Lockdown dust-up

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When they come to write about these times, historians will call it the Glorious Fifteenth.

July 15 was unveiled by Nicola Sturgeon as the date on which both childcare providers and pubs will reopen. People accuse this government of being out of touch but making it possible to drop your kids off then head straight for your local displays an uncanny grasp of the current parental psyche. 

To cross-party applause, the First Minister announced that hairdressers and barbers would open from the same date. Few will have been as elated as Richard Leonard, currently sporting the moody centre parting of a man about to drop a highly ill-advised skater punk album.

The Glorious Fifteenth will throw open the doors of cinemas and museums, as well as art galleries and libraries. Monuments will also reopen. Please check with Sky News to see if yours is still standing before beginning your journey. 

The lifestyle sections say this will be the year of the staycation and there was some news on that front. The five-mile travel limit will be lifted on July 5 and, ten days later, holiday accommodation will resume. If you’ve ever fancied spending two weeks on the M8 amid a sea of caravans bound for Seton Sands, now is your chance. 

Sturgeon’s statement teed up another round of First Minister’s Questions, where the performances and dialogue are so ropy it’s a wonder BBC Scotland hasn’t commissioned it yet. Jackson Carlaw urged a relaxing of the two-metre social distancing rule to get the tourism industry back on its feet. He wanted Sturgeon to ‘bring forward’ the review into the rules. 

‘If I were to put pressure on an independent advisory group to give me advice earlier than it was ready to do so, Jackson Carlaw would probably be the first to get to his feet to criticise me,’ the First Minister replied, not without justification. Besides, since when has this government ever put pressure on independent organisations or experts? 

The Scottish Tory leader circled back for another go, accusing the First Minister of doing ‘too little, too late’ and pressed her to ‘at least consider acting more proactively’. 

Despite his baiting, Sturgeon held her cool well. Suspiciously well. She was not prepared to engage in ‘some kind of reckless race with other parts of the UK,’ which will have come as a surprise to regular followers of her Meanwhile In Wales updates. 

‘I have tried — and I will continue to try — not to criticise other leaders who are taking very difficult decisions, because I do not think that that is fair or justified,’ she proudly informed the chamber.

Two answers later, and with no less pride, she stuck in a dig at the UK Government and ‘untested technology that never transpires, regardless of the promise’. 

Carlaw was holding his own until he strayed off topic and onto the subject of reopening schools. This was when we saw why Sturgeon had pulled her punches earlier.

With vindictive solemnity, she read from a May 26 policy paper on ‘blended learning’ that did not advocate a full return to classrooms in August and in fact told ministers to ‘commit to flexibility on what happens’.

Earlier this week the opposition strong-armed John Swinney into reopening schools on August 11, but this document had called for monthly updates on future schools plans to begin on that date. Indeed, so sceptical were the authors of this analysis that they recommended: ‘Only if evidence emerges that it would be safe to move faster to a full re-opening should we do so.’

The authors of the analysis? The Scottish Conservative Party. 

Carlaw deflated, but Sturgeon wasn’t done. 

‘What the Tories are criticising us for now is exactly what they called on us to do,’ she hammered away. ‘I think that sums up Jackson Carlaw’s approach. It is not leadership… It is, frankly, grubby political opportunism.’

It wasn’t an answer, it was an annihilation. It was like watching a baby seal being clubbed but wondering if maybe the seal had it coming. 

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol] dailymail.co.uk.

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