Covid lockdown: Is this Scotland or North Korea? Time to start trusting the public – Robert Aldridge

The former East Germany or North Korea? That’s the Zoom discussion a friend and I were having about the current restrictions we face in Scotland because of Covid.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 7:00 am
Edinburgh's Royal Mile was almost deserted the morning after stricter lockdown measures came into force for mainland Scotland in January (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
Edinburgh's Royal Mile was almost deserted the morning after stricter lockdown measures came into force for mainland Scotland in January (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

We agreed that the law which doesn’t let you travel abroad without the government agreeing the reason for travel was similar to both those authoritarian regimes. The law which stops you leaving your local authority area was probably even more strict than North Korea.

Last year, as the first lockdown started, I warned that governments which took extra powers would find excuses to keep them and not give us back our freedoms. It is never the right time. There is always risk involved, and it is a difficult juggling act for governments to get the balance right between risks and freedoms.

The restrictions in the second lockdown were more severe than in the first and look as if they will be eased more slowly.

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Like most people in Edinburgh, I have been more than happy to try to abide by the rules in the interests of getting out of lockdown quicker and preventing our hospitals being overwhelmed.

I’m sure, like many people, I’ve made mistakes. I admit talking to a married couple I know on Cramond foreshore. We were three people when we should have been two (though we were socially distanced).

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The other day I saw three young mums with pushchairs walking in the open air chatting, offering each other company and support. Technically they were breaking the law. But they were adults who understood the (negligible) risks and made a mature choice. Not even North Korea would make that illegal.

The problem is that if the law is too stringent and seems ridiculous people will ignore it, and that is dangerous for all of us. Of course, the current slight easing of the rules is welcome and must be done with caution.

However, as more and more people are vaccinated, Covid levels in the community are low and hospitals are not being overwhelmed with cases, so we need to get a real focus on how we exit lockdown and get Edinburgh back open for business safely.

I hope we are not forced to open at the speed of the slowest. Edinburgh has consistently had around half the prevalence of Covid as many authorities in the western part of the Central Belt and we need to let our economy recover when we are ready. (We also need to get to the bottom of why some parts of the country seem far more susceptible to Covid than others).

The virus will probably always be with us. So we will need to find ways of living alongside it without Draconian restrictions on our basic freedoms. That will involve giving people the information to make mature decisions relating to their own situation and trusting people to be sensible about the risk to themselves and others rather than creating a nation of covert lawbreakers. So let’s put more trust in the people.

Cllr Robert Aldridge is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats group on Edinburgh Council

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