Analysis: Could Scotland really go its own way on lockdown easing?

People will tune in to a nationwide address from Boris Johnson on Sunday, nervously awaiting news on when and how social distancing measures will be eased. But will anything the Prime Minister has to say be relevant to viewers in Scotland?

Johnson is expected to set out plans for a staged return to school for at least some pupils, and could announce the relaxation of social distancing restrictions for outdoor activity. Reports suggest cafés with space for outdoor tables could even be allowed to reopen.

The picture is confused because officially, Downing Street is confirming none of the stories that have appeared on newspaper front pages this week.

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They all point to Sunday being a significant moment, adding to the expectations of millions who have been cooped up for seven weeks.

People social distancing as they walk along the beach at Gorleston-on-Sea in Norfolk

That’s why Johnson’s announcement may not be the release people in Scotland are hoping for.

All week, Nicola Sturgeon, her ministers and Scottish health officials have been warning that Scotland may not be ready to begin easing the lockdown from Monday.

Coronavirus deaths are falling across the UK, but it’s clear when you look at data for the number of hospitalisations that Scotland is behind the curve of the outbreak in much of England - particularly London, which was hit first and hardest, but is now recovering fastest.

Scotland also faces a tougher challenge on testing thanks to its geography and what appears to be less availability of tests.

Testing isn’t available to the same range of key workers and care home residents as in England.

In reality, the shape of what Johnson calls his ‘unlockdown plan’ isn’t even clear in Downing Street yet. Ministers and officials are waiting for another set of data from the Office for National Statistics on how widespread the outbreak is.

After a UK cabinet meeting today, there is expected to be another on Saturday and a Cobra meeting to discuss the plan with the devolved governments. As well as deciding what Johnson will say, those meetings will also be about preserving the UK-wide consensus to go along with it.

Could the four nation strategy fall apart over the next few days? There has been frustration since the start of the crisis in the Scottish Government with the way the UK Government has handled information. Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman criticised the way details of the lockdown were leaked to some newspapers before it was imposed; the same is clearly happening again.

But for the sake of a Scottish public who will tune in on Sunday, whether the announcement applies to them or not, London and Edinburgh would clearly like to be able to move together - it would make both the practicalities and the politics easier.

If the two governments don’t see eye to eye by Saturday night, there could be a lot more confusion on Sunday than either side would like.

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