Thought Scots would say goodbye to face masks by Easter? You’ve not met Nicola Sturgeon

With one bound, at last they were free. Or maybe that should be after 50 bounds. Or thereabouts. The Scots have been told that Nicola Sturgeon now believes they are adult enough for freedom from most Covid restrictions and can decide for themselves what’s good for their health.

Nearly three months after face masks were decreed no longer mandatory in pubs and restaurants in England, and almost another month after she said she would do it in Scotland, the First Minister finally agreed – I’m tempted to say, with a fair degree of ill grace – that the same could apply north of the border.

It really has been an extraordinary situation. It’s been one that has infuriated and confused “mine hosts” and their staff for no other reason than Ms Sturgeon believed because she was entitled to go her own way in fighting Covid, that’s precisely what she would do. 

Critics insisted that it neither made Scotland any safer than England, nor that it fought the spread of the omicron variant of Covid any better.

And it was with an air of hopeless resignation, as well as massive understatement, that the embattled, battered and bruised Scottish hospitality industry, whose interests and protests have been ignored throughout the pandemic, said that Ms Sturgeon’s decree had been “long overdue”.

Confusion and frustration abound

Colin Wilkinson, the managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, pointed out the fact that Scotland had been out of step with England had led to “confusion” for customers and “frustration” for owners and staff.

However, it is difficult to let this issue pass without commenting on Ms Sturgeon’s completely, and again arbitrary, last-minute use of her plenipotentiary powers. As Mr Wilkinson and others have commented, it would have been a nice gesture – and something of a reward for publicans, restaurateurs and their customers – if the end of compulsory face masks coincided with the Easter Bank Holiday.

But if you think that, you don’t know Scotland’s First Minister. 

The change will not be made until next Monday. Given that Easter Monday is not normally a holiday in England, people will be returning to work. Would it have been too much to ask of her to end mask-wearing at midnight on Maundy Thursday?

I don’t think for a second that such a prospect even occurred to her, given that in a statement accompanying the “relaxation” order, she insisted: “Although the use of face coverings will become guidance rather than a legal requirement, I strongly recommend members of the public continue wearing face coverings in indoor settings where possible, and particularly when significant numbers of people are present.”

Economy stuffed? Just blame Boris

Such is the incredible influence La Sturgeon has managed to develop over a large proportion of the Scottish people in the two years of the pandemic that those words will be enough to ensure that a great many people will continue to wear face coverings in hospitality venues, and that it’s more than likely that they will expect the staff and other customers to do likewise.

It is a recipe for further confusion and irritation amongst staff and customers alike. All this at a time when an important part of the Scottish economy desperately needs a boost.

But why should La Sturgeon worry about the economy? If that’s in trouble, she can always blame Boris Johnson and the UK Government. Comme d’habitude.

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