Around Lochaber: Angus MacDonald

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The Scottish Government website crashed last week as I and at least 100,000 others tried to read the First Minister’s exit plan. When I did read it, I was firstly miserable, then furious. There was no timetable for anything of consequence. While many countries in Europe, including Italy and France, were allowing bars and shops to open to encourage the vital stirrings of economic life, Scotland was to be put on hold for another three weeks at least. In England business is definitely being encouraged back to work.

The hospitality industry in the west highlands must surely be 50 per cent of the economy in the summer months, our B&B’s, hotels, local shops and restaurants are finished without the crucial May to October. This year there lay the real promise of a staycation boom, with bookings likely through to New Year. However a red flag has been waved at visitors, with Ian Blackford sharing a tweet telling potential visitors to ‘f**k off’, and the negative global media prominence given to Neil Gaiman’s trip from New Zealand to Skye.

The head of the Scottish Tourism Alliance told a Zoom audience this week that Scots were even booking holidays in Cumbria this summer as the perception was that Scotland is closed for visitors, and the Scottish director of the UK Hospitality trade group Willie MacLeod described Nicola Sturgeons route map as ‘doing more harm than good’. You would think that a family that had been cooped up in a city flat, then driving as a family unit to a self-catering cottage in the highlands would be good and safe for all concerned.

I have two large new build construction projects in Fort William – the Highland Cinema and a large visitor centre for The Highland Soap Company. These multi-million pound sites should have 50 workmen rushing to complete them, and indeed in England where construction sites remained open, the cinema would be complete now. Each month the sites are closed costs a fortune.

The Scottish construction industry was very hopeful that from June 1 sites would be allowed to open, instead we heard that phases one and two would be allowed to commence from May 28. Much surfing of the internet apparently resulted in the discovering of a memo between two Scottish Government ministers that revealed this meant ‘planning and preparation’. As if that hadn’t been done some time ago!
There are 6,000 much needed houses nearing completion in Scotland, and hundreds of hotels and shops where building works stopped in mid March.

When can we start work First Minister?
Lockdown means poverty!

It seems it is the consensus that we will have a depression, the biggest collapse in the economy ever, a deficit of 14 per cent of GDP according to the Bank of England and 10 per cent unemployment – at least.
Every penny of the £250 billion the virus is costing Britain will need to be paid back, that is £4,200 per man, woman and child. Are you ready to do your bit?

According to statistics, there has been some 345,000 deaths from COVID across the world in 2020, yet annually influenza kills 160,000, Malaria 620,000 and in 2018 tuberculosis killed 1.5 million people. None of these came close to closing the world down. Of the 34,500 who have died across the UK, only three have been under 15 years old. Up until the start of May, stats show only 375 people under the age of 45 died of the virus, the average age of those who have died is 79.5, and with health complications.

Cancer deaths have been predicted to rise by about 18,000 due to disruption in treatment, mental illness has been soaring, and the financial stress that will follow when furloughing stops will hurt millions in the UK.

Biological Science Professor Richard Ennos from Edinburgh University suggests that ‘to follow science, an appropriate policy is the targeted shielding of those who choose to be classified as vulnerable and their carers…and a release from lockdown for those outside these categories.’

Nicola Sturgeon despite her sincere and calm messaging has made major mistakes. We are dangerously slow in commencing our Scottish testing and tracing programme, our differing financial support for supporting businesses from Westminster has upset many business owners. Not releasing the information about the COVID spreaders from the Nike conference has resulted in an additional 577 deaths, a University of Edinburgh study reports. And the disproportionately high death level in Scottish care homes requires answers as to why – 921 elderly patients were removed from hospital into care homes, were they tested and did the care homes have PPE at the time?

Fundamentally the First Minister locked down too late, has made many mistakes and is now unlocking too late to help Scotland’s already fragile economy.