Scottish Daily Mail

Christ­mas? Let peo­ple make their own choice

- Emma Cow­ing emma.cow­ing@dai­ly­ Nicola Sturgeon

DECK the halls! Jin­gle the bells! It’s be­gin­ning to look a lot like Christ­mas. Well, sort of. Maybe. Not re­ally, ac­tu­ally. If ever there were a week of mixed mes­sages from Covid HQ, this was it.

First we were told we could form bub­bles of up to three house­holds. Then came the stark warn­ings about, of all things, hand­ing round the roast pota­toes.

Yes, you can go walk­ing in a winter won­der­land, but you bet­ter be pre­pared to re­turn to a freez­ing house with all the win­dows open, sani­tise your hands ev­ery two min­utes and bring your own cut­lery. Fa la la la la.

Then ad­viser Devi Srid­har omi­nously started pre­dict­ing a Jan­uary lock­down ‘to pay for’ Christ­mas, and Ni­cola Stur­geon and na­tional clin­i­cal di­rec­tor Ja­son Leitch fur­ther mud­died the wa­ters by prig­gishly telling us that, un­like some, they won’t be see­ing their fam­i­lies at all.

It was like lis­ten­ing to the pi­ous girl at school who would bring in a packet of sweet­ies, of­fer them round, and while you were mid- chew air­ily an­nounce: ‘Oh, none for me. They’re SO fat­ten­ing.’ All of it a last-minute switcheroo de­signed to make us feel guilty for even con­sid­er­ing do­ing some­thing so many of us des­per­ately want.

Look, I know this is a dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act. I un­der­stand that, from a sci­en­tific point of view, the women and men in white coats would rather we all just hi­ber­nate alone in our bed­rooms un­til spring. I know there are risks, and the num­bers are still wor­ry­ingly high. The virus doesn’t take a holiday just be­cause we want to.

But I know, too, that there are peo­ple who are re­ally strug­gling right now, who ab­so­lutely need some­thing to look for­ward to. Who need the com­pan­ion­ship of an­other hu­man be­ing, just for a few days. To hold a hand, squeeze a shoul­der, hear an­other per­son laugh in the same room as them.

So there seems some­thing rather disin­gen­u­ous about dan­gling all this in front of our noses like one of ru­dolph’s par­tic­u­larly juicy car­rots and then pulling the stern ‘not in anger but in sor­row’ school­marm act.

Ei­ther do it, or don’t. Or at least give us the dig­nity of, even just for a few days, mak­ing our own de­ci­sions.

There are el­e­ments of the Christ­mas regulation­s that make lit­tle sense to me. I am baf­fled, for ex­am­ple, that fam­i­lies within a bub­ble can­not go out for Christ­mas lunch, or to a pub for drinks to­gether. Surely a bar or a res­tau­rant, with all their strict so­cial dis­tanc­ing pro­to­cols, would be a safer en­vi­ron­ment than a fam­ily home where the booze is flow­ing?

Not to men­tion that it would give some much-needed in­come to a hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try that in many parts of the coun­try is dan­gling by a thread.

I fear, too, that the slightly dis­ap­prov­ing tone be­ing fos­tered by those at the top may di­vide the na­tion. Some will de­cide to stay at home on the ba­sis of the fin­ger-wag­ging, for­go­ing Christ­mas with any fam­ily and try­ing des­per­ately not to feel mis­er­able about it.

Come late De­cem­ber when they see pic­tures on so­cial me­dia and hear about the lovely cel­e­bra­tions oth­ers have had, will they feel be­trayed? re­sent­ful? Down­right angry?

THIS year, per­haps more than ever, peo­ple de­serve to make their own choices about Christ­mas. Isn’t that what the re­lax­ations are all about? giv­ing us just the tini­est glim­mer of free­dom and in­de­pen­dence of thought af­ter a year when we have never been more help­less to the will of the state?

giv­ing us the op­tion to say: ‘right, let’s do it. We’ll all self-iso­late for ten days be­fore­hand, stock up on the hand sani­tiser, and just for a few days pull crack­ers, ex­change gifts and try to for­get the last ghastly ten months.’ As long as they stick to the rules, I won’t judge any­one for the choices they make. It’s up to them. We must all mea­sure up the risks, judge them care­fully and make our own de­ci­sions.

This year, surely the great­est gift our gov­ern­ment can give us is to be treated like in­de­pen­dent grown-ups. Not naughty school­child­ren, sneered at by those in charge for want­ing that most ba­sic of hu­man needs: the hug of a loved one at Christ­mas.

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