Scottish Government’s treatment of culture has left many looking enviously over the border – Brian Ferguson

This week should have been one of optimism for the whole country.

The long-awaited reopening of cafes, bars, restaurants, hotels and shops on Monday was undoubtedly a big moment after months of Covid-enforced closure.

Art galleries, museums and other indoor attractions across Scotland also took advantage of the chance to get the public back into their buildings.

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But despite an air of optimism elsewhere, storm clouds have gathered above many of those involved in live events in Scotland.

It is now more than two months since Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a route map for the return of live events in England, which envisaged venues being allowed to open gradually from mid-May ahead of a provisional date for social distancing lifting on 21 June.

Venues south of the border were given the green light to plan ahead to bring back shows for half-capacity crowds indoors.

An immediate surge in ticket sales and flurry of announcements about events and reopenings was followed by the announcement of a programme of test events with large crowds, which got underway this month.

In Scotland, it has been a far different – and much more confusing – story.

Live music events in Scotland are facing tougher restrictions than those in England
Live music events in Scotland are facing tougher restrictions than those in England
Live music events in Scotland are facing tougher restrictions than those in England

It took until the middle of March for the Scottish government to set out its own detailed route map, including this week’s reopening date for tourism and hospitality, and the rebooting of the events sector on 17 May, the same date venues have been given south of the border.

Audiences of up to 400 are envisaged by the end of June inside theatres, concert halls and comedy clubs. After that, it is anyone’s guess, as the Scottish government has refused to speculate on an end date for social distancing.

As businesses across Scotland began to reopen, instead of being able to promote shows and sell tickets, the Scottish music industry was uniting to warn it had been left on the “brink of collapse" by a failure to give the industry a meaningful road map.

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Finally, yesterday, came new guidance which means that any venues planning to reopen with social distancing in place over the summer have been told they must do so on the basis of two metres – double that required in tourism and hospitality settings.

One of Scotland’s leading theatre directors, Andy Arnold, delivered the scathing verdict that the future prospects for the whole Scottish cultural were “dire” as a result of the “incredibly severe” new restrictions, which made the reopening of venues financially untenable.

With just over a week to go to the Holyrood election, the big question is what will happen next?

After enduring more than a year of restrictions, it is little wonder that many senior figures are losing patience with politicians who had loudly championed their support of the cultural sector before the pandemic.

This time last year it was frankly unimaginable that anyone in Scotland would be looking enviously over the border at where arts and culture sits in the pecking order. That is now the depressing reality for many artists, venues and promoters.

It is worth remembering that the tourism and hospitality sectors had to pretty much go to war to secure the one-metre exemption. I suspect many more of those involved in Scottish culture will be entering the battlefield before too long.

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