MSPs were back from recess yesterday, albeit temporarily, to hear a statement from Nicola Sturgeon. As was evident from the glum countenances that hung like strung-up haddocks across Holyrood’s benches, this was not going to be good news.
Covid-19 was out of control again. The virus was not only running wild, it had gone professional. That was the best way to think about our situation, the First Minister said: like a race. ‘In one lane we have vaccines,’ she explained, ‘and our job is to ensure that they run as fast as possible… In the other lane is the virus, which – as a result of this new variant – has just learned to run much faster and has most definitely picked up pace in the past couple of weeks.’
So that the vaccine can win the race, Sturgeon continued, ‘we must also slow the virus down’. I fear the First Minister has misunderstood the rules of competitive sprinting. You can’t win a race by hobbling your opponent. In fact, I gather they somewhat frown upon it. She’s lucky the International Olympic Committee doesn’t regulate sporting metaphors.
The upshot was that Scotland was going into an even more stringent lockdown. We were told to stay home, got caught shimmying down the drainpipe and now we’re in for a month and no Xbox. Sturgeon characterised this as ‘an enhancement to level four’, which made it sound like a loft conversion, but this would be something even more unpleasant than home renovations.
It was, in effect, a shutdown. It was not safe to leave our homes and we would have to work from them where possible. We were instructed to stay indoors except for socially distanced exercise, healthcare and stocking up on essential supplies. Anyone breaking the rules would have to answer to the law. It sounds bleak, but throw in John Wayne, some cattle rustlers and a bar fight and you’ve got yourself a Western.
Schools were to remain closed through to February, a blow for teaching unions who will now have to come up with some other basic remit of the job that it is an outrage to expect their members to do. Sturgeon got something wrong in announcing this, when she said that ‘the last places that we ever want to close are schools and nurseries’.
Although keeping children away from classrooms is grievous, the last places government should want to close are places of worship, which Sturgeon also enjoined to bolt their doors yesterday.
We have become inured to the broad and sweeping powers ministers have taken for themselves during the pandemic but, regardless of our personal views on matters spiritual, we should be most anxious about the authority to shut down churches and other sacred places.
Still, it’s reassuring to know that, even in these most trying of times, Holyrood’s traditions endure and what nobler tradition than that of shameless toadying?
Clare Adamson appeared via video to declare: ‘The First Minister explained in her statement that schools are not closing but are moving to a different way of working.’
Mrs Thatcher should have tried that one on the miners. ‘The pits aren’t closing; they’re just relocating to the local DHSS office.’
Holyrood is seldom recalled from recess and yesterday marked only the fifth time it had happened. There is a superstition that summoning parliament back from its holidays in a time of national emergency makes things better, as though the rest of the year hadn’t thoroughly debunked that theory.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: firstname.lastname@example.org.