THE last time I was in Estepona, I remember hearing what the radio DJ called Bombas Español, por Los Clash, and thinking it might not be the most appropriate track, even though the old punk song deals with tourism on the Costa del Sol as well as the Spanish Civil War. As he stares glumly into his glass of sangria, Grant Shapps, whose cousin Mick Jones contributed lead guitar and backing vocals to the song, is no doubt thinking of the line “The hillsides ring with ‘free the people’ ”.

The Transport Secretary, having presumably shaped the guidance on transporting his family to their holiday, got a call a few days ago telling him that he, and every other Briton returning to the UK, will have to go into a fortnight’s self-isolation after all.

There was only about a fortnight between England and Wales dropping the quarantine requirements for 59 countries on July 10, and then putting Spain back on the list, which doesn’t seem very long. But after months of lockdown, another fortnight in total isolation will probably feel even longer than a week in politics.

Whatever the attempts to imply otherwise, there have been hardly any differences between the UK’s governments on timing and policy, so it’s chiefly presentation and political prejudice that makes the Scottish Government’s delay introducing the same measure (it kept Spain and Serbia off the list until last week) look better or worse.

On the one hand, Holyrood is vindicated in its initial caution. On the other, it then introduced it, so the volte-face looks even more like an arbitrary, inept and very speedy U-turn.

READ MORE: Spain coronavirus: UK Government dismisses claim from Spanish PM that Covid-19 cases have been miscalculated

Yet, like most judgments about coronavirus, other than those made at Westminster and Holyrood, such claims are made by observers with the benefit of hindsight. Worse, a hindsight that has yet to come into focus.

By contrast, Boris Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon and their ministers have the unenviable task of balancing public health, issues such as employment and trade, and personal liberties. Maybe Holyrood’s too cautious, maybe Westminster’s too cavalier.

But there’s hardly a fag paper in it. And unless you’re one of the tiny minority that either advocates continuing as normal, endangering hundreds of thousands of lives, or shutting everything down completely until there is no risk, endangering hundreds of thousands of lives in a different way, you ought to accept that policies and timetables are adopted, with expert advice, on competing risks.

Some will turn out to have been ill-timed, or just wrong, though anyone making such judgments now is doing so prematurely, with inadequate data. But the sudden U-turn on Spanish travel is not a mistake of that kind, and anyone who claims it is has not been paying any attention to the guidance given by the governments.

Both Westminster and Holyrood have almost from the beginning, and certainly for the past two months or so, attached caveats to every announcement about the restrictions attending Covid. Indeed, the only things that have attracted blanket promises are that the NHS and the economy will get “whatever it takes”.

When it comes to freedom of movement, social gatherings, shop openings and travel, every tiny move back towards normality has been accompanied by the warning that, should circumstances dictate, the rules could tighten again. The renewed imposition of local lockdowns, for example in Leicester or Dumfries and Galloway, or the willingness to alter guidance on the use of face coverings, should have made it obvious enough that the relaxation of any restriction was provisional, and potentially subject to reversal at short notice.

It’s perhaps understandable that people like to hear that they can get their hair cut, or visit the pub, or take a holiday, and tune out the part of the sentence where they’re warned that those everyday freedoms may be suspended again. But it doesn’t alter the fact that those warnings were given, and were a fair indication that things are not “back to normal” but merely taking small, cautious steps towards something like it.

Nor does it indicate that it was hasty to allow European travel. Halting it had a huge impact, not only on airlines and the tourist industry both here and on the Continent, but on individual households. Some people may, reasonably, feel that foreign travel during a pandemic is too risky; others may feel the risks are now minimal and that, after months of lockdown, the reopening of travel is overdue.

That may not just be wanting a holiday – although, goodness knows, many of us must now feel in desperate need of one. Businesses, students, UK residents who hail from elsewhere, and those who divide their time between different locations have all been stymied by the rules.

And the economic impact is not one-way. Scotland may send a lot of tourists to Spain, but Spanish tourists are worth £79 million a year to the Scottish economy. A lot of Scots have relatives there, especially those who have retired and may have been vulnerable and isolated. It is unfair to characterise all those who want to travel as selfishly just seeking a bit of sun or booze in Benidorm.

We could do with more clarity on the rules on, for example, insurance coverage when Foreign Office advice changes, or the obligations of firms to protect workers who, having travelled in line with the advice, unexpectedly have to isolate because it has changed. But that aside, those who do decide to travel have no excuse for not knowing they’re taking a chance.

Joe Strummer of The Clash’s 14th-century predecessor as a lyricist, Geoffrey Chaucer, had the desirable destination of The Romaunt of the Rose built by Jealousy and guarded by Wikked-Tunge, and the traveller as Fals-Semblant (false-seeming). But neither government’s policies on overseas travel seem driven by self-interest, malicious propaganda, or dissembling. They’ve been clear that they’re trying to allow us to make decisions that, until a few months ago, were our right. But if they are that once more, they’re also our responsibility.

As Chaucer – anticipating Mr Johnson and Ms Sturgeon – warned in that poem: we can “make castels thanne in Spayne / And dreme of joye, all but in vayne”. Swap “castel” for “AirB’n’B booking in Benalmádena”, and it’s as true today.

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