No exit

STAGES: Nicola Sturgeon outlined a staggered timetable for leaving lockdown.

Nicola Sturgeon gave a Covid-19 update to the Scottish Parliament on February 23, 2021This is the text of my Scottish Daily Mail sketch of proceedings. 

On hectic days like yesterday, with the Crown Office at loggerheads with Holyrood and the First Minister grilled on a much-trumpeted Covid statement, you appreciate the lilting Hebridean tones of Lewis Macdonald. 

The deputy presiding officer rolls his Rs like Shane Warne rolls a spin bowl; you can’t help but be mesmerised by the range he gets on them. Ruth Davidson became Rrrrrruth while Nationalist backbencher Maureen Watt was summoned as Moe-rrrrreen. Macdonald imparts a zen-like calm to proceedings and may be the reason the usual SNP chuntering was kept to a minimum. 

For her part, Nicola Sturgeon (‘the Fuh-rrrst Minis-tuhrrr’) was muted, her mind no doubt drawn to other matters like a curious tongue to a throbbing tooth. Yet this had been touted as a major lockdown update. 

Not quite. Scotland would be moving into a process of ‘progressive easing’, which sounded like some monetary jiggery-pokery the Bank of England might get up to, but in fact meant that our liberation would be a long, slow process. BBC Scotland had hyped the statement as a ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ but it turned out we were getting the Ordnance Survey in instalments. 

The first stop-off was the return of some children to school this past Monday, followed by liberalisation of the rules on care home visits from early March. The next destination was getting older primary and more secondary school pupils back in the classroom, as well as permitting a maximum of four people from two households to meet outdoors. 

The date given for this was March 15, though only ‘indicatively’ — adj. (late Sturgeonese) of or relating to ministerial promises and their likelihood of subsequent revision.

After that, it was the First Minister’s ‘hope and expectation’ that the stay-at-home order could be lifted from April 5. It is my hope and expectation that my lottery numbers will come up around the same time. 

General lockdown was to pertain until the last week in April (‘if all goes according to plan’), at which point everyone would go into Level Three. If you’ve forgotten what that means — because, at this point, there are Emmerdale storylines more straightforward than Scotland’s Covid rules — it involves such hell-raising shenanigans as meeting your neighbour in their garden. 

If you really want to let your hair down you can travel to the outskirts of your local authority area — but no further. 

From here ‘we would expect to see phased but significant reopening of the economy, including non-essential retail, hospitality and services like gyms and hairdressers’. One bright spot amid the glumness was the government’s willingness to be flexible with the reintroduction of communal worship. Pencilled in for April 5, Sturgeon said it may start ‘a few days earlier’ to ‘take account of the timing of major religious festivals, for example Easter and Passover’. 

Perhaps taking Mosaic inspiration, Ruth Davidson urged the First Minister to let her people go.

‘This is not a route map out of Covid,’ the Scottish Tory leader lamented, ‘it is a holding document for the next eight weeks.’ 

Scots, she averred, would have tuned in ‘expecting the First Minister to give them some kind of hope’. (Anyone expecting that must have been tuning in for the first time.)

Labour’s Jackie Baillie — ordinarily a cheery soul — underlined the gloom. ‘I want to be optimistic and I am equally patient but I would like to ask the First Minister what the ultimate goal is.’ Was it virus suppression or virus elimination?

The goal, Sturgeon replied, was ‘as close to elimination as possible’ but also ‘to get back to normal life’. Those two destinations are miles apart with no roadmap for the rough terrain in between. 

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

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