Plea for patience underlines latest easing of lockdown

Nicola Sturgeon continues to move cautiously out of coronavirus lockdown.

Plea for patience underlines latest easing of lockdown

Nicola Sturgeon described today’s move to trigger Phase Two out of lockdown as “proportionate, cautious but significant”.

In the sometimes suffocating world of staying indoors, any relaxation of the rules can be seen as a breath of fresh air, both literally and metaphorically.

And yet for the raft of announcements today on shielding, meeting up with other households, shops re-opening, certain sectors slowly getting back to work, the overwhelming plea was for patience.

Again, look at the key words peppering this statement. We must exercise “care and caution” as there is a “real risk” transmission could rise again. The whole statement was summed up in the phrase “patience could reap our biggest rewards”.

Do we have a patient public ready to embrace the substance of this announcement? The days ahead will answer that quetion. There won’t be a household in the country that will look at this announcement and have their own views about whether the pace of change is too slow, too fast or just about right.

There is plenty of frustration around and that will be felt in the hospitality sector in particular. The First Minster did not give a date for any outdoor hospitality to get under way, although a further announcement on that is due in two weeks’ time when Sturgeon receives further scientific advice.

The scientists will also be giving advice on whether there should be a relaxation of the social-distance requirement of two metres. Any proposal would undergo “rigorous consideration” and the emphasis was that there is no change on the horizon.

Patience may be a virtue but it is in increasingly short supply on the opposition benches at Holyrood. As I suggested in yesterday’s blog, the management of this issue becomes more political by the week. And to listen to the leader of the opposition at Holyrood, it appears increasingly party political.

Jackson Carlaw accused Nicola Sturgeon of lacking ambition and of being deaf to the needs of business. “Lives and livelihoods are on the line,” he roared; urgency was needed and the First Minster was not showing it.

And in an echo of yesterday’s exchanges the FM observed that Carlaw had a constant tendency to politicise all of this.

I have no doubt that many MSPs genuinely believe that the Scottish Government’s approach is too cautious and that the signals to business are likely to depress than provide that necessary chink of light at what appears to be the longest and darkest of tunnels. The First Minister herself acknowledged today that the current cost to Scottish business was “colossal”.

I was not remotely surprised by today’s caution. Anyone who was has not been listening to Sturgeon these last three months.

What haunts her is the capacity for a misjudgement rooted in a desire to please. If she moves too quickly, perhaps at a pace that is being advised by many, and there is a second spike, preventable deaths will be the result.

Those deaths would be on the conscience of any politician in her shoes and it would result in the dumping of criticism very possibly from the very people who had urged a more liberal line.

This increasingly looks like an uneasy rub between the primacy of public health against preventing an economic catastrophe. It is the dilemma of nightmares.

If the virus is beaten then the health considerations will fade and it will be a case of all hands to the pump to get the country moving, producing, spending. To get it, in the cliché, back to normal