Covid lockdown: Why we should 'rage, rage' against Scottish Government to bring them to their senses – John McLellan

Rage, rage against the dying of the light, wrote Dylan Thomas in his most famous poem, oft-quoted at funerals, in the days when people could gather to say farewell to loved ones and friends without fear of breaking some new regulation designed to save us all.

A 'restaurant' on Edinburgh's Cockburn Street makes a point about the current Covid restrictions (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
A 'restaurant' on Edinburgh's Cockburn Street makes a point about the current Covid restrictions (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Thomas could not have imagined how literally his words can be interpreted in this, the second Dark Age of Covid, when the hope of emergence from the pandemic that steadily built up over the summer is being extinguished with every stern government announcement about the latest advance of the virus, and on this weekend of all weekends when along with our liberties even daylight is being taken from us by the shifting of the clocks.

As the gloom of a dank northern winter descends once again and the lights go on around 4pm tomorrow, so too are they going out on any belief that the winter of 2020 would be better than its spring. In the days when people could gather, for the outgoing and sociable the clocks going back on a Saturday night meant an extra hour to party or an extra hour to sleep it off, for the abstemious an early rise to get on with the tasks of the day. Now it symbolises enveloping darkness.

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Nicola Sturgeon: Scots 5-tier lockdown 'targeted and proportionate'

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Much-missed gatherings

In the days when people could gather, the end of October signalled the start of the awards and party season, when the year’s achievements of clubs, societies and businesses were celebrated at bashes large and small, where the dying of the light was illuminated by chatter, humour and companionship. Now the most notable achievement is survival.

In the days when people could gather, colleagues planned, plotted and prepared for the coming year over alcohol-fuelled dinners. Some paired off, against their better judgements. Those who hadn’t booked a venue by now would have been disappointed; now there is nowhere to book.

In the days when people could gather, there were new films to see, shows and pantomimes to enjoy, restaurants to visit before or after. The short weekend afternoons were lifted by sports to play and watch, the mornings filled with the children’s equivalents, the young stars dreaming of days of glory on the biggest stages. Now there is DIY and television.

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Nicola Sturgeon has introduced what John McLellan describes as a 'mind-boggling' five-tier lockdown system

In the days when people could gather, those stages were packed with friends old and new to witness their sporting heroes perform to the best of their abilities, or at least that was the expectation. Last night should have been one of those occasions, when the burly Georgians visited Murrayfield for only the second time, but no paying customers were there to see the rugby action unfold. Now, as with all televised professional sport, the witnesses were home alone, terrace banter replaced with WhatsApp and Instagram messages, and the only benefit being no queues for refreshment or relief.

And in the days when people could gather there was the promise of Christmas to come, but with two months still to go Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leitch warned that “a large multi-household family gathering doesn’t seem likely”. Now all we have to look forward to is a “Digital Christmas” as if that is any kind of compensation at all.

Sports associations should sue

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The season of goodwill has instead become the season to remove free will, an unrelentingly miserable menu in an era dominated by fear of an enemy no-one can see, of daily news briefings which have become like the rituals of a death cult, where the high priests warn that hell and damnation await those who do not follow the strict demands of self-denial and isolation that the faith demands, while examining the chicken entrails of inexact science for clues about the future.

For every earnest plea from the First Minister for us to accept she has no choice, it comes down to faith because while the spread might be temporarily checked nothing suggests any of it will eradicate this, or any other, virus. Why must we believe her way is the only way when every day the Swedish experience shows there are indeed alternatives to a regime marked by inexplicable contradictions?

People can go to supermarkets and jostle for the last toilet roll, but not sit ten seats apart in a 67,000-seat stadium. You can sidle into a small café full of strangers but not have a cuppa with your mum in her house. Professional sports can continue behind closed doors, but not amateur matches when the number of people watching will be fewer than major teams’ back-up staff, and when there is little evidence of transmission between opponents playing outside. All in the name of simplicity of messaging, in which political campaigning techniques have become medical policy, and even that has been blown by the First Minister’s mind-boggling five-tier lockdown system.

It has taken the courts to expose the inconsistency of the policies which threaten the livelihoods of bistros and cafes, with the Eusebi Deli in Glasgow’s West End earning an interim interdict against enforced closure by Glasgow Council because it didn’t comply with the “spirit” of the shutdown. Now the five trade associations of the Scottish hospitality industry are combining to challenge rules which threaten to crush their businesses. Sports associations should find the spine to do the same.

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Much has been made of Manchester mayor Andy Burnham’s resistance to the UK Government, but which civic figures are making a stand for fairness and balance in Scotland? In the past week, the Scottish Government has been forced to postpone the introduction of new smoke alarm standards, which can cost up to £600 to meet, because of the outcry and lack of notice. How odd that an administration which never fails to get its message across, somehow forgot to communicate.

In the days when people could gather, combined efforts could bring authorities to their senses and they still can. Now, isn’t it time to rage, rage against the dying of the light?

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