FACED with an unprecedented global health crisis that will affect all of our lives, many of us are at a loss for what to do or how to feel. In uncharted territory, it is easy to take comfort in being led, and it is tempting to be assured by promises of an ideological stalemate.

Over the past week or so, as the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic finally sank in, it became clear there would be no politics-as-usual in Scotland and the UK for quite some time.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that there would be no SNP or Yes Scotland campaigning for the foreseeable future, and said she has “never been less interested in party politics”. Similarly, Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw set aside criticisms of the SNP to confirm he had “every confidence in her to lead the country’s response to this crisis”.

This, we have been told, is a time for working together, for supporting one another, for a united front to help our countries and communities pull through the months ahead. All these things are true – they were true before this crisis hit, and their importance is only amplified by the urgency of the challenges before us.

If there is one positive to be gained from a state of emergency, it is that it should make acutely clear the difference between petty, adversarial politics and the politics which truly affects our everyday lives. But in rejecting the former now, we should not be fooled into throwing the baby out with the bathwater and forgoing serious political debate.

The truth is that everything is political, whether we like it or not, and far from being less pressing in extreme circumstances, the stakes of political decisions are only heightened in a crisis. And in this case, the more accurate term would be “crises”, because it is not only the immediate risk to health and the burden on our NHS and social services that we must contend with, but the concurrent threats to our economic and social systems.

The most obvious “revelation” (for those who have only just been jolted awake) to arise from the pandemic is that these systems are frighteningly fragile, ill-equipped and unevenly distributed, to put it mildly. Ready to be blown over by a breeze, the structures on which we all rely have been hit with a whirlwind, and somehow we are supposed to consider it uncouth behaviour to point out that the foundations ought to have been made stronger in the first place.

Some of the worst injustices facing people in the UK and the world over are only going to be exacerbated by this situation. This includes those at the sharp end of the housing crisis, the people who don’t know if they will be able to pay next month’s rent or if they’ll be evicted as a result, and the people who are already homeless and don’t have the luxury of social isolation.

It includes the parents who will struggle to afford childcare, the women who will bear the brunt of increased caring responsibilities, and the families living with abuse who will be imprisoned in their own homes.

It includes the vulnerable people for whom social distancing means cutting off face-to-face services and groups which offer the only break from loneliness in their normal life; the people affected by Scotland’s drug crisis who are at greater risk of having multiple health problems and will now find it harder than ever to access vital support; the prisoners held in often overcrowded, unsanitary conditions who are being exposed to the disease while, outside, few could care less; and the people detained in Immigration Removal Centres, despite the fact that there is no way they can safely leave the UK in the near future.

It also includes those in insecure and low-income jobs, many of whom have already lost wages and employment as a result of the virus. While the UK Government has now announced bold plans to provide grants to companies covering up to 80% of workers’ salaries if they choose to keep them on, it has been projected that around 700,000 will still become unemployed, raising unemployment levels from 4% to 6%.

For those on zero-hours or low-hours contracts well below their average working week, it’s as yet unclear how far these measures will go towards covering their typical wage.

The circumstances may be unexpected, but the complexities simply serve to shine a light on a glaring unfairness in employment regulations that workers and unions have been highlighting for years.

Meanwhile, more people will become reliant on social security and the strain on those who already are will intensify. This comes after a decade of watching the “safety net” of welfare being ruthlessly stripped back as families were pushed into poverty, and yet the Government’s newly promised increase of £1000 per year in Universal Credit and tax credits is meant to inspire gratitude.

MUCH of what has been proposed is positive, and it is essential, but please don’t let this convince you the Tories are beyond reproach or that we shouldn’t still, even now – especially now – be thinking bigger and better than this.

We’ve been told that now is the time for kindness. Well, extend your kindness to those who are falling through the cracks in a system that was designed to be broken and remember that true compassion is not apolitical.

None of the issues mentioned here – and many more which are not – is a distraction from the urgent matter at hand: they are all urgent matters and they are absolutely pertinent to the pandemic, its impact and the response to it.

As much as governments and an elite minority might prefer us to imagine that the world has stopped turning and that the systemic nature of so much inequality, hardship and suffering has paused along with it, this could not be further from the truth. There could be no more urgent moment at which to push for positive change in the policies and practices which are harming our most vulnerable and protecting the most powerful and wealthy.

As more people realise the full ramifications of this disaster, more will start to ask questions and challenge the norms of the unsustainable capitalist agenda which has governed the UK and so much of the world for so long.

This is exactly what the champions of that system are afraid of, and that is why they are banking on being allowed to depoliticise a situation which is profoundly political.

Couple this with the fact that the UK’s Coronavirus Bill will introduce a raft of emergency powers to aid the Government’s responses to the virus – powers which are proposed to last for two years – and there should be no question of the necessity of subjecting political leaders to rigorous scrutiny, and of challenging them when they get it wrong.

That is the right and the responsibility of citizens, of advocacy groups, of elected representatives and, vitally, of the media. It would be a grave error to forget that and to instead put our blind trust in the Government – any government – least of all one that is demonstrably right-wing.

If you want to practice solidarity, share it with the workers, the people living in poverty, and the many others who were left behind by our society well before this national emergency took hold.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and, indeed, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, may well be having a hard time right now, but they don’t need a moratorium on criticism: it’s their job to receive it and to listen.

Rest assured that those who hold the balance of power are contriving ways to keep it in their grasp as we speak. Do not be shamed out of demanding a better future when the world is in chaos. If not now, don’t bother asking “when?”, because the answer will be “never”.