The Scottish government is facing a fierce backlash after Nicola Sturgeon announced a crackdown on indoor drinking in licensed premises, as one leading adviser said more needed to be done to ensure people were sticking to the rules in their own homes.
Scottish pub, bar and restaurant owners expressed anger and despair at “catastrophic” and “scapegoating” new regulations that are set to last for 16 days across the country, and people on online forums decried the “prohibition” that would result from harsher restrictions in central Scotland.
From 6pm on Friday, all pubs and restaurants in the five health board areas where infections are accelerating fastest: Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley, will have to close, both indoors and outdoors, although they can still serve takeaways.
Pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes in the rest of Scotland will not be allowed to serve alcohol indoors, and can only open between 6am and 6pm for food and non-alcoholic drinks. Licensed premises away from the central belt can continue to serve alcohol outdoors until the 10pm curfew that was introduced last month.
Mario Gizzi, the head of the DiMaggio’s restaurant group in Glasgow and a member of the Scottish Hospitality Group, described the mood in the sector as despondent. “Hospitality is getting picked on, with no data from the Scottish government to show how transmission is happening in bars and restaurants, despite us asking for it,” he said.
A Scottish government evidence paper published on Wednesday to coincide with Sturgeon’s announcement in Holyrood states that between the end of July and the beginning of October, 26% of people who tested positive for Covid-19 reported having visited hospitality venues. However, it is not possible to tell exactly where an individual had been infected.
Gizzi said his restaurants had served more than 1.8 million customers since July and had only 17 confirmed cases of coronavirus among staff.
He warned more than 25% of staff at the group were under the age of 25. “These young people are using it as a career path or a stepping stone or to support themselves through university. There is a real danger that they are going to become a wilderness generation,” he said.
During Thursday, there were calls for further clarity on who the rules applied to and what type of premises constituted a restaurant or a cafe, which could make the difference between a business closing or being allowed to stay open. At First Minister’s Questions, Sturgeon introduced an exemption to allow cafes with a licence to remain open in the central belt, provided they do not serve alcohol, following complaints from businesses.
There was also frustration at the sweep of the measures, for example from pub owners on the Isle of Arran, who must close from Friday despite there being no positive tests for Covid-19 on the island since May.
Sturgeon was also challenged by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard about a lack of consultation with trade bodies and unions. Sturgeon insisted her government was in regular touch with stakeholders, but added: “These are not normal times or decision-making processes...I don’t expect these decisions to be welcome or popular but every day right now we are facing decisions where we have lives in one hand and jobs in the other. It is an impossible, almost, balance to strike.”
Stephen Reicher, a professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews who has advised the Scottish and UK governments on compliance with coronavirus guidelines, said regulating people’s behaviour at home remained key, and there was a need for better and more consistent messaging to cut through natural assumptions that it is safer to be at home with people you know.
“The question is: will [closure of pubs] lead to people doing other things they shouldn’t do, like gathering in their houses? It might be that you can’t go to the pub but if you are disaffected you will invite people round.”
Reicher said he had seen figures from Police Scotland showing that they had been called to very few household gatherings of more than 15 people. “Part of the problem is that the way things have been represented, these awful demonic ‘other’ of young people having house parties, makes everyone else feel complacent and so they don’t take things seriously.”
With central Scotland now braced for the harshest restrictions anywhere in the UK, Reicher also said any sense that the new rules were unfair would undermine compliance. “It’s not fatigue, it’s feeling that if it’s justified they will do it. The good news is that the levels of trust are higher in Scotland than in England, and it is still true that the majority of Scots still want more to be done.”