Covid vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel that should lead us to a brighter future – Christine Jardine MP

I suspect that it is going to be one of those moments that ranks alongside where you were when you heard Kennedy had been shot, or that Diana, Princess of Wales, had been killed in a car crash.

The coronavirus pandemic transformed almost every aspect of our lives, but a vaccine could potentially restore life to the days when every hard surface wasn't a potential risk to be regularly disinfected (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
The coronavirus pandemic transformed almost every aspect of our lives, but a vaccine could potentially restore life to the days when every hard surface wasn't a potential risk to be regularly disinfected (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

And even though it was what we all desperately wanted to hear, the news almost seemed to come from nowhere. We have a vaccine.

November 9, 2020. I was on an early train to London when the news flash appeared on my phone.

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There was palpable relief in Westminster, across the country and everywhere on the media.

Susanna Reid’s impersonation of ‘that’ scene from When Harry Met Sally, the excited response of an Oxford professor on Radio 4 and a stock market going crazy seemed to speak for all of us.

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Very cold comfort

Of course, as the week wore on, the reality began to sink in that there is still a long way to go before any of us will be able to roll up a sleeve to have the injection.

Few people would miss having to wear face masks (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

There are still rising death tolls, lockdown in England, near-lockdown in Scotland and the fear that the second wave, in which we are now fully engulfed may, if we are not super-careful, be even worse than the first.

Even so, there was a belief that a light had just appeared at the end of the tunnel and that life as normal might be possible again, rather than just a pipe dream.

At the moment all that most people know about the medical advance on which so many everyday hopes are pinned is that it is manufactured in Belgium, has a 90 per cent success rate and needs to be kept at a temperature of approximately minus 80 degrees.

But it is enough to be going on with and bolster our confidence that this development will be more smoothly handled, and the roll-out more efficient, than what we have seen so far from our governments.

Forgotten issues

The important thing for many of us is that we now have a chance tackle the virus that has made every day seem like Groundhog day.

Close to a year down the line, I think I have thought about that wake-up scene from the movie almost every morning since March.

Hitting the alarm clock every day to find it’s the same day, over and over again.

Partly because until this week there seemed little progress in so many areas, and so many others seemed to have disappeared from the agenda.

The WASPI court case, in which so many women born in the 1950s and facing hardship caused by state pension age changes hoped to find some relief, came and went with sympathy the only thing offered from the Prime Minister.

The millions of excluded self-employed and freelances who have fallen through the holes in the government’s Covid-19 safety-net of job schemes and loans.

The too many who were already struggling with a Universal Credit system which had shown itself unfit for purpose before we had heard of Covid-19.

And a climate in crisis.

A better, greener future

The to-do list of issues crying for attention is longer, and more depressing than a Leonard Cohen song.

Yet at times during 2020, it has seemed that neither UK nor Scottish government has had little capacity for anything but knee-jerk reaction to the latest pandemic related problem.

As that light at the end of the tunnel begins to glow a little brighter those, and others, are the issues to which we shall have to turn our attention.

The question on our minds should be whether we want our new post-pandemic normal to be the same as the old one or to be better, greener and stronger?

We need to see change. The next generation of activists is already working on it and they have support from more established figures.

Last week a support fund was launched to help women overcome the economic barriers of getting into politics, backed by one of my dramatic heroes, Emma Thompson.

What politics can be

Scrolling through Facebook, I paused at a picture of the new Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris visiting the Dog Tag Bakery in Washington.

It’s a non-profit organisation that runs education and employment programs for veterans with disabilities, military families and caregivers.

In Westminster, I lent my support to a project to encourage local provision of sustainable energy, while at home I launched a campaign to level the retail playing field for small shops struggling in the pandemic to compete with online giants

For me, these are powerful reminders of what politics can, and should be, once we are released from the pandemic’s grip.

We need to repair our economy by supporting and encouraging companies to transition to a greener economy. Turn away from the fossil fuel energy sources that are destroying our planet but do it with the co-operation and technological know-how of the oil and gas companies.

And ensure that no-one falls through the cracks in the future by coming up with a system of Universal Basic Income which allows everyone some sense of financial security.

Those things on their own will not be enough but they will be a start.

November 9, 2020 will always be the date when the world learned that a solution to its most immediate medical problem might be at hand.

But we should also strive to make it the date when we began to rebuild and shape a greener, healthier economy.

This light at the end of the tunnel must be about more than just the pandemic.

It has to be about our politics too.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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