HEBRIDEAN tourism and Glasgow nightclubs do not usually belong in the same sentence. Now they are brought together by uncertainties arising over emergence from Covid-19 – if indeed there is to be any emergence.

Let’s dispose of the easy bit. There are no certainties. However, that reality cuts both ways. Public health issues arise in more than one form. There are as many opinions as experts. Accordingly, there is not just a right but a duty to challenge edicts that appear irrational and disproportionate.

There is nothing in Scotland’s record that exempts us from that rule. We have had an exceptionally high death rate and an exceptionally stringent approach to what we cannot do. Nobody should be apportioning blame. But neither should we be expected to award cartes blanches to the same decision-makers.

Where does one begin with the irrationalities? Perhaps in Scotland’s parks, enjoying last weekend’s sunshine. They were heaving with people, the great majority young and unvaccinated. Far from criticising that, I regard it as an entirely understandable example of what happens when rules don’t seem to make sense.

Authority had to accept something that was unregulated and unstoppable. But authority can stop a regulated event, involving far smaller numbers … because it can. That is the logic people do not get. If buskers can entertain a large, unregulated crowd in a park, why should bands not play for experimentally small numbers in a controlled environment?

There seems to be fear of pushing out the boundaries just a little, to find what is possible with minimal risk. That is happening in other countries and, very soon, elsewhere in the UK. Nobody expects normality to return next week but there surely should be some degree of creativity applied to testing the waters.

How long must we wait before a few thousand people can watch Scottish sporting events? Or a few hundred in a comedy club? How much attention has been paid to experiments in Amsterdam where large numbers attended concerts, so long as they tested negative for Covid-19 within the previous 48 hours?

What Scotland's entertainment providers find particularly unacceptable is that there is absolutely no route map – even on the understanding that every step of the way is conditional. The position of nightclubs is particularly odd. As things stand, they will not even be allowed to re-open at Level Zero. Should they just abandon hope and go bust?

In Liverpool, as part of gradual easing, a nightclub is due to open in late April with a wider reopening in June. It might not happen but at least people have something to aim for. In Scotland, operators were told by the Scottish Government that, “we haven’t even got round to considering you” – which sounds a bit like: “Go away, sonny, we’re too busy”.

Yet these people have spent decades building a whole economic sector and international reputation for our cities, creating thousands of jobs. In any can-do society, work would be going on in a spirit of co-operation, looking at international comparators, to establish ways of edging forward towards normality.

Many operators, for whose premises social distancing isn’t really an option, might recognise the need for proof of negative testing, which isn’t that different to proof of drinking age. A high level debate about “vaccine passports” is a distraction from talking about pragmatic solutions for each sector.

At the Hebridean end of the debate, the big question is whether lifting travel restrictions in mainland Scotland will extend to the islands. Or will the logic be applied that because there have been low rates of Covid in the islands, best to keep them as closed communities while tourism businesses go to the wall?

The problem with the latter approach is that there is no logical end to it. Here in the Western Isles, 75 per cent of the population have been vaccinated and second jabs are moving along rapidly – a great local effort. There can never be no risk of importing the virus but there is certainly a high risk of businesses going down if hardly anyone can get here. Heavily reduced ferry capacity already creates one constraint.

Anyway, what is the logic of allowing people to visit other parts of Scotland with minimal Covid rates that are not islands? And how about Skye, where visitor numbers are far higher but which is relieved of island status by a bridge? Whatever happens now, I do wonder why this additional uncertainty for island businesses was created in the first place.

We can already see a different approach to international travel being carved out in the name of Scottish ultra-caution. Before that happens, remember what happened recently when weeks of headlines were attracted by the Scottish Government’s insistence that all foreign arrivals would be consigned to Travel Lodges at their own expense for a fortnight.

Unsurprisingly, this did not appear an attractive proposition so everyone went via London or Manchester instead leading to less testing of people arriving in Scotland rather than more – a complete fiasco. Yesterday, there were flights arriving at Heathrow from all over the world, doubtless with a fair proportion of passengers heading north. At Glasgow airport, the arrivals board stretched from Islay to Sumburgh.

Am I a public health expert? No, I am not. But I can recognise irrationality when I see it and fear the long-term damage being done in the name of being more cautious than everyone else – a posture for which, of course, there will always be a Scottish market.

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