Scotland: Forbes grilled over SNP’s ‘cautious’ lockdown approach
Jonathan Saxty spoke out after Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the vast majority of Scotland’s central belt would remain in Level 2 restrictions with concern rising about a possible third wave, and the so-called Indian variant now confirmed as the dominant strain. Mr Saxty also warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson against following Mrs Sturgeon’s lead by pushing back his plan to lift restrictions completely on June 21 – warning of devastating consequences for among other sectors, hospitality.
Cautioning against “smugness” towards the Scots, Mr Saxty, the Assistant Editor of Brexit Watch, wrote in the Telegraph: “Those areas staying in or moving to Level 2 contain most of Scotland’s population. We are talking about millions of people here.
“This undermines the UK recovery as the economic impact of restrictions will continue to impede so many of our fellow countrymen and women.”
Mr Saxty cited research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which has predicted the UK’s economic rebound would be stronger than initially believed, outstripping many other developed nations with growth of 7.2 percent compared with a March forecast of 5.1 percent.
Nicola Sturgeon described the move as a “pause, not a step backwards”
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However, he added: “But this assumed the country would move forward as one, rather than the SNP dragging down the rest of the UK.
“As we are seeing with the Northern Ireland Protocol, internal barriers to trade can have a hugely detrimental impact on a country’s economy.”
Mr Saxty also suggested “draconian measures” in one part of Britain could become an object lesson for “lockdown enthusiasts” elsewhere.
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An anti-Lockdown protester in Edinburgh
He explained: “Cambridge University Professor Ravi Gupta is the latest expert to suggest ending restrictions in England on 21 June should be postponed.
“Ominously, the health secretary has also warned that ‘we haven’t beaten this virus yet’, even as Covid deaths hit zero on Tuesday.
“No doubt Tory backbenchers and a fatigued public want the prime minister to hold his nerve – and set himself apart from the SNP by keeping England firmly to the timetable – but Mr Johnson will be wary of unlocking if he believes it will cause a spike in cases and deaths.”
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Cambridge University Professor Ravi Gupta during last week’s Independent SAGE briefing
Pubs and restaurants will be badly hit by ongoing restrictions, said Mr Saxty
Possible options could include the maintenance of social distancing, delays to reopening and a system of localised lockdowns, he suggested.
Such an approach was fraught with risk, Mr Saxty said, with Kate Nicholls – chief executive of UK Hospitality – warning it would be devastating for pubs and restaurants currently operating at 60 percent capacity because of social distancing.
He added: “Ms Nicholls said a delay would ‘push’ some firms ‘closer to the cliff edge of business failure’, now a reality for businesses in Scotland.
UK coronavirus figures
“Just as the recent announcement by the Australian state of Victoria that it will extend its lockdown strengthens the hand of lockdown enthusiasts in other states, so too Ms Sturgeon’s announcement gives ammunition to scientists and lockdown supporters elsewhere in the UK.
“Meanwhile, just as Victoria’s inevitable economic hit will act as a drag on the rest of the Australian economy, a locked down Scotland will act as a drag on the rest of Britain too.”
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Mrs Sturgeon insisted the “slight slowing down” in response to the rise of the Indian variant was “a pause, not a step backwards”.
Indian variant in the UK
She said: “The vaccines are changing the game. And that means we can still be optimistic about our chances of much more normality over the summer and beyond.
“Indeed, in the days ahead, and while it may still feel a way off for many of us, we will publish more detailed work on what we expect life beyond Level 0 to look like, as that greater normality returns.
She added: “Indeed, one reason for proceeding with more caution now, is to make it easier in the future to resume our progress to Level 0 – and then beyond.”