LAST Monday Boris Johnson presented his roadmap, courtesy of the Sunday drivers at Sage, which charts the slowest imaginable route out of lockdown. Nonetheless, England is at least tootling towards freedom and a provisional release date of June 21.
For those of us held captive in Scotland, however, on Tuesday the First Minister offered only the prospect of moving to a more spacious cell – or as it is otherwise known, back into the system of tiered local lockdown rules. Even this prisoner privilege will not be granted until April 26 at the earliest and remains contingent upon our ongoing obedience and continued compliance with Nicola Sturgeon’s strictures.
Because this was also the week during which some children returned to Scotland’s schools, distant observers might have been lulled into imagining that Scotland was proactively opening up. Do not be fooled: only the youngest primary pupils went back, while secondary schools resumed at no more than 8 per cent capacity.
Yes, 8 per cent. Mind you, that is one in twelve more than would have attended had the return of pupils been left to Scotland’s dominant teaching union, the perpetually pigheaded Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), which beforehand had characteristically ‘remained concerned’ and whose Executive ‘called for the plans to be reconsidered’.
Leaders of the recalcitrant EIS will therefore be delighted that, unlike England, Scotland’s schools will not fully reopen on March 8 because as Sturgeon’s number two John Swinney this week conceded: ‘I wouldn’t have clinical authorisation to do that.’
Of course he doesn’t; after all, Swinney is only the Cabinet Secretary for Education. Instead, while England’s secondary pupils will soon benefit from full-time face-to-face teaching, Scotland’s senior schoolchildren will once again lag behind their southern counterparts: from March 15, at the earliest, they will experience only limited time in the classroom and have to make to do with, at best, ‘blended learning’ – a euphemistic term whereby the emphasis is on the blending rather than the learning.
Whereas Johnson at least provided a timidly tentative timeframe for the acceleration of economy activity, Sturgeon remains unperturbed that every day she keeps a business forcibly closed increases the likelihood of its never reopening. When the time comes, the inevitable inundation of closures and job losses will no doubt be blamed on wicked Westminster.
Following her insouciant statement to parliament on Tuesday, Sturgeon’s disregard for mothballed businesses led to the immediate formation of the Hospitality & Tourism Action Group, which reacted to her abject announcement with ‘utter dismay, confusion and anger’.
These critics of Sturgeon were accorded considerable airtime during Scotland’s Wednesday morning news programmes. Sufficiently stung, later that day she threw them a bone, although the Telegraph’s report that she had ‘backtracked over her controversial lockdown plan’ rather overstates the significance.
In fact, she offered only a grudging glimmer that at the end of April the current Level 4 restrictions (‘lockdown’) might in some areas drop not to Level 3 (‘very high’) but to Level 2 (‘high’); also, that the country ‘could move to lower levels of restrictions fairly quickly over May and June’.
(Level 1 is ‘medium’ threat and Level 0 is ‘nearly normal’. Note that in Scotland there is no longer ‘normal’.)
Regardless, Sturgeon’s pettifogging proscriptions will persist for months to come. For example, it will be at least another eight weeks before Scots can again drink alcohol inside a pub, and only then with a ‘main meal’, which in Glasgow might be a deep-fried pizza.
This week’s downbeat declaration confirmed that Nicola Sturgeon still regards the pesky public as a nuisance in her mission to suppress the virus to the point of elimination. Earlier this month she lamented how ‘by early July last year, we had almost eliminated Covid in Scotland but then allowed it to be re-seeded from, in the main, overseas travel’. And during Tuesday’s anticlimactic announcement, she again bemoaned that last summer ‘new cases were imported into Scotland, after the virus had almost been eliminated here’.
Coincidentally, the First Minister’s version of history was this week contradicted by Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University and member of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 Advisory Group. On Thursday, Woolhouse told a committee of MSPs that ‘Scotland was not close to elimination at any stage during this pandemic’, and rejected Sturgeon’s assertion that Scotland would have eliminated the virus last summer had it not been for those bothersome visitors: ‘There were no outbreaks of any significance linked to tourists.’
Mark Woolhouse has frequently been a welcome voice of scientific sanity and also this week he reiterated: ‘It’s not clear to me how elimination is compatible with lifting restrictions at all – those are contradictory.’
Alas, Sturgeon and the advisers who have her ear, such as National Clinical Director Jason Leitch and ubiquitous zero-Covid zealot Devi Sridhar, still look longingly at the dictatorially ruthless restrictions imposed in Australasia. Though Boris Johnson has plotted a path which will be painfully slow, he at least acknowledges that is ‘no credible route to a zero-Covid Britain, nor indeed a zero-Covid world’.
Unfortunately, Nicola Sturgeon still fancies herself as Jacinda Ardern in a tartan facemask and craves a zero-Covid Scotland, regardless of the crippling consequences.