Danger on a train

In late May, at the height of the row over Dominic Cummings’ Durham excursion, SNP MP Margaret Ferrier summoned her umbrage and opened up Twitter. 

‘Most people have all been abiding by lockdown guidelines for weeks & months now, making sacrifices to protect others & the NHS,’ she intoned. ‘Extremely difficult for many with no visits to family & friends, no visits by grandparents to hold newborn grandchildren, not getting to attend funerals.’

Not content, she turned her ire on Boris Johnson for defending his chief adviser. ‘One rule for #DominicCummngs and one for the rest of us,’ she opined. 

Fair enough. Many of us were unhappy about the appearance of rule-bending by the very people writing the rules. Margaret Ferrier had made a valid political point, a landmark moment in itself. Her admission, then, that she went on a 400-mile train journey after testing positive for Covid-19 is something of a U-turn on the morality of rule-breaking. 

It should go without saying that everyone wishes her a full and speedy recovery. It should also go without saying that this is one of the stupidest things an SNP MP has ever done, quite an achievement by any measure.

Ferrier’s apology reads like a plot line rejected by The Thick of It as too implausible. The Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP came down with symptoms, took a coronavirus test, travelled to London by train, was informed that she had the virus, then travelled back home by train. Even Nicola Murray would’ve cottoned on before then.

To endanger one train full of passengers may be regarded as a misfortune; to endanger two looks like carelessness. Rail services from London to Scotland are typically busy. Yet, at no point in her itinerary of infectiousness did Ferrier stop to consider that travelling for hours in a confined mode of public transport would risk spreading the virus to others. 

We cannot be certain how many passengers she may have infected on each train and how many they might have infected in turn. They quarantined Typhoid Mary for less. 

But it is not only Covid Margaret’s myopic misjudgement that is at issue. She and her party were at the forefront of calls for Dominic Cummings’ head to roll. Nicola Sturgeon said he should go for the ‘integrity of vital public health advice’. Last night, Sturgeon criticised Ferrier’s actions and Ian Blackford removed the whip.

Yet Ferrier remains an MP. She has not had to resign to safeguard ‘the integrity of vital public health advice’. Benefit of the doubt for me but not for thee. This is familiar fare from SNP politicians: demand the most exacting standards from their opponents but practise not one word of what they preach. When your party has an inflated sense of its own virtue in place of a philosophy, this is the kind of thing that happens.

Ferrier’s apology raises more questions than it answers. For one, she writes that, having returned from Westminster on Tuesday, ‘I have been self-isolating at home ever since’. If that is the case, why did we have to wait another 48 hours before being told any of this had happened?

She says she travelled to London to attend Parliament. Did she share a lift with anyone at Portcullis House? Did she mingle with fellow MPs? Did she wear a face mask at all times — and during her two train journeys? We have a right to know the full story.

Beyond the stupidity, beyond the hypocrisy, lies the gnawing feeling that there is something rotten in Scottish politics. The First Minister is holding us prisoner in our own homes, telling us not to go to work, forbidding us to have next door round for a coffee and sending in the police to break up house parties.

We go along with this because we recognise that there is a deadly virus out there and sacrifices are necessary to defeat it. Those sacrifices are tempered, or at least they were, by the assurance that they applied equally to everyone. No special treatment for the privileged and the powerful. We were all in it together.

Now we are told that an MP disregarded the laws the rest of us must obey. Not once, but twice. And she did it while infected with the very virus that we are fighting. Don’t bother getting angry; your anger won’t do anything. Don’t bother getting outraged; strategic concerns, not your opinions, are behind the decision to withdraw the whip.

We are governed by people who sit above the directives they impose on us. As Margaret Ferrier might say, there is one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us. 

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters@dailymail.co.uk. Image by Nuclear Information Service via CC BY-SA 2.0 on Flickr, cropped.

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