Analysis: Uncertainty and indecision over Scottish cultural venues and events needs to end

A question I have myself repeatedly over the last few months and one that was dusted down again after Nicola Sturgeon’s first post-election Covid briefing.

Is Scottish culture really any closer towards recovery and revival? I honestly don’t know.

Almost 14 months after live events were brought to a halt by the Scottish Government, venues across the country have finally been given the green light to reopen from next month.

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Although the 17 May reopening date was first announced in mid-March, the final confirmation from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was undoubtedly a significant moment.

But Monday will not be anywhere as significant a day as it could have been for cinemas, theatres, concert halls and comedy clubs, thanks to an insistence that they must enforce two metre social distancing on audiences.

When detailed guidelines were finally published at the end of last month, the 2m triggered a mixture of anger, dismay and bewilderment at why Scottish venues were being told to reopen under much harsher restrictions than bars and restaurants.

More significantly, English venue operators have been able to plan ahead to reopen at half of their normal capacities, with the prospect of social distancing being removed completely next month.

Venue operators and festival operators in Scotland must be beyond exasperated, especially after going to great lengths to explain how difficult it would be to cope with the 2m rule.

Hopes that a pre-election promise of a review would bring good news were extinguished by the First Minister, who was put onto the back foot when asked to explain the huge difference between the restrictions on events in Scotland and England when a largely four nations approach has been taken towards restrictions since their introduction last March.

The First Minister insisted that physical distancing restrictions would not be imposed any longer than necessary.

But the reality is that cultural venues in mainland Scotland have never been able to benefit from the kind of measures put in place for cafes, bars and restaurants 10 months ago after the first lockdown was eased.

The First Minister’s warning that theatres could be “very quickly” closed down again also ignored the fact they are, by all accounts, highly unlikely to reopen under the current guidelines.

The King's Theatre in Edinburgh is due to welcome audiences back in July. Picture: Mike Hume

The Scottish Government has consistently argued that the easing of restrictions would be done to balance the risks of Covid spreading with the need to reboot sections of the economy. Yet the vast contribution of the entertainment sectors has never been reflected in Scotland’s route maps out of lockdown.

There is, however, undoubtedly hope of brighter days ahead.

The success of the vaccine roll-out and the driving down of infection rates has led to the speeding of the easing of restrictions in the islands and the lifting of physical distancing restrictions in private homes and gardens.

A wider review of distancing restrictions has been promised by 7 June, two weeks ahead of the planned lifting of measures in England, while Ms Sturgeon also raised the prospect of the guidelines for live events changing before then.

Eden Court in Inverness has already unveiled plans to bring back its popular 'Under Canvas' outdoor event.

But after a 14-month shutdown, the uncertainty and indecision over Scottish cultural venues, events and festivals - and the stress, anxiety, anger and confusion all those who rely on them to make a living - badly needs to be brought to an end.

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