HERE we go again. From 6pm on Friday in large parts of Scotland, non-essential shops – or should I say “so-called non-essential shops” – will be forced to shut and stay shut for three weeks. It means thousands of retailers will be closed at a time when they usually make most of their money. Some of them will not reopen, that’s the bottom line. It’s a disaster: cultural, economic and personal.

I’m talking here about businesses like Viola Vintage, a beautiful antique and curio shop on Paisley Road West in Glasgow. The shop specialises in vintage objects as well as gifts such as candles, frames and the like, and it’s one of the many small firms that have been moving into the area. I spoke to Susan, the owner, not long after the lockdown was announced, and her reaction was simple. She’s gutted, but she also believes the restrictions are unfair. For years now, there’s been a David and Goliath struggle on the high street, and for some reason the Scottish Government has backed Goliath.

The sense of unfairness that Susan and others feel is based on a central iniquity: firms like Viola Vintage are being forced to close while big businesses like Tesco – there’s a branch just along the road from Susan’s shop – are not. What that means is the big guys can continue to sell gifts – candles, cards, etc – that people might have bought from smaller shops. In other words, Goliath continues to make profits while David suffers. As Susan says: it’s unfair.

Sadly, we saw the same kind of thing a few months ago when the first closedown happened. I spoke to the McIndoe family, who own the Mill Garden Centre in Armadale, and their frustration was that firms like theirs were forcibly closed while B&Q and the supermarkets were allowed to stay open and sell plants and compost. Adam McGowan, of McLaren’s Nurseries near Barrhead, told me a similar story. Their profits plummeted, thousands of plants were dumped, and the emotional and financial toll on the staff was huge. He used the same word as Susan: it was, he said, gutting.

And the worst of it is that it’s completely unnecessary. Even back in the spring, there was no good argument for closing shops like McLaren’s while allowing the big guys like B&Q to stay open. Garden centres usually have plenty of space and they introduced safety measures. And several months on, the argument is even less convincing. Small businesses have adapted and followed the rules and, as David Lonsdale of the Scottish Retail Consortium says, there is little evidence that closing shops does much to suppress the spread of the virus.

The Scottish Government’s response has been that there’s a new package of support for small businesses that are going to be affected. But there are a number of problems with the help that’s on offer. First, it falls short of the income that the businesses might have made had they been allowed to stay open.

Second, it’s not clear how much support there will be for firms that are indirectly hit. The bakers that supply restaurants for example. Or the small manufacturers – jewellers and the like – that supply shops such as Susan’s.

And thirdly, and most importantly, providing financial support to small businesses during an enforced close-down is looking at the problem the wrong way round. From the start of this crisis, government has encouraged firms to claim financial support rather than supporting them to operate safely and the Scottish Government is still doing it. What that does is pile economic pain on economic pain rather than allowing businesses to make their own money.

Which leaves it up to us, I suppose: the Davids in this struggle will have to be helped by other Davids. We can all check, for example, if the small businesses forced to close have websites and shop there. We can buy vouchers as gifts so that the businesses continue to have some income during the closure. And when the shops reopen, we can make a conscious decision to use firms in our community rather than the big chains that continue to rake it in during the quarantine.

But, even with all of that, it’s going to be grim for a lot of small businesses and what makes it worse is they’ve been punished for doing the right thing. As the Scottish Retail Consortium says, shops have taken every step possible to keep their customers and staff safe. And yet still they are being forced to close. It’s disastrous. It’s unfair. In the words of Mr Lonsdale, it’s going to be a bitter winter. And for thousands of small businesses that are going to lose millions of pounds, it is absolutely gutting.

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