Nicola Sturgeon and the rise of the traumocracy – The Spectator

n March, Nicola Sturgeon was asked about her response to Scotland’s drug deaths crisis. She said failings were ‘not because we didn’t care, or because we weren’t trying to do things, but we have concluded because we couldn’t do anything else, that we didn’t get it right’.

This is how she addressed the worst drugs death rate in Europe and the government failings which fuelled it. An admission of regret and some self-justification: a recognition of the harm done but little in the way of a roadmap for future prevention. Drug deaths were a matter of regret rather than a health and social problem that needs solving. It wasn’t about what ministers did but whether they ‘cared’.

Let’s spend a while on that word ‘care’: to care about something is to view it emotionally — I can care deeply without responding practically. Indeed, if I focus on my care over my response, it implies an inability to properly respond.

To ‘care’ in politics is to view problems through this emotional lens rather than the practical lens, to view issues as traumas requiring acknowledgement instead of material failings demanding change. This is what we see in the Scottish government’s response to any criticism: trauma recognised but never remedied.

Welcome to traumocracy, our new politics of feels over fixes. Recognising trauma is necessary, but it is not primarily a matter for politics. Indeed, when acknowledging trauma becomes the prime duty of politicians, the demand for concrete action is lessened. Think back to Sturgeon’s talk of being ‘deeply concerned and moved’ by deaths in care homes in May last year, when we now know that her government was moving Covid-positive patients into those homes. This is traumocracy at its worst: name-checking consequences without substantively responding to them.

The appearance of caring — rather than the doing of things to actually make people’s lives better — is intrinsic to traumocracy. As an approach to public policy, it is a form of political inactivism, and the accompanying discourse of ‘care’ spurs on a cycle of neglect.

We can see this in education. Last August, Sturgeon apologised for failing to get exam results right — but only ‘after a lot of soul searching’. Almost one year on, students are sitting exams in all but name and there have been warnings that another results fiasco is on the way. If you believe politics is about material action, you would be working in earnest to head off a repeat of last autumn. If you subscribe to traumocratic politics, you just need to have some warm words lined up for when it all goes wrong.

Naturally, if you fail to remedy a situation it will get worse — and, when it worsens, you have to care more. Thus is politics becoming a matter of who ‘cares’ the most rather than who offers the most effective solution. Policymaking is being rendered a matter of morality over practicality: a competition to see who claps loudest for the NHS or is the most regretful over a failing. In the process, problems get worse and the cycle of neglect continues.

This cycle is not simply a matter of worsening outcomes and declining standards. It is toxic for pluralism and civic society. A politics primarily about caring rather than acting is just another branch of performative morality: a battle between Good Parties and Bad Parties. If that discourse takes root in a pluralist democracy, as it has done in Scotland, it entrenches partisan divides and further chips away at political trust.

Compromise becomes an exercise in moral surrender rather than productive pragmatism. This moralising also blends roles and damages institutions. Politicians exist to fulfil a practical purpose and answer real-world needs: to fix the roads or to close attainment gaps. They are not supposed to provide moral guidance. They should behave morally, of course, but they should not use virtue as a shield. Morality is a matter for individual conscience, civil society and spiritual institutions.

Yet traumocracy is usurping these institutions as politicians assume for themselves roles that were hitherto thought beyond politics. In doing so, they undermine pluralism and replace neutral civic spaces, in which we can be free of political partisanship, with a new, highly politicised version of public morality. Professing to ‘care’ holds such sway that it allows you to neglect tangible needs, contribute to the tribalism around fulfilling them, then congratulate yourself on your empathy.

Traumocracy has become the dominant mode of Scottish politics. A third of all Covid-19 deaths occurred in our care homes but instead of confronting how that came about, the decision-makers get away with pivoting the conversation to how they feel about it. Scotland has the highest drugs deaths rate in Europe, with mortality figures spiking year on year since 2015. Ministers cared — I’ve no doubt they did — but their empathy didn’t stop almost 9,000 people dying from drugs misuse since the SNP came to power. But at least they had a sympathetic face ready for the cameras.

Traumocracy is politics as therapy session: everyone’s feelings get a boost but no one’s circumstances change. But politics without the possibility of change is a dead end. It’s not enough to care, you have to care enough to act.

Owners of Glasgow institution Ubiquitous Chip warns businesses ‘will fold’ over impact of Level 3 restrictions – Glasgow Live

The co-owner of some of the city’s most popular businesses has said they’re ‘not in a good place’ financially in light of the decision to keep Glasgow under Level 3 of lockdown.

Colin Clydesdale, co-owner of The Ubiquitous Chip, Stravaigin, and Hanoi Bike Shop, has warned that businesses face closure over the impact the restrictions will have.

Nicola Sturgeon announced on Friday that Glasgow City would remain on a tighter lockdown than the rest of the country due to a ‘significant’ coronavirus outbreak.

The restrictions mean that alcohol can’t be served indoors, leaving pubs and restaurants out of pocket.

Each time Ubiquitous Chip has been forced to close, Colin estimates it’s cost between £10,000 and £12,000 and between £6,000 and £8,000 to reopen.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, he said: “Even in level three it’s not normal trading conditions. We’ve been under duress, now, for approaching 14 months, I genuinely don’t understand how the Scottish Government thinks hospitality in Glasgow can cope with this.

“We are not in a good place financially. At quarter to five last Friday we got the news that we wouldn’t be moving into a tier we would much rather have been in. We have spent three days phoning 700 people who were all booked in for Saturday, May 22. It took three people, three days to apologise, trying to stay positive while doing it. People are desperate to get back out – we are actually having to hold them at bay.

“We have done as we were told. Hospitality has bent over backwards to adhere to every single new rule. I can go from the epicentre in Glasgow, and if I go 1.7 miles in one direction, I can have a pint, but if I go six miles in the other, to us, I can’t. I don’t understand that. I can’t see how it makes any sense at all.

“It’s a huge financial cost [to the business]. Just having three folk (making cancellation calls) has probably consumed half of the £700 compensation we were so generously offered. ”

Despite furlough still being offered to businesses, employers are required to top it out but some have been unable to meet the cost of topping it up and have been forced to let go of staff.

Colin added: “It’s very simple. If there’s no money coming in, and there’s money going out, it can only last so long. It’s pretty basic stuff.

“Our guys are great. They’ve rolled with the punches at every turn, but the look of despondency on their face last weekend at 5pm when they all realised what had happened – they need a break. It’s relentless.

“It’s very simple. It’s all about sums. How long can you expect businesses to limp along in a loss-making situation before they all start to fold. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

The number of cases per 100,000 people in Glasgow has increased from 71 last week to 122.6 in the seven days to May 18.

Speaking at her briefing on Friday, the First Minister said that Glasgow is ‘yet to turn a corner’ and could remain under Level 3 restrictions for a number of weeks.