Ministers could face a frightful Halloween backlash over Covid
REVENGE is a dish best served cold, and so it proved when John Swinney was despatched to cancel Hallowe’en.
The Education Secretary had presided over an exams debacle that saw his stock plummet within the SNP leadership.
So he was duly sent over the top to slap a ban on guising – then tell adults not to give kids sweets in case it spread the virus.
It’s not quite as bad as Wales, where the sale of allegedly ‘non-essential’ items – including kettles – has been prohibited.
We’re a peaceable nation, on the whole, but interference with tea-making might just bring us to boiling-point and beyond.
At least one Welsh shopper had had enough and ripped off plastic coverings placed over banned items on supermarket shelves.
And yesterday a former police chief wrote of a ‘combustible’ atmosphere in Scotland, which would put policing by consent under strain.
Tom Wood, former Deputy Chief Constable at Lothian and Borders Police, said: ‘Now over six months in, and facing a long winter of lockdowns, the mood in many places is resentful and rebellious.
‘A mixture of being fed-up, frustrated, and fearful makes for a combustible combination.’
Meanwhile in Italy a strict ‘semi-lockdown’ has been imposed after Covid deaths tripled in a month and new cases topped 20,000.
For the next four weeks, restaurants and bars must close at 6pm and will only be able to offer takeaways.
These tough restrictions came after protesters clashed with riot police in Rome at the weekend.
Disturbing images showed around 200 masked militants throwing flares and firecrackers at police, amid the country’s worst post-war recession.
Protesters in the capital’s central Piazza del Popolo square set off fireworks in the colours of the Italian flag, donned balaclavas and threw flares at police.
Seven were arrested and two officers were reportedly injured during the unrest in Rome.
And there was an anti-curfew protest in Naples on Friday night, when hundreds of people set bins on fire and threw projectiles at police.
The latest protests in Italy cap a week of similar demonstrations against government restrictions in several parts of Europe, including Spain, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
Could we see the same problems here? One health expert, Professor Linda Bauld, has warned Scotland risks descending into ‘social unrest’ amid falling support for lockdown rules.
Professor Bauld believes there is ‘declining’ support for measures imposed to stem the spread of Covid-19.
And she warned this could lead to ‘unrest’ amid growing ‘distrust’ in the guidance issued by the Scottish Government.
Historically, students have been the most likely to take part in demonstration and protests.
Mr Swinney’s admission yesterday that students may have to spend Christmas in their halls of residence or flats will not have boosted morale.
Corralled into buildings manifestly unfit for socially-distanced living, their patience is wearing thin – and the prospect of celebrating on December 25 away from their families could fuel their disillusionment.
And if they’re to be confined to their rooms, what about the rest of us – will we be able to move freely around the country?
The First Minister said yesterday these important questions remain under consideration, so for now we’re in the dark.
Perhaps the greater danger for the tiered lockdown shortly to come into force is a general drift towards non-compliance.
That doesn’t necessarily mean vandalism, or clashes with police, but rather the subtle growth of disrespect that will eat away at the pillars of the baffling new system of rules.
The planned tiers offer almost no hope of a pre-vaccine return to any recognisable normality, and in some of the proposed levels, which come before MSPs for approval today, it’s a far more draconian lockdown than what’s already in place.
For the hospitality industry, and in particular the night-time sector, there isn’t even a chink of light at the end of the tunnel.
And at the end of the year, there’s a ‘digital Christmas’ to look forward to – with the threat that large family get-togethers will be out of bounds.
It’s a cocktail that could corrode the foundations of the Government’s strategy, such as it is.
Sturgeon: is her lockdown in danger of collapse?
As doubts grow about its long-term credibility, the edifice of lockdown would crumble, once crack after another, with unpredictable consequences.
That carries enormous risks, making it all the more important that the restrictions which are imposed on us are driven by natural justice and not arbitrary rules.
Then there’s the fast-accumulating wealth of evidence that lockdown has led to needless deaths, suicide, mental ill-health and domestic abuse.
Jo Hemmings, a behavioural psychologist, has warned mental health will deteriorate over the winter as the days get shorter, particularly among those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder.
She said: ‘People don’t understand rules, rules that are ever-changing, or some of the rules don’t make sense alongside other rules.
‘That definitely affects compliance, and of course we are now moving towards Christmas.’
She said a ‘digital Christmas’ is a ‘chilling phrase’, adding: ‘I do feel that there may very much be a lack of compliance over Christmas if we are told, “Unfortunately no, you can’t see your family and have to eat your turkey and pull your crackers on Zoom.”’
The idea that Christmas family gatherings might be permitted in some areas but not in others is also hugely dispiriting, to the extent that mass disobedience is almost unavoidable.
Asked yesterday if the public are getting fed up with his government’s lockdown measures, Mr Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland: ‘I think what people are prepared to be persuaded by is the evidence.
‘The evidence is we are seeing an increase of fatalities as a consequence of coronavirus, we are seeing our hospitals filling up again. These are the loved ones of members of our society.
‘We’ve got to essentially as individuals respect the fact our fellow human beings are going through a lot of suffering and we’ve got to do our bit to help them out.
‘That’s the basis upon which public compliance has been founded and can be founded in the future.’
For her part, Miss Sturgeon believes most people realise there are no ‘easy answers’, and they’ll tough it out, abiding by the rules.
But there are some easy answers – including the one the First Minister routinely gives, about how we all have to stick together.
The problem is it might not wash much longer, as she and her closest advisers must privately fear.
Lockdown is weighed down by anomalies, contradictions and illogical thinking – and most of all by officialdom’s lack of trust in a wearied population, who it believes must be harried by reams of often senseless restrictions to be kept in line.
Either ministers get that message, or prepare to watch the Covid clampdown collapse amid widespread refusal to obey unjust regulations.
*This column was published in the Scottish Daily Mail on October 27, 2020.