The report of Professor Bauld ‘warning‘ a Holyrood committee of ‘social unrest’ as some tire of the lockdowns, has been jumped on and is now everywhere.

No doubt, Prof Bauld’s words will have been simplified and magnified for maximum shock effect by our trusty wee churnalists. They’ve done worse.

I’m guessing that the research by Roberto Censolo and Massimo Morelli: ‘COVID-19 and the Potential Consequences for Social Stability’ in Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy, published on 26th August 2020, is the source.

Here’s an extract to give the flavour of their findings:

With the COVID-19 crisis, protest movements seem to have lost their voice all over the world. “Liberate Hong-Kong”, the environmental activism of Greta Thunberg, the “Gilets Jaunes” in France or the “Sardine” movement in Italy appear greatly weakened since the outburst of the epidemic. According to a Freedom House annual report (Repucci 2020), out of the 20 protest movements active world-wide in December 2019 only two or three are still active. At the same time, the disarraying impact of the epidemic on the network of social and economic relations combined with the restrictions imposed by governments to prevent mass infection are causing a latent sentiment of public discontent. The “virus conspiracy” argument and the denial of the seriousness of the epidemic, which spread in public opinion and are disconcertedly supported by several political leaders, are the symptom of potentially dangerous frictions inside society. Moreover, it has been stressed how the epidemic impacts on collective psychology (Torales et al. 2020). Anxiety, depression, and stressful social relationships tend to trap individuals within the private sphere, so that the social ties of protest movements necessarily loosen. However, this psychological effect may direct social moods towards a higher degree of aggressiveness, such that the level of social conflict in the post-epidemic period might be expected to increase. In this perspective, we may say that the social and psychological unrest arising from the epidemic tends to crowd-out the conflicts of the pre-epidemic period, but, at the same time it constitutes the fertile ground on which global protest may resurrect more aggressively once the epidemic will be over.

Then the authors say:

We argue that we can form an informed opinion about the possible effects of COVID-19 on protest initiatives and future social unrest by looking at the great plagues of the past.

That’s where I start to think and when I see the evidence they bring to bear, I think, no.

Their evidence of unrest is all from the period of the Black Death in London 1346 to the Spanish Flu in 1919 and all in large population centres with pre-existing conflicts based on ethnic or religious differences.

They have nothing from the later 20th Century and, critically for our purposes, nothing from the smaller, more secular, North European countries.

That pandemics have been commonly followed by civil unrest within countries with a recent history, or with current sources, of social unrest is far from surprising but in countries like Norway, Denmark or Scotland where irrational belief is at an historical low and where the habit of street riots is only a distant memory, who really believes we’ll see any significant social unrest?

In our poll tax ‘riots’ of 1990 was there a single death? Was one building burned? Even in the 1918 ‘Battle of George Square’, there were no fatalities.

Now, in Birmingham or Manchester or London, I’m not so sure.