by Colin Campbell Monday, May 11
WHILE people in the Strathpeffer area would have tuned in to Boris Johnson’s TV address last night on the first tentative steps out of lockdown, some would have been distracted by other more localised news.
That was the announcement that the landmark Mackays Hotel in the village, a highly popular tourist centre, is gone.
It has closed down, not temporarily, not while furloughing, not until social distancing measures are in place for it to reopen for business. It is in insolvency and will not reopen. A once-thriving and very well-known business teeming with life and full of tourists is reduced to an empty shell of bricks and mortar, and that’s how it will remain for the foreseeable future, until the building is bought for some other purpose, or quite likely, demolished.
And as it crumbles into disuse, how many jobs has it taken down with it? Forty, 50, 60 on a full-time or part-time basis? And how hard will its loss affect other businesses which supplied food and beverages and furniture and bedding to it, and did its daily laundry, and other related acitvity?
And how distraught and even despairing are the people who expected to be working there but now have no jobs to go to, in an area where jobs are desperately needed? How will they cope, and pay mortgages and bills and other outgoings?
Mackays Hotel has now gained prominence as being the first major casualty of the coronavirus – and the coronavirus lockdown –to be announced publicly in this area. And the all too obvious question is – how many other businesses, particularly in the retail and hospitality sector, will follow?
Former Chancellor Norman Lamont said at the weekend that in his view too many people were still oblivious to the hard reality of what lies ahead, primarily those who are being “cossetted” – his choice of word – on the furlough scheme.
Being paid 80 per cent of your normal wage – and however that figure has been worked out, from all I’ve heard it’s a distinctly generous 80 per cent – for not doing any work in sunny weather is far from the worst thing in the world. But it won’t go on. It may be extended briefly beyond June and the percentage may be cut. But even that won’t last very much longer. All over the country people are weighing up the personal implications of the economic wreckage caused by the virus, and the growing inevitability of mass unemployment the longer the lockdown goes on.
Many older folk are worried about the risks from the disease. They are equally worried that the private pensions they’ve dutifully paid for over the years may be reduced to a few coins rattling around in a tin.
The Prime Minister’s broadcast last night immediately gave rise to accusations of mixed messaging and confusion. At the same time, under tremendous pressure and faced with almost impossibly conflicting demands on health and the economy, he was signalling that somehow, in some way, businesses and their employees need to at least start thinking about getting back to work, with mandatory safety rules in place, as they as an absolute priority must be.
Before the economy is reduced to rubble and there are no jobs left to go back to and essential services begin to collapse because there’s no money left to fund them.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon criticised the PM’s adoption of a new “Stay Alert” message, and said Scotland would be sticking with “Stay Home”, for the time being at least. Her criticism was pointed but delivered in a measured and dignified way.
The same could not be said of the contribution from Ross MP and SNP leader at Westminster Ian Blackford, who tweeted with typically insulting aggression: “What kind of buffoon thinks of this kind of nonsense.”
This conveniently ignored the fact that whatever Ian Blackford thinks of the man delivering the message, his “buffoon” description cannot be readily extended to the scientific advisers who would have played a leading role in drawing it up.
While Nicola Sturgeon seems genuine, so far at any rate, in not seeking to score cheap political points in this crisis, it is in Blackford’s DNA to try at every opportunity to do just that. The sense is if it boosted the case for independence, he would happily keep all of Scotland in lockdown for months ahead, and hell mend lost jobs and the economy.
This is the man who, in addition to his MP’s salary and monthly income from company directorship, was last week revealed to have claimed more than £240,000 in annual expenses – the second highest figure of any MP.
There will assuredly be no financial worries for Ian Blackford, no matter what lies ahead. Perhaps rather than being a constant blustering critic, he should give some thought to the people in his constituency who face the increasing certainty of losing their jobs the longer the current situation prevails. And he could start just six miles west of his Dingwall constituency office, in the jobs-stricken village of Strathpeffer.