So much for Freedom Day? More like Freedom “weak”. On Monday there was understandable fury and dismay expressed by English nightclub operators, night-time economy industry leaders, the media, and government opposition parties.

In a major policy U-turn, the Prime Minister Boris Johnston announced – self-isolating in his salubrious setting of Chequers – that from September, in order to drive up the Covid jab intake among the young, only proof of double vaccination, not a negative test result, would be accepted as a mandatory “condition of entry” to clubs and as yet to be clarified, other “venues where large crowds gather”.

READ MORE: Glasgow nightclub owner issues 'two-tier society' vaccine passport warning

It was a poisonous knife through the heart of the beleaguered night-time economy, already reeling from 18 months of enforced closure and a hammer blow to all who mistakenly believed that Boris was a great libertarian, a champion of democracy and the free market, and fully committed to reopening the country and building back better.

Instead, we had a cynical, discriminatory and coercive move that prompted an enraged Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, to say: “So, Freedom Day for nightclubs lasted around 17 hours then? It’s an absolute shambles.”

Sacha Lord, the highly respected night-time economy advisor for Greater Manchester, was equally damning and concerned that “venues where large crowds gather” meant Downing Street intended to extend the mandatory use of vaccine passports to pubs, theatres, live music venues and other places of work. If so, it would be a disastrous undemocratic move which would result in England becoming an exclusive two-tiered society, punishing, and demoting a large swathe of its younger population to second-class citizenship for not being fully vaccinated.

The question also has to be asked: why, if the government really is so alarmed at the poor take-up of the vaccine amongst the young and the rising numbers of those infected, are they making a vaccine passport an entry requirement in two months’ time when most of that age demographic will be vaccinated, and not now when they are not? Why indeed?

Not to be outdone on Monday, Scotland tentatively moved forward to Level Zero and a Half, instead of the less restricted Level Zero. Well, we do like to do things by half! "Freedom weak" changes included a midnight curfew for all hospitality venues and pubs could now host groups of 10 from up to 4 households. But there was to be no standing at the bar, table service and one-metre social distancing was to remain in place and muzzle-wearing mandatory. It's confusing guidance which bans singing, dancing, or standing up for karaoke (whether it's allowed sitting down still remains to be seen). It also allowed Aberdeen’s licensing authorities, convened by the Rev. I.M. Jolly, to determine that live music should not be played at a volume louder than a customer speaking.

Given Scotland’s lamentable record with the roll-out of the vaccine, particularly amongst our 18–30-year-olds – almost a third of our 260,000 young adults are still unvaccinated – the burning question everyone wantws answered, not least Scotland’s battered and bruised night-time economy and live music industries, was whether the First Minister and the Scottish Government were also considering the introduction of a mandatory vaccine passport.

Well, encouragingly, Nicola Sturgeon said it raised “sensitive, ethical and equity considerations” but worryingly refused to rule them out. So, are we to expect their introduction three weeks after England makes them mandatory?

Make no mistake, I am fully supportive of both the UK and Scottish government public health messaging to encourage young people to get vaccinated, the whole hospitality sector is. But they have to do better and be more imaginative in their efforts to convince people that the vaccine is safe . Threatening them with social exclusion and coercing venues into carrying out mandatory passport certification checks is discriminatory and wrong and will prove to be hugely damaging to those businesses if and when they are ever allowed to fully open again. 

But is this whole cack-handed scheme just more of Boris’s bluff and bluster? Maybe, but to make sure it doesn’t ever come to pass, opposition parties and Tory rebels can unite to give him a deserving bloody nose. I hope it’s a chance they are brave enough take.

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