Johnson and Sturgeon took two very different approaches to announcing their lockdown easing roadmaps, but which was right?
Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon have both announced their roadmaps for easing restrictions, a welcome hint towards a post-Covid world as we near the anniversary of the beginning of the first lockdown. Yet, the two announcements took two very different approaches, with one optimistically claiming that by 21 June we could all be back asking the club DJ to play Abba again; and the other not wanting to claim much at all. The question is, as we near a year since we were first told to “Stay At Home”, which of these roadmaps (if any) will actually give us the well-needed boost to keep the end goal in sight whilst still encouraging adherence to restrictions in the meantime?
Whether or not you agree with everything she said, Sturgeon was right about one thing: the dates the prime minister gave in his roadmap are arbitrary. Nobody can deny that it is likely that some of the exact dates in Boris’ plan will change, considering he’s outlined steps up to four months away. But is this fine? After all, at least it gives us something to be excited about, and it may mean more people stick to the rules in the meantime, feeling assured that if they do, by 21 June we’ll all have our lives fully back again. However, therein lies the issue.
Whilst, of course, the prime minister made no actual promises, and the roadmap reiterates that reviews will be based on data, not dates, a short scroll on Twitter on the day of his announcement showed that a lot of people were expecting to be back flashing bouncers their ID by mid-summer. Of course, a lot of the responses were just jokes, but I do think it’s hard not to hear a date and take it as gospel, especially when it’s something we want so badly.
What happens when the now infamous date does roll around and we’re not quite allowed to do as much as we’d hoped? Won’t that create more resentment towards a government that, let’s be honest, haven’t handled the whole pandemic situation in the best way? I see that having the potential to have a worse impact on people’s mental health, as the dates they’d been looking forward to pass them by without the changes they’d expected.
I do realise that some resentment is already building towards the SNP because of their failure to give more of a concrete roadmap, with people taking to Twitter to proclaim “Vote them out on 6 May”, based primarily on this response to the route out of lockdown. Firstly, I’m not convinced the prime minister’s roadmap was more helpful, but even if it is, does it make sense to campaign against free tuition fees, free prescription, free sanitary products and many other achievements the SNP have made, based on the fact they haven’t given a specific date when Covid-19 will be completely under control?
What’s more, Sturgeon’s response was not void of any dates or hope. Scotland has been given dates for when we will likely be able to meet outdoors in small groups again, when selected school pupils may return, and when things like non-essential retail will be allowed to open again. Sturgeon’s roadmap, though “deliberately cautious” as she put it, does give us some things to look forward to, and hints towards a life with no restrictions, without making us pin everything on one specific date in four months time, which is more than likely to change. Outlining dates only in the next two months helps to reaffirm the fact that we cannot predict every setback, and that these dates aren’t set in stone. Giving a date so far away makes it seem like the path to lifting restrictions cannot be hindered, which at this point isn’t true.
At the risk of sounding wishy-washy like what Sturgeon herself is accused of, I can see the appeal of Johnson’s approach: to give hope in a lockdown that has lasted through the darkest, coldest months. Part of me is glad to be privy to both approaches, knowing that the governments are working towards these dates roughly, but they’re still more than likely to change. However, I do think Sturgeon is right not to give dates past the near future, and to wait to give us an end goal until the data backs it up. We don’t know for sure there will be no setbacks with the vaccine deployment, or that easing certain restrictions will go smoothly. For that reason, I think deciding not to get everyone’s hopes up is the right approach, so as not to have an even worse impact on all of our mental health, and, in doing so, we’re more likely to follow the rules if 21 June ends up not being the promised land we’d hoped for.