Scotland’s pubs, cafés and restaurants are preternaturally quiet. Music is banned; TVs are muted. If you shout, or raise your voice for that matter, you could be told to get out. Don’t laugh too loudly. Focus instead on the clink of cutlery and glasses, the occasional swoosh of kitchen doors, the footsteps of your servers echoing through eerily-empty premises.

Above all, try not to feel self-conscious, or unnerved by the reduced hum of human conversation in establishments forced to operate at half their previous capacity.

Perhaps the restrictions don’t go far enough. Why not ban espresso machines? They make a hell of a racket. What about babies and children?

They scream and shout, and everyone knows that small kids are vectors of disease anyway. Ban arguments: they can get heated and spluttery.

But then you can’t stop people winding each other up, so wouldn’t it be safer to make hospitality venues silent? Eat, drink, then get out? Where does this paralysing risk-aversion end? Let’s all just stay home and never go out again!

Of all the civil liberties I would jump to defend, the right to play music in hospitality venues is not top of my list,

but when restaurateurs and publicans protest that this measure is killing their businesses, I believe them.

Seventy-five per cent of them are staring insolvency in the face. This over-the-top measure may be the last straw for many. Failed businesses take their toll in human misery and lives just as surely as any virus. Coronaphobia can do more damage than coronavirus. I speak as a survivor of the 2017-18 “Aussie flu”, a six-week bout from start to finish, but I didn’t expect the government to wreck the economy, culture, public transport and the arts because of it.

This music ban strikes me as disproportionate to the risk. We can’t hide from this virus for ever. Deaths are so low they barely show up on a graph. It’s been that way for weeks. We flattened the curve.

The NHS did cope. Through Europe and the UK, new clusters or “spikes” in cases have not been mirrored by a consequent increase in deaths, or even illnesses. If there were to be spikes that required treatment in hospital, we now have more effective treatments. Meanwhile, more people are dying because of postponed treatment

for critical illnesses like cancer and heart disease, and the number of people living with daily pain as they wait for surgery, or anxiety as they hope for news of follow-up treatment for frightening diagnoses, mounts daily.

Yet cranked-up fear of exponential “second waves” is used as a justification for further authoritarian restrictions on normal human behaviour.

Covid apart, I know and sympathise with those, generally but not exclusively the elderly, who can’t stand noisy restaurants. This music ban suits them fine. Personally, I’m ambivalent about music, probably on the “I’d prefer it quieter” side of the aural argument, but I accept that it can form part of the package that makes enterprises viable and

appealing to certain demographics. If I find a restaurant too loud, then I’ll give my business to one that isn’t.

How hard is that? I also recognise that if you want a hushed restaurant, that requires an investment in thick carpets, soft furnishings, which, with wear and tear, will need to be renewed at regular intervals. Such peacefulness comes with a Michelin Star-level price tag.

Most modern cafés, restaurants and pubs couldn’t afford this cosseted granddaddy look if they wanted it. For better or worse, modernism is about stripped floors and echoing hard surfaces.

Remember the cheap, quiet version? Those plushly upholstered but stinking pubs with beer-sticky carpets and

age-discoloured, embossed wallpaper?

Perhaps I’d be more accepting of the music ban if ever I heard the Scottish Government – do correct me if I’m wrong – utter anything that might encourage citizens to use our cafés, pubs, and restaurants. But its messaging is constantly one of danger and unnecessary risk.

Is this an expression of Calvinism, an underlying disapproval of people enjoying themselves, or is it just where such an extreme interpretation of the precautionary principle takes us? Who knows? But I feel for all the café owners, restaurateurs and publicans who struggle to keep going in such a hostile climate.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.