Covid lockdown exit: Just think of the day when we'll party like it's 1945 – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

The Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown continues but we won’t have to maintain the current levels of isolation forever, writes Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP.

People will celebrate like they did on VE (Victory in Europe) Day in 1945 when the coronavirus no longer poses a threat (Picture: PA Wire)
People will celebrate like they did on VE (Victory in Europe) Day in 1945 when the coronavirus no longer poses a threat (Picture: PA Wire)

For a time, I held a Guinness world record. Not for anything flash or athletic, but for Scottish country dancing. Even that makes it sound grander than it was. In truth, my wife and I took part in the world’s largest-ever Orcadian Strip the Willow on George Street the evening before Hogmanay nearly 20 years ago. We held that record with thousands of other participants.

I’ve been reminded about that night a lot this week in the footage of VE Day. Watching black and white images of a much older street party filled with revellers interlocking arms in Piccadilly Circus fills me with a kind of envy. I envy their proximity first and foremost. How good would it be to hug your extended family, or dance arm in arm with your mates right now? I also envy it for what it is: human celebration at the end of an ordeal.

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It would be wholly wrong to compare the privations and the violence of World War II to what we are going through right now, but there are still comparisons to be made. The sense of shared, global focus and endeavour; the gratitude for those on the frontline and the community support, neighbours looking out for neighbours. And just like that wonderful, sepia-tinted footage of Piccadilly, people are already fantasising about the street parties we will have when lockdown finally lifts and social distancing ends.

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But that can’t happen overnight. We may only get to that point incrementally and over many months. Far from having the start of that city-wide knees-up commencing with the stroke of a pen on a surrender document, it will happen when every GP surgery signals they now have adequate supplies of some new Covid-19 treatment after weeks of no reported new cases, or when every arm in every street carries the same, distinctive needle prick mark of a vaccine.

The time between this point and that need not always be this tough though. We won’t have to maintain this level of distance or this level of isolation forever. As such, the debate about how we lift the current draconian restrictions of lockdown is now the centrepiece of the political debate in both our parliaments.

It could start small, allowing recycling centres, building sites and garden centres (already open in England) to open again. It could see a staggered return to the classroom for our kids on a part-time and socially-distanced basis. We could even use mass testing and temporary isolation to allow us ways to meet and hold our loved ones beyond our own houses. There are many strands to the discussion, but that debate need not be divisive.

Sections of the nationalist base are clearly getting restless about the fact that the four administrations of the UK have been working so closely together throughout this emergency. There have been calls for Scotland to deviate from England in our approach to the virus, even to the point of erecting a temporary, hard border at Coldstream.

Thankfully Nicola Sturgeon has resisted the calls to criticise the UK approach, which does her credit. There may be a case for some regional variation, but that should never be for the sake of being seen to do things differently. Infection control can only be assured across these islands if we keep working together.

Notwithstanding early failures over protective equipment and testing in care homes, by and large I’ve agreed with most of the steps taken by Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers in this crisis. I’ve agreed with them because they’ve come from scientists and public health officials and her Government has sought to include opposition politicians in that process. I hope and expect that to continue.

We now move to a phase which should be about offering hope to everyone who might be struggling right now. Hope that with every month, things will get easier, until on one glorious evening in the not too distant future, we shall fill the streets like they did in Piccadilly.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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