By Derek W Gardiner
When I was considering topics for my Sunday column this week, I didn't know where to begin. 2021 has certainly kicked off with a bang; another full national lockdown, Capitol Hill stormed, the US President removed from social media and the First Minister of Scotland labelled a liar by her predecessor. So I'll aim to take each of these in turn.
The removal of the President of the United States from his infamous Twitter account, which has generated hundreds of headlines in the last five and a half years since Mr Trump announced his plans to run for President, has only deepened the divide between two sides in American and increasingly British politics. It is possibly the start of two parallel societies forming and their members won't want to be around each other for various reasons. On the one hand, you have a group of people who's more extreme elements believe the world is run by a group of satanic paedophiles and on the other a group of people who believe the world is run by fascist white men. They each label people who disagree with them as "traitors" and call for them to be imprisoned. We have now gotten to the point where these two groups cannot co-exist on the same platforms.
Violence on all sides must be condemned whether it comes from the Capitol Hill rioters or from Antifa burning down businesses. However, while Twitter has now taken down President Trump's Twitter account, the account of the Ayatollah of Iran remains active leaving him free to incite violence against the West. While President Trump was losing support from his own party and even his own cabinet over the riots, by deplatforming him Twitter have given him a new lease of life, he can now claim martyrdom and rebuild his base on Parler which has already been taken down from the Google and Apple App stores.
By removing President Trump Twitter is not acting in accordance with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which gives social media platforms immunity from liability for the content posted on their sites so long as they do not impose editorial standards as say a newspaper or broadcaster would. However, they are free to impose contractual terms of service which would allow them to remove any accounts which go against it. Parler has been told by Google and Apple that it will only be made available in their app stores if they more rigorously enforce their own terms of service even though they are performing their section 230 duties to act as a platform and not a publisher. This may lead to a new app store being created to host certain "right-wing" platforms that tech giants don't want to host.
I expect that soon there will come a time when your political persuasion is determined by what apps you have on your phone, what social media accounts you use and where you source your technology from. While this may go some way to breaking up the big tech monopolies it will inevitably lead to two competing "echo chambers" and the main casualty will be critical analysis and reason.
No ifs, no buts, there must not be restrictions next winter
When the lockdown was first introduced last March people accepted it on the basis that it would be temporary and there would be a return to full normal with a vaccine. However, we now have a vaccine and the goalposts have been moved once again. The Cheif Medical Officer Chris Whitty talked about reimposing some less severe social distancing restrictions next winter, of course, he is an advisor and the decision will lie with ministers but our government seems to lack the ability to overrule SAGE so who knows what will happen. On the Andrew Marr Show this morning Professor Peter Horby talked of keeping social distancing restrictions after the current lockdown ends even after the vulnerable have been vaccinated to stop pressure on hospitals.
It seems highly likely that the NHS will experience another winter crisis next year, simply because it always does, and we must make clear, regardless of what a group of experts say, that lockdowns and social distancing measures were an extraordinary measure for this pandemic and can't simply be reimposed for a bad flu season, to that end the Coronavirus Regulations 2020 must be repealed at the end of March as a sign of good faith. If the NHS can't cope then its capacity should be expanded and bureaucracy cut out to allow more Doctors and Nurses to join the profession.
Seasonal restrictions were nowhere to be found on the 2019 Conservative manifesto and nobody voted for a "new normal". If all goes to plan then we must get back to old normal at the end of March.
The SNP civil war intensifies but will it see off Sturgeon.
The damage both economic and societal that Nicola Sturgeon has inflicted on this country has been unforgivable, her record speaks for itself, unemployment, poverty in a massive scale in places such as Glasgow and Dundee and now it emerges that she may be in breach of the ministerial code by failing to record meetings she had with former First Minister Alex Salmond, although breaking her own laws by not wearing a mask was also a breach of the ministerial code.
Ironically the only opposition I am seeing to Nicola Sturgeon is coming from within the SNP with some of her own MSPs criticising her decision to close places of worship and while I have reached out to my own Conservative MSPs about this no response has been forthcoming.
This is a resignation matter and the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon would be a very welcome one, she does not have the interests of Scotland at heart, her entire leadership has been a personal ego trip and the Scottish economy has suffered greatly as a result., she has ruled by decree since March with any criticism hounded down by the SNP cult on Twitter. I hope we can start 2021 off with new leadership even if it inevitably does come from the SNP.