THERE’S no diplomatic way to put this. The Scottish Government is killing off Scotland's food culture. And for all the, “This hurts me more than it hurts you” soft soap, it doesn’t seem to care.

Our pubs, restaurants, and hotels are merely collateral damage of the tunnel-visioned, hysterical obsession with Covid-19, an infection that does not even make the list of the top ten causes of death in the UK currently.

The injustice is grotesque. Only 2.7% of infections stem from bars or restaurants, yet they are scapegoated, subjected to a long, drawn-out, death sentence.

No sooner do those who grow, produce, and serve good food regroup, finding nimble ways to continue under exceptionally difficult circumstances, then government goons drop by and knock them down again.

Think of it as administrative napalm, a scorched earth policy. Unless it stops, it will obliterate every shred of food progress Scotland has made in the last 40 years.

This assault is all the crueller because it executed in increments, on the say-so of civil servants and academics, people who relish their new-found importance in the public gaze, people who might even get an OBE or a promotion out of it.

The carnage these technocrats, these ambitious professors, and panicky politicians have unleashed on our hard-working, dedicated chefs and food producers, has no direct impact on its instigators.

Their comfortable salaries are 100% paid, unlike the poor souls whose livelihoods they crush, the thousands they make jobless. Behind our First Minister’s touchy-feely, “I hate to do this but I’m doing it anyway” script, empathy is missing.

The honest truth is that those who work in food have been deemed “non-essential”, a verdict that carries an Orwellian chill. “Non-essential” is the Covid equivalent of a thumbs-down from a Roman emperor.

I’ve spent the last few days speaking to Scottish chefs and food producers, with a lump in my throat on several occasions. I’m speaking out on their behalf. They can’t because if they do, they get a pile of politicised abuse, in which saltires and Union flags figure prominently, when all they are doing is being professionals, alerting citizens to the impending, field-to-fork meltdown of our hospitality industry.

As I write, many of Scotland’s most successful restaurateurs, professionals who had sound, enviable businesses are staring insolvency in the face.

The hope-dasher for many was the 10pm curfew. That meant no orders after 7.30pm; the loss of an entire service. Then it was the ‘no-alcohol’ ordinance, a diktat worthy of 19th century Temperance zealots, followed by lockdown closure.

“It’s really bad this time. It’s brutal. Our spirit is crushed. There will be nobody [restaurants] left if this continues” is how one chef put it to me.

Further back up the food chain, the crisis has gone way beyond struggling small producers, the ones who rely on restaurant trade to supplement retail sales. Now the talk is of very big Scottish companies, long-established names in restaurant supply, with chillers full of meat that they can’t sell, and fish that will be dumped because their customers have no customers.

Back in the 1980s, it was custom and practice for Scottish ministers, irrespective of political party, to brag fatuously about Scotland having the best food and drink in the world.

Then a genuine, progressive, grass-roots food movement broke through this parochial rhetoric.

World-class chefs, such as Andrew Fairlie, Tom Kitchin, and Geoff Smeddle, set up shop here, reinforcements for stalwarts like David Wilson at the Peat Inn, who had championed seasonal, local food.

The trickle-down effect of this new top tier regenerated and inspired much humbler enterprises and grew a market for food producers previously dismissed as “niche’. The standard of eating out improved everywhere.

At last year’s Food and Drink Excellence Awards when Nicola Sturgeon posthumously presented an Outstanding Contribution Award to Andrew Fairlie, she said: “Our food and drink industry is one of Scotland’s success stories, with recent figures showing this growth sector achieved record turnover, so it was fantastic to celebrate the people and businesses who are behind these achievements.”

If Andrew was still with us now, I suspect he’d be in deep despair over the damage currently being done to the precious food culture he so signally fostered and so highly valued. So much for celebration, this is a wake in the making.