ON June 4 1976, an early concert by the Sex Pistols was held at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Only about 40 people attended it, but – according to legend – most of them went on to start incredibly successful and influential bands.

I wasn’t among them, but lying on the remarkably unsanitary sofa in the board room of Glasgow University Union in November 1989, I saw the seeds of that gig came to fruition, when Top of the Pops featured the first appearance of several groups, including the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays, that introduced “Madchester”. Astounded by this historic broadcast, I declared: “What a din. Call this music?” and then, “Jings, I sound like my dad.”

From those remarks you may guess that, unlike some of my contemporaries, I wasn’t – as people then put it – “mad for it”, nor did I race to Buchanan Street Bus Station decked out in baggy jeans, corduroy shoes and a bucket hat, heading for Tony Wilson’s Hacienda nightclub.

Yet Nicola Sturgeon has managed what Shaun Ryder couldn’t, and instilled in me a burning desire to visit Manchester. That’s odd since, though no doubt it is an excellent city and one I entirely approve of in theory, I’ve only been there once, for about 24 hours. I haven’t even watched Coronation Street since the 1980s, so Manchester seldom impinges on my consciousness at all.

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Plenty of us have the impulse to challenge and resist what seem arbitrary and capricious instructions. Being told we can’t go to Manchester is enough to make us want to, even if it’s never crossed our minds before. The contrary view, probably the more common one, is an urge to conform, and not to challenge authority even when we can’t see any sense in the rules being imposed. Very un-Madchester.

Most of us have a touch of both tendencies. To a greater or lesser extent, we’ve all had to grapple with them over the past year and a half, and the overwhelming majority – contrary to the expectations of public health officials and politicians when restrictions were first considered – have opted for compliance.

There are signs that consensus may now be breaking down. Easing the most stringent restrictions, the majority of the adult population – and almost all those at serious risk – having been vaccinated, continual adjustment of regulations to the point where it’s quite easy to be unsure what they are any more, and the sheer fatigue of continuing to observe the rules, all mean that there are now a lot of people doing more or less as they please.

That ought to be a good thing. It should, in fact, be the norm, as it was before March last year. But allowing and expecting people to use their common sense, which is what most of us would want in the process of returning to normal, is threatened both by the tendency to chafe at the rules, and to apply them too strictly. That’s because the advocates of both instincts have overstated their case, even if you take the charitable view that they’ve done so with the best motives.

When it comes to those resistant to restrictions, they have become not only more vocal in their opposition to them, but more casual about even pretending to observe them. The behaviour of people out and about, in shops and restaurants, footage of football crowds, politicians at the G7 or, indeed, almost anything on the evening news, makes that apparent. The dangerous aspect of this, about which the health officials and lockdown advocates have a point, is that it promotes complacency and misconceptions about risk.

There is going to be an increase in cases, variants or no variants, with every easing of restrictions. Travel and large-scale gatherings without social distancing will exacerbate that. Some people will continue to die. Sceptics who claim this will not happen are almost certainly wrong. They may, however, still be right to say that the threat this poses is not sufficient to justify continuing the limits on what we can do.

People who oppose vaccine passports, or ask why choral singing is prohibited, or why those who test negative shouldn’t travel, raise entirely legitimate points. To suggest that they are in the same bracket as those who think the vaccination programme is a mind-control plot by Klaus Schwab of the WEF only makes it more likely that mad conspiracy theories will gain credibility.

That is why those who want to continue restrictions are now actively undermining their own position. It’s easy to see why many politicians and epidemiologists, after the terrible human costs and what, with hindsight, we know were avoidable mistakes of the pandemic, think that erring on the side of caution is wise.

It’s also clear that some people – for the most part, those who haven’t suffered financially or been greatly inconvenienced by lockdown – take a censorious view. This is always framed as if those opposed to restrictions just selfishly want to enjoy themselves, rather than rebuild their businesses, see their families and generally get back to normal.

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But constraints can only hold when people see them as credible. When some rules become absurd – singling out Manchester when Dundee is in almost the same position, or exempting Fifa officials from quarantine the rest of us have to comply with – you can expect people to start disregarding even those that continue to make sense.

The considerable strain that the NHS is currently under is not now because of Covid, but Covid restrictions – people with underlying conditions who have been unable to get treatment during the pandemic, and who are now flooding A&E units. The greater threat to most people’s well-being, mental health, and financial security in a largely vaccinated population is continued lockdown.

The most serious danger is that politicians and bureaucrats, who seem to relish appearing on television every day to lay down the law, see such rules as vital for all sorts of other things. We’ve already seen some arguing that restrictions should remain forever, to tackle other heath risks, or climate change, or some as-yet unknown hazard. We accepted these restrictions when they really were essential. They no longer are: to pretend otherwise is to invite people to disregard any measures or advice that might still be prudent. Strangeways, here we come.

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