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JENNY HJUL: Coronavirus is in retreat in Scotland, so why doesn’t Nicola Sturgeon throw businesses a lifeline?

Crieff Hydro.
Crieff Hydro.

If the Crieff Hydro hotel chain had been run as ineptly as the Scottish Government it would have gone out of business long before the coronavirus outbreak. As it is, this group was doing fine until the pandemic came along and now, like most of the hospitality sector, it faces a catastrophic downturn.

Crieff Hydro chief executive Stephen Leckie said he expected to lose up to 50% of his takings this year and would probably have to lay off more than a quarter of workers.

The only hope of salvaging some of these jobs would be a faster easing of the lockdown restrictions in Scotland.

Leckie, who is chairman of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, speaks for his entire industry, which cannot hope to survive without an immediate exit strategy.

Also desperate for an opening date are Scotland’s shop owners, who have reached “make or break time”, according to the director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, David Lonsdale.

He, too, called this week for the government here to provide a clear route out of lockdown so the high street could begin to recoup some of its devastating losses.

“Whilst retailers in Northern Ireland and England are in the enviable position of knowing when they are likely to be able to reopen,” said Lonsdale, “shopkeepers here in Scotland are somewhat in the dark and don’t have a firm timetable to work towards.”

Meanwhile, ferry company CalMac has pleaded for the two-metre rule to be reviewed so it can remain viable, but to no avail, despite the fact that it operates in communities virtually untouched by the pandemic.

The current SNP regime doesn’t pay much attention to business bosses, but their hopes must have been raised when a leading nationalist echoed their fears.

Andrew Wilson, appointed by Nicola Sturgeon to head her Growth Commission, gave the sternest warning of all that rescuing the economy was urgent.

“A tidal wave of job losses has begun,” he tweeted. “This should take equal focus with the health crisis as of now. Poverty will kill many more than Covid.”

Sturgeon said her “heart breaks” for businesses like the Crieff Hydro, but it will be June 18 at the earliest before she even considers putting this country on an equal footing with the rest of the UK.

Why is this? Scotland has had several days with no Covid deaths at all.

The virus is in retreat here, as it is elsewhere; there are no signs that we are a special case, inconvenient as this may be for the SNP. The first minister has also told shielding Scots to stay at home until she makes up her mind when it’s safe for them to emerge, again diverging from the rest of Britain.

And with almost comic contrariness, she still has said nothing about the wearing of face masks, although measures were introduced south of the border last week.

If she had access to some superior medical intelligence, or if Scotland had handled the coronavirus better than England, we might be more inclined to trust her instincts.

But from covering up the Nike conference outbreak, failures on PPE, and a worst in class performance on care home cases, to a gaffe prone, flailing health secretary, this administration has nothing to be proud of in its Covid response.

How ministers now manage the path out of the pandemic will dictate the country’s future.

Tellingly, Wilson said devolution can’t cope with the economic fallout of Covid or Brexit, let alone both, suggesting that Scotland will continue to be dependent on the bailouts from the Treasury for some time to come.

Already, it is obvious to all but the politically blind that we could never have survived this crisis without the chancellor’s furlough scheme and subsequent handouts to small businesses.

The SNP will, of course, blame any hardship on the British Government, but the collapse of the Scottish economy, whoever is held responsible, will put a speedy end to prospects of independence.

Surely Sturgeon, taking her cue from Europe if she can’t stomach following London’s lead, can see that she must now throw her country a lifeline.

At the moment, that only involves uttering a few words and unleashing the captains of industry to begin the rebuilding process.

Later, she (or rather Rishi Sunak) will have to provide more concrete support. If she delays much longer it will be too late, as Stephen Leckie has spelt out.

The police warn they will not be able to enforce the lockdown rules, with the public’s “hunger for freedom” increasing by the day.

In less than a week, shops across England will reopen, as they have done this week in Northern Ireland. It is looking likely that pubs and restaurants will follow suit. The return to normal is gathering pace. Everywhere but Scotland.