Second only to “when will this be over?”, the question I’m most often asked is “how bad is it?”.

Although it’s a struggle to provide anything other than conjecture on the former, each new piece of data – as depressing as it is predictable – is giving us a pretty clear, if uncomfortable, answer on the latter.

Even with the furlough scheme and other income protection measures, unemployment is up, as are claims for Universal Credit. The FSB’s latest small business index tracker shows confidence about as low as it can be and revenues taking a serious hit, with much worse expected.

Our latest figures also reveal that half of Scotland’s small businesses have been forced to close. That’s above the UK average of four in ten and masks significant regional differences – nearly two thirds of small businesses in the Highlands, for example, are shut. Longer term, over a third of them fear they will never re-open.

This is hardly surprising. Scotland as a whole – and certain areas of the country in particular – are reliant on the sorts of tourism and hospitality businesses who aren’t allowed to function during lockdown. What’s more, even if lockdown was partially eased and they could operate safely, there’s nothing to say they could do so profitably.

That makes it all the more important that those sectors that can get back to work are helped to do so. Only by restarting those parts of our economy do we stand a chance of generating the revenues we’ll need to support the areas which won’t be back to anything like business as usual for months.

It would have been something of an over-investment in the First Minister’s latest unlock plan to imagine that it was going to accomplish this task single-handedly. The first steps towards freeing up the economy are tentative to say the least. Indeed, some things, like re-opening drive-through food outlets, started happening weeks ago anyway.

On the upside, though, it does give us a clearer roadmap back to recovery. And the First Minister also assured us that, if the health numbers continue to move in the right direction, we could motor through the remaining phases more quickly.

That said, gaps between phases can go up as well as down – and a government’s understanding of “quickly” might not be the same as that of a business who’s teetering on the brink.

And it is to these businesses that we need to talk directly. That third of Scottish firms who are completely closed and wondering if they’ll ever come back. Their priority isn’t the broad principles. What they have been saying for weeks is, “What do I need to do now to re-start safely?” And they deserve a straight answer.

That means that the long-awaited guidance, which will underpin the unlock strategy, needs to be clear, proportionate and practical. In short, we have been arguing hard to Ministers that their guidance should reflect their own policies on better business regulation.

Allied to this, the smallest micro-businesses need an easily accessible version of the key steps, which can be applied across different settings and sectors. And, to help give employees and customers the confidence to set foot in premises again, this guide needs the clear endorsement of health chiefs.

So, we don’t know long it will take to get to the other side. But we do have a better idea about how we’re going to get there. We don’t, in all honesty, know how bad it’s going to get. But we’re now in no doubt about how serious the economic situation is and how high the stakes are.

Colin Borland is director of devolved nations for the Federation of Small Businesses.