Sturgeon outlines slow path out of lockdown

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‘We indicate the phases in which service industries might reopen,’ Nicola Sturgeon said, outlining her blueprint for taking Scotland out of lockdown.

Waste dumps and garden centres would be reopening from next Thursday and golf, tennis, fishing and bowls got the green light.

But what about the things that really matter: grub, booze and doing something about the involuntary mullet situation that has half the country looking like a Bay City Rollers tribute act?

The First Minister continued: ‘That includes businesses such as restaurants, bars and hairdressers, the latter, I know, being a priority for almost every woman in the country.’

‘And the men,’ someone crowed from the back. ‘And the men,’ she echoed, before adding, sensibly: ‘I think I’ll not go any further there, Presiding Officer.’

This was Nicola Sturgeon’s arrival at the point Boris Johnson has already had to tackle: the slow, methodical lifting of lockdown.

She was careful not to oversell her offering when she appeared before the Scottish parliament yesterday.

‘Gradual and incremental,’ she called her planned changes. The end wasn’t in sight but if you squinted hard enough, the beginning of the end could be glimpsed. And it didn’t look all that dissimilar to what the UK Government is doing south of the Border. Wee bit slower here, wee bit different there.

Downing Street, spying an opportunity for some mischief-making, told journalists: ‘We welcome today’s announcement as it shows the UK-wide approach is working. We set out the road map a few weeks ago and now the devolved administrations are following that path at the right speed for them.’

The scamps.

The First Minister’s tone was steady and cautious, not least as she informed Holyrood that a total of 2,221 Scots had so far been lost to the Wuhan virus.

There was, she admitted, ‘no completely risk-free way of lifting lockdown’ and even when the easing period started, everyone would have to remember to maintain physical distancing and not slip back into old habits. ‘The danger of a second wave later in the year is very real indeed,’ she told MSPs.

The all-important ‘R’ number was stuck stubbornly between 0.7 and one, but it had been as high as four in March.

The next steps came in a strategy she called Test and Protect. We were nowhere near ‘defeating’ the virus, she said, and encouraged us to think in terms of ‘containing’ it. Test and Protect would involve ‘four phases’ across ‘nine key aspects of life’, which made it sound like a horoscope in which Venus’s seventh moon was bringing a tall, dark stranger into your life. Most likely a policeman with a fine for getting your phases mixed up.

Phase One, pencilled in for May 28, would allow us to take more outdoor activity, sunbathe (ambitious), and meet a small number of people from another household as long as everyone stays outdoors and the requisite distance apart. Oh, and could we walk or bicycle instead of taking public transport.

Cycling four miles with three kids to see granny at two metres’ distance? On yer bike. Skype will do for now.

While these changes are very small, they will allow us all to relax and enjoy ourselves a bit more, except for those who get their enjoyment from reporting the neighbours to the local constabulary for making two trips to Sainsbury’s in the one day. Parents will, depending on their level of honesty, be either relieved or saddened to hear that schools will begin to return in August.

The First Minister came under interrogation from Jackson Carlaw and Richard Leonard about the details of Test and Protect. This drew out two gems, one of hyperspun Sturgeonspeak, the other of human insight. ‘These plans are not lagging behind,’ Sturgeon parried a criticism of her timing, ‘they are moving at pace.’

Exactly what pace, she didn’t say. The First Minister loves talking about ‘the direction of travel’ but she’s always vague on the speed and sometimes never finishes the journey.

Then there was this: ‘The responsibility of dealing with this will bear heavily on me for probably the rest of my life.’

We in the cheap seats like to chuck bottles, and so we should, but we shouldn’t forget how lonely it is at the top.

It’ll be lonelier still when the time comes to divvy up the blame.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: Contact Stephen at

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