Comment: We derided a 'Christmas amnesty', and we should now view the government with similar disdain

The word 'mistake' is not enough to fully describe the all encompassing cock-up that has been the UK and Scottish government's approach to a Covid-19 Christmas.

Deciding to allow a relaxation of restrictions otherwise designed to drive down the transmission of coronavirus for five days always gave the whiff of recklessness, and so it has proved.

What is particularly galling and what governments should not be forgiven for is that any such policy was always considered a public health nightmare.

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One wonders, for example, if when the discussion between advisers and the government turned to Christmas in November whether any remembered what they had said a month earlier.

Christmas plans have changed dramatically across the UK today. Picture: PAChristmas plans have changed dramatically across the UK today. Picture: PA
Christmas plans have changed dramatically across the UK today. Picture: PA

In October, the Bishop of Paisley, John Keenan, was derided if not openly mocked by public health experts and politicians for suggesting a "Christmas amnesty".

The deputy chief medical officer, Dr Nicola Steedman, said it would not work because "our opponent has not agreed to the amnesty".

And yet that exact same suggestion was outlined, announced as official policy and justified by those same individuals as acceptable and - in public health terms - safe enough.

It is essential the public record is not overwritten on this.

Professor Linda Bauld said on Friday that the chances of a now confirmed post-Christmas lockdown was dependent on how many people took advantage of the relaxations, and yet health secretary Jeane Freeman remained tight-lipped.

Scotland may not be in the dire straits that England, Wales and Northern Ireland inhabit, but Covid-19 has - as the First Minister consistently repeats - not gone away.

To plan to open up the country at Christmas regardless of the still-to-be-decided rise in cases and deaths connected to that relaxation, was always fundamentally incompatible with existing advice.

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Nicola Sturgeon may justify the last-gasp change in restrictions by preventing the spread of the new, more highly transmissible variant of Covid-19, but in reality this should never have been a u-turn to make.

It is baffling as to why the First Minister was not similarly cautious with Christmas as she was with reopening the country after the initial lockdown, as she was initially with schools, and as she has been when deciding which levels apply to areas in Scotland.

Why over-promise when it was obvious it was conditional? Why not hope for the best but plan for the worst?

And why give people a month to plan only to rip that away at the last moment when other recent decisions have been communicated no more than a week in advance.

We do not know the details of those four nations phone calls nor who pushed for what, but the end result has been politically disastrous.

Scotland would have understood (if not happy) if Christmas would have had to be a 'digital Christmas' to use Jason Leitch's turn of phrase.

After all, the public were consistently warned it would not be normal.

It is by far the most significant failing in the Scottish Government's communications strategy and of its efforts to tackle the virus.

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To promise and then roll back on Christmas at such a late stage will undermine confidence in the Scottish Government's ability to effectively tackle the virus, arguably at a time where that confidence is most pressingly required.

It is a mistake that could and probably still will cost lives.

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