Nicola’s miracle of the open and closed churches

DOUBT: Labour’s Elaine Smith casts a sceptical glance at the First Minister’s claim that churches are not closed.

Nicola Sturgeon gave a Covid-19 update to the Scottish Parliament on February 16, 2021This is the text of my Scottish Daily Mail sketch of proceedings. 

If you are a parent whose children will soon be going back to primary school, I can only imagine what a relief that will be,’ Nicola Sturgeon remarked yesterday, announcing a ‘phased reopening’ of classrooms from Monday.

I doubt many parents took a moment to be relieved and instead were furiously Googling to see whether street parties are permitted under lockdown rules.

Ministers would have to monitor what impact, if any, the return to the chalkface had on the spread of Covid but, Sturgeon added, ‘I hope that in two weeks’ time, we will be able to set out the second phase of school reopening’. 

For mums and dads abruptly deputised as advanced maths teachers for the past year, soon their afternoons will be free of any arithmetic more demanding than the Countdown numbers round.

Still, the First Minister cautioned parents not to use this as an excuse to mingle at the school gates. ‘If the return to school leads to more contacts between adults over the next few weeks, transmission of the virus will quickly rise again,’ she instructed.

Thank goodness we’re not planning any events soon that involve the entire adult population leaving home to stand in long queues, be handed a slip of paper by a stranger then cram themselves into tiny booths. Lord knows what that would do to infection rates.

Maurice Corry speaks with the booming register of the retired Army major that he is. It’s sometimes hard to tell whether the Tory MSP is asking a question or ordering an incursion into the Lib Dem benches.

He sought assurances that the Scottish Government would stick to current quarantine arrangements for Merchant Navy crew coming and going from Scotland, noting they were ‘often’ returning ‘from extended tours of duty’.

He pronounced ‘often’ with three Rs, as though greeting a visiting general who had dropped in unexpectedly on the officers’ mess. Sturgeon could see no reason why the status quo would change, given the crews were considered essential workers, but stressed the importance of mass compliance to reduce the need for exemptions.

Labour’s Elaine Smith asked about the possibility of reopening churches in time for Easter. She had written to the First Minister ‘at the start of the year’ about the value of communal worship but had ‘received no response as yet’.

Sturgeon protested that ‘places of worship are not closed but, of course, the ability to worship normally is restricted’, plus some wordy mush about how much the whole business pained her.

When the Presiding Officer blew the final whistle, Smith raised a point of order, arguing that telling the public that churches were not closed risked sending mixed messages.

Noting that it wasn’t technically a point of order, Ken Macintosh ventured that it was nonetheless ‘a helpful point of correction that the First Minister will–’

Up came a nasal heckling from the Nationalist frontbench. Watching Holyrood via video link sometimes makes it difficult to identify the source of sedentary chuntering, but I have my suspicions. The name begins with ‘Swin’, ends in ‘ney’ and has a massive attainment gap in the middle.

Macintosh became flustered then allowed Sturgeon the last word, because if there’s anyone we don’t hear enough from these days, it’s Nicola Sturgeon. She insisted there was no inconsistency in what she had said: ‘Places of worship are not closed but they are only able to be open for very limited purposes.’

I’m not sure how she thinks places of worship operate. We don’t get ratted on the communion wine and conga round the altar. Even before the pandemic many churches opened only for services, baptisms and funerals and, in a reflection of the times, seldom bustled with congregants.

Yet somehow Nicola Sturgeon has rendered them both open and closed at the same time. It’s not quite up there with the loaves and fishes but it’s got to count as some kind of miracle. 


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

%d bloggers like this: