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Nanny Sturgeon tightens the straitjacket

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A USEFUL axiom for every occasion is: The UK outperforms Scotland. That dictum was dusted down this week when the Scottish Government reported its assessment of GDP for June 2020.

Not that the Scots willingly owned up to being the underperforming part of the Union. Although the official release concedes that ‘GDP remains 17.6 per cent below the level prior to the lockdown measures’, the section titled Main Findings begins by accentuating the positive: ‘In June, Scotland’s GDP is provisionally estimated to have increased by 5.7 per cent compared with May. This follows an increase of 2.3 per cent in May and falls of 19.2 per cent in April and 5.8 per cent in March.’ 

From which, presumably, one is supposed to infer that the Scottish economy is already bouncing back. However, the official response from the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland reveals the uncomfortable truth and contains the unflattering comparison: ‘Scotland’s economic recovery in June was slower than the UK’s as a whole. The UK’s monthly GDP grew by 8.7 per cent in June 2020, following growth of 2.4 per cent in May 2020, whereas Scotland’s GDP grew by 5.7 per cent in June and 2.3 per cent in May.’ 

Amusingly, that reaction from Westminster to Scotland again being the Union’s laggard appears on the UK Government’s website under ‘Regional and Local Government’ – a mischievous categorisation sure to infuriate the Nationalists.

The ‘UK region’ known as Scotland is officially in recession, the tartan economy having shrunk during successive quarters and shrivelled by 21.7 per cent since the end of 2019. Before the figures appeared, the only doubt had been the extent of the contraction during 2020 – a collapse which the SNP’s Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary with the curiously disparate portfolio of Economy, Fair Work (whatever that means) and Culture, blames on the ‘devastating and unprecedented impact that the necessary lockdown restrictions have had on the economy’. 

These ruinous restrictions, many of which remain in place, have indeed been ‘devastating and unprecedented’. But contrary to Hyslop’s hypothesis, it was by no means ‘necessary’ to cripple the economy by hampering the healthy in ways that were decidedly disproportionate and enormously damaging.

Alas, not even this week’s fiscal fright has jolted Nicola Sturgeon into loosening the straitjacket in which she still constrains Scotland’s social and economic activities. Instead, the nation’s self-proclaimed Chief Mammy responded with yet more excessive safetyism.

First, Sturgeon announced that the local lockdown in Aberdeen, imposed on August 5 as a kneejerk reaction to a modest number of positive tests – not hospital cases or deaths – is being extended for at least one further week. In the meantime, the local population of over 200,000 must endure continuing constraints, including a five-mile travel restriction which has particularly hurt city centre shops, while the Granite City’s entire hospitality sector remains closed.

‘Moving too quickly would, in our view, risk the hard-won progress that people in Aberdeen have made’ was the condescending message from Nanny-knows-best Nicola. But because Aberdeen City is one of the few parts of Scotland not in an SNP stranglehold, on this occasion there was some rare and welcome civic dissent from the Council’s co-leaders.

Though powerless to countermand the Commandant, Labour’s Jenny Laing complained that ‘continuing with the current restrictions is only going to make a bad economic situation even worse’, disgustedly adding: ‘At our meeting with Scottish Government officials we heard from the local Covid-19 outbreak incident management team that they believed the situation is now under adequate control.’ 

Warning of evidence that more than 5,000 jobs in Aberdeen are under imminent threat, Conservative Douglas Lumsden lamented: ‘The First Minister must be aware of the harm extending the lockdown is doing to both our citizens and our economy.’ 

One would hope so, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Immediately after deciding to hold in hibernation the city of Aberdeen, Sturgeon stubbornly refused to budge from phase 3 of her route map out of lockdown: ‘For us to move to phase 4, we would have to be satisfied, and I’m quoting from our route map, that “the virus is no longer considered a significant threat to public health” . . . this is definitely not the case.’

Nor does she expect to alter that judgment any time soon. Yet since early June Scotland has suffered only average mortality and Covid-19, as a cause of death, is now of no statistical significance.

While keeping ‘non-essential’ workplaces closed, the First Minister randomly scattered a few crumbs: she has sanctioned the re-opening, from August 24, of some seemingly arbitrary venues, including bingo halls, bowling alleys and snooker centres. And casinos – in which Nicola Sturgeon will continue to gamble away Scotland’s economy.

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Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver is an accountant who lives in East Lothian.

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