this challenge to our well-being.

You encounter it in casual conversation. You hear it in the stubborn vox pop views offered to TV cameras. To these sturdy fellow citizens, I say: gaun yersel’.

Both factors – surrender and fight – are reflected in governmental responses. For example, Nicola Sturgeon empathises with public weariness while exhorting us, once again, to extraordinary endeavour in the face of the new challenge.

Aye, Merry Christmas right enough.

And yet, and yet. Science and history, not least the pandemic post World War I, tell us that we will prevail. That the plague will subside somewhat, reducing its potency and, eventually, its spread.

For now, though, it is utterly dominant. Both the First and Prime Ministers say their number one priority is to disperse vaccine more rapidly, to overhaul the virus.

Again, though, alongside that understandable pre-eminence, there are other elements present in contemporary discourse. There are other sounds to be heard beneath the cacophony of concern rightly caused by Covid.

It is proper to pay heed to them. These elements will endure after we have been released, or paroled, from this durance vile.

Let me focus upon two of those persistent factors; partisan politics and, firstly, the broad economy.

In the past few days, we have experienced economic changes which would have prompted furious and anxious debate in different times.

We have seen the cost of living rise by 5.1 per cent in the 12 months to November, the highest inflation level for a decade, driven largely by energy prices.

In response, the Bank of England increased its main interest rate from 0.1 per cent to 0.25 per cent.

That may, in itself, be minuscule. However, it is the first hike in rates for three years. Further, it reminds us that the broad economy has been, to some extent, becalmed, stuttering and stuck since the global financial crash of 2008.

We are still living with the consequences of that, occasioned by greed and reckless behaviour.

Now, we will also be living, for years and decades, with the financial consequences of this hideous plague. Occasioned by? Not sure we have yet got to the core of that.

What is certain is that business, most particularly hospitality, will need substantial assistance to survive, let alone prosper.

Which brings me to politics. Let me say, firstly, that I believe those political leaders who say they have set aside partisanship during the pandemic. Or, rather, I believe them up to a point.

Certainly, the weary, stale insults which sometimes pass for political discourse seem even more pointless in the face of a biological assault upon our entire species.

For example, Nicola Sturgeon was wont in the past to pick a fight fairly speedily with her political opponents.

That tendency is, perhaps, less pronounced since she assumed the burden of office. It is, now, less pronounced still. Sometimes, she begins an attack then relents, as if recognising its futility.

However, there are limits. There are conflicts grinding along in the mud just now which will develop wings and soar once the pandemic is by. Quite rightly: that enables democratic choice.

The most obvious political challenge confronts the Prime Minister. Boris Johnson has just contrived to lose a by-election in North Shropshire, a part of England his party has represented for two centuries.

It is said that Mr Johnson breaks established rules, that they do not apply to him. He has certainly pushed out new boundaries with this cataclysmic defeat.

His party, however, is less than delighted with this further evidence of BoJo innovation. One Tory MP said the PM was on “last orders” after this stunning victory by the Liberal Democrats.

Do I think this will be the fixed pattern for politics in England? No, I do not. It is, however, an indication that voters are less than gruntled with the mid-pandemic behaviour of the Downing Street Crew.

Expect changes close to the top. Deputy heads may, once again, roll. Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, meanwhile, will steadily seek to fuel popular disenchantment with the PM. Steadily, without over-emphasising the point. The pandemic still predominates.

Next, to the very different contest in Scotland. The SNP and Tories, the Scottish and UK Governments are preparing for a post-pandemic joust over who tamed the plague in Scotland.

We saw a rehearsal this week. Nicola Sturgeon announced support for struggling firms, lamenting the limits set by devolution rules.

The Treasury outlined plans to bolster Scottish spending just as the FM was getting to her feet in Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon reckoned that an irritating “wheeze”. The Treasury then gave details; £220m for Scotland. Ms Sturgeon said that was £48m short. Ah, said the Treasury, only according to your unrealistic expectations.

And so the long day wore on. Seriously, this is a substantive debate and a model for indyref2. You thought that had been forgotten? By neither side, my friends, by neither side.

However, there was also movement this week on an issue where politics will intervene, sharply. We learned the names of the individuals who will chair two inquiries into the handling of the pandemic: former appeal court judge Baroness Hallett will lead the UK investigation, while Judge Lady Poole leads in Scotland.

The opposition at Westminster and Holyrood will seek to blame Ministers. By contrast, we may find a symbiotic desire by UK and Scottish Ministers to stress that they did their best in impossible circumstances.

Strange times, indeed.

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