‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house; Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care; In the hopes that Nicola soon would be there.

Account of a Visit from St Nicholas, 1823

WHAT are you hoping for when the First Minister makes her official announcement today on what we can and cannot do at this stage in the pandemic?

For a heady moment yesterday I imagined the FM would say we had all done so well in sticking to the rules that we could skip ahead a few stages. Throw open those hairdressers’ doors, line up the beers in the pub, head for the hills. Or, we could just stay indoors.

After three months of lockdown, people are divided on how quickly the lockdown should be eased. The angel on the left shoulder says go, the one on the right says no. We listen more to one or the other depending on how confident we feel, or who we heard last speak on the subject.

Some experts and politicians have acquitted themselves better than others during this crisis. When it comes to advice, who among us does not take note when the interviewee is Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, or Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health, also at Edinburgh.

READ MORE: Alarm bells sound on economy

One notable aspect of the crisis is the way experts have been welcomed back into the government fold, particularly at the UK level. No longer Goveian elites to be shunned, they have been trotted out, two at a time at the Downing Street press conferences, to reassure the public that decisions were being made according to “the science”.

Now they seem to be falling out of favour, with Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, flying solo at Monday’s briefing. Could there be any connection between the absence of experts and said experts’ increasingly obvious reluctance to bend “the science” to meet politicians’ desires? In months to come, several of these experts may come to regret the day they took up a place at a Downing Street podium, particularly when the inevitable blame game begins.

Finding a safe way out of lockdown comes down to a question of trust and judgement. According to media coverage of stores opening in England, Scots shoppers cannot wait to get out and spend, spend, spend all the money they have saved during lockdown. We are meant to be champing at the bit to book holidays abroad, too. Where is open? Who will have us?

Again, we weigh the options, calculate the odds, decide if the price is worth paying. Hopes and fears crystallise around the economy. There has been an understandable reluctance to talk about the economic costs of this crisis given so many people have paid the ultimate price. Nothing will lessen that pain and loss, save perhaps for time. No matter how many times you see the death toll rise, the horror of it remains too much to take in.

READ MORE: FMQs as it happened

There are other numbers that demand attention. The economic statistics, like the number of deaths, are overwhelming, too terrifying to absorb. The Scottish economy shrunk by 23%. An unemployment rate of 4.6%, the highest in the UK. Warnings of tens of thousands more jobs lost if the current two metre social distancing rule is not cut to one.

At the beginning of this crisis, some showed indecent haste in wanting to get back to business as usual. Had their pleading been heeded the death toll would have been even higher. We know that from looking at the US and Brazil, where Trumpian/Bolsonaro laissez faire has sent the number of fatalities spiralling.

But care has been taken, particularly in Scotland, not to rush any return. While we should not be complacent there are many reasons to now step up the pace substantially, starting with the looming jobs catastrophe.

No one could say workers have had it easy in the past few decades, but many have at least been spared the misery of mass unemployment. Being made redundant takes a dreadful toll on a person’s confidence. No matter that logic says it is nothing specific to you, it feels utterly personal. Think of all those young people, moreover, who will not get a chance to start their working lives any time soon. What a heartbreaking loss of talent.

Besides the immediate economic cost of staying too long in lockdown there is the toll being taken on physical and mental health. So much time and money has been given over to ensuring the virus did not overwhelm the NHS. As soon as lockdown occurred, and in some cases before it, many services were put on hold. Operations cancelled, treatments paused. The reasons for the ops and treatments had not gone away, but society chose to turn the other way for the sake of the NHS.

That can no longer be allowed to continue. Too many are suffering. If the same effort could be put into clearing the backlog as went into building temporary hospitals it would make a real difference to so many.

Are governments, and we as a society, willing to put in that effort, or even shift a little in our own mindset for the greater good? I am thinking in particular about the tourism industry, on which Scotland is so dependent. Early on, and again understandably, some of those who live in scenic areas were keen to pull up the drawbridge and keep outsiders out.

But Scotland is not one big outdoor museum for a privileged minority to enjoy. It is not Brigadoon, forever locked at a certain point in time. The tourist industry is what puts the food on many Scottish tables. Think about that before rushing to put up the “keep away” signs.

One of the many recent and unwanted additions to the language has been the phrase “social bubble”. When it comes to easing the lockdown it is time for some of us to realise that we have been living in our own social bubbles, protected by privilege, be it a family to comfort and support us, good health, or even just a garden or a green space nearby.

The least well off are paying the highest price in this crisis, and we need to start putting that right where we can, as quickly as possible. Let’s get to work, Scotland.

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