Scottish government is wrong to suggest ‘normal life’ is continuing while live events are shut down – Brian Ferguson
If the end of last year was gloomy enough for people whose lives revolve around Scottish culture, 2022 is not exactly off to a flier.
Jason Leitch and John Swinney, two of the key figures at the heart of Scotland’s response to the pandemic, certainly managed to snuff out any of my remaining optimism that the country’s festive season restrictions would be a short-lived “circuit-breaker” for a few weeks.
It was certainly a toss-up as to who delivered the most depressing radio interview in the early days of the new year.
Mr Leitch was first to enter the fray when he suggested that April may be “too early” for large-scale events to resume in Scotland.
Despite his apparent bemusement – not for the first time – at the inevitable headlines he generated, his message was very different from the one First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivered before Christmas when she announced that measures to curb the spread of Omicron would be in place for “up to three weeks”.
However I was even more dismayed after listening for some signs of hope from Mr Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Covid recovery as well as Ms Sturgeon’s deputy, in a subsequent interview.
Insisting that the government’s new restrictions were working well in protecting both the public and the NHS, he added that they were “enabling normal life to be able to be undertaken”.
I can’t have been the only one to wonder if the avalanche of event cancellations, show postponements and venue closures since the first “stay at home” pleas from the Scottish government had been nothing more than a horrible extended dream over the festive season.
But this has been the reality for performers, crew, venue staff, event organisers and promoters suddenly facing renewed anxiety and uncertainty nearly two years after the arrival of Covid.
It is somewhat ironic that attending live events – a key element of “normal life” for so many people – has been sidelined just weeks after something approaching normality had finally returned to the entertainment industry.
This time last month, crowds were packing into theatres, concert halls and arts venues which had spent months planning and putting into place Covid-safe measures, including in many cases the need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative lateral flow test.
The public response was, by all accounts, hugely supportive of such safety measures as they allowed large-scale events to resume in the autumn. It is hard to imagine huge opposition to any moves to expand the number of venues covered by the vaccine passport and lateral flow test rules.
However, if kept in place indefinitely, crowd limits of just 100 for indoor standing events and 200 for all-seater shows, accompanied by the return of physical distancing, will effectively ban the vast majority of live entertainment from resuming.
Despite the Scottish government's swift response to set aside £65 million of emergency funding for the culture and events sectors, it will be hard for it to justify an indefinite shutdown when other sectors such as tourism and hospitality have been allowed to remain open, albeit it under much tighter restrictions.
And any suggestion that going to see a play, a concert or a comedy show is no longer considered part of normal life should be nipped in the bud immediately.