This week’s hot topic is nationalism. Post-Brexit news stories here dwell less on trade and transport hassles than some expected. Instead, other issues have come to the fore. Consider Britain’s progress on vaccinations, which has clearly irritated EU member states. At the same time, a long-running schism over Scottish independence threatens the existence of the UK itself.
Britain has vaccinated (with the first of two shots) more than a tenth of its population to date, according to the FT’s Covid-19 vaccine tracker. That’s not bad from a standing start less than seven weeks ago. Only Israel and the United Arab Emirates have beaten the UK’s 11 doses per 100 residents.
Closer to home, Britain has outpaced its former cohorts in the EU. Of those, only Malta comes close at well under half the UK’s number. Spain has delivered 2.7 shots per 100 people.
That has left EU citizens vexed and wondering what has held up their jabs. Regulatory approval is one hold-up. Unlike its UK and US peers, Europe’s drugs watchdog, the European Medicines Agency, has yet to approve the easier to handle Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. In any case, AstraZeneca has since signalled production issues mean it will struggle to meet a promised agreement to provide 100m doses of its vaccine to European nations in the first quarter of 2021. AstraZeneca’s French boss Pascal Soriot now reckons it will be half that.
Predictably, the rollout of jabs has brought vaccine nationalism back on to the agenda. Hence the EU’s tit-for-tat response: perhaps some export restrictions should be imposed on the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine — created in Germany, made in Belgium. That might worry some in Britain, which has one of the highest fatality rates. Adding to the jitters: a German newspaper report, now debunked, has claimed AstraZeneca’s vaccine is less effective for those aged over 65.
Demand for more doses runs counter to strong anti-vaccine views in places such as France and Austria. Lex discussed this anti-vax movement more broadly earlier this month.
Part of the problem could stem from the bold stance taken by the US and UK on financial research support for pharma groups. Comparable per capita orders from the EU, UK and US were not matched by the EU on funding for vaccine development.
The UK government has a — well, separate — nationalist problem on top of this. Scotland’s ruling Scottish Nationalist party wants to leave the union. Furious that the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has forced a split from the EU, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon this week called for another independence vote from the UK. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, Scots voted by a wide margin, 62 versus 32 per cent, to stay within the EU.
Mr Johnson hopes to stop any momentum. Technically, Scotland would need permission from the UK parliament to offer its citizens another binding referendum on independence. The last one in 2014 failed. Most polls today tilt slightly towards having another independence vote. But Ms Sturgeon is a locally popular leader, boosting the independence movement’s cause.
What has given roughly half of the 5.5m Scots pause for thought are the economic consequences of a break. Whereas once the SNP had hoped that oil exports could provide the foundations of an independent economy, the party leadership has less to say about Scotland’s economic robustness today.
Given this week’s birthday of Scots bard Robert Burns, for some a symbol of independence, Lex took another look at what oil means to Scotland. Spoiler alert, a lot less than before. Less than a decade ago, oil represented more than 12 per cent of Scotland’s gross domestic product; now it is down to about 5 per cent.
The cause is twofold. Crude prices have crashed since the last vote. Also, a 2016 reduction in oil production taxes by the UK government means that Scotland’s revenue portion has collapsed by about 80 per cent since 2013-14. All that suggests that Scotland would need to find other economic drivers if (a big if) Westminster agreed to another referendum. That might include a large dose of debt forgiveness on its portion of the UK’s national debt. If so, that looks a tough sell given Britain’s own weak finances.
While that independence debate will rage on, here’s hoping the virus will not. Have a safe rest of your week.
Alan LivseyLex Research Editor