Staying home for Christmas

Spend long enough flicking through the TV this time of year and you’ll stumble upon entire channels airing nothing but made-for-television movies about saving Christmas.

These feel-good flicks are invariably set in small-town America and involve the local factory/diner/church being on the brink of closure on Christmas Eve thanks to a heartless boss/corporation/bank manager until a suspect outsider/misunderstood local/loveable pet convinces the town to band together and rekindle the festive spirit. Actual titles include: The Man Who Saved Christmas, The Boy Who Saved Christmas, The Dog Who Saved Christmas, and — I kid you not — The Tree That Saved Christmas.

At First Minister’s Questions, we got an even unlikelier tale: The Socialist Who Saved Christmas. Or at least tried to. Plucky picket-line frequenter Richard Leonard was back at the barricades, this time to protest against the transport ban that comes into force on Friday evening. The law will make it a criminal offence to travel between different tiers and motorists caught doing so will face a fine. Leonard objected that this was too harsh on Scots who are doing their best. Of course, the real victim is Chris Rea. He has to write a new verse for ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ and find something that rhymes with ‘Glasgow Sheriff Court’.

The Labour leader called the ban a ‘red herring’, telling Nicola Sturgeon: ‘The overwhelming majority of people are just trying to keep up with the regulations in order to follow them. However, as things stand, the best case scenario is that the travel ban will confuse them; the worst-case scenario is that it will criminalise them.’

The First Minister pointed out that similar travel limits were already in place in Wales, and who among us isn’t well-versed on Welsh motoring regulations? With a dramatic flourish, she produced a statement from Mark Drakeford on the wisdom of a travel ban. Sturgeon quotes the Welsh First Minister more often than the Western Mail. Don’t get me wrong, if she wants Scottish policy to be set by a parliament south of the Border, I’m up for it. I’d just go 150 miles east of the Senedd.

The Grinch of the story, though, was not Sturgeon but her backbencher Christine Grahame. ‘Unlike Richard Leonard,’ she snipped, ‘I and most of my constituents welcome making travel restrictions subject to legal enforcement’. The Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP fretted that her constituency’s Level 2 status was at peril from incomers from Level 3 Edinburgh. You’ll have had your test, then.

‘In Midlothian, we have major retail outlets such as Dobbies, Ikea, Costco and Straiton retail park,’ she quibbled. ‘How will travel from Edinburgh to such places be monitored? Purchasing a tray of winter pansies or wine glasses and cushions, while completely understandable, can hardly be considered essential.’ Beleaguered husbands have been making this point every Sunday afternoon for years now.

Ruth Davidson returned to her concerns about loneliness during the festive period and the need to balance virus suppression with some tidings of comfort and joy.

‘I want people to have a degree of normality over Christmas,’ Sturgeon generously allowed, ‘but I do not want to have to announce, or the country to have to live with, numbers on more bereaved families and a death toll that could have been avoided.’

Even Scrooge didn’t guilt-trip Bob Cratchit that bad when he asked for Christmas day off. More to the point, what exactly does the First Minister think the average Scottish family does at Christmas? We’re not ’round the doors carolling without a face mask. We’re on the sofa convincing ourselves that a fifth mince pie couldn’t do any harm and debating whether the Queen decorates her own Christmas tree.

Jackson Carlaw, looking all the jollier for his return to the backbenches, pitched in a question nominally about support for small businesses but which contained this curiosity: ‘Second-guessing the difficult decisions that the First Minister must take is a fool’s game, as we have seen.’ Whoever could he have had in mind?

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters:

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