by Colin Campbell
DEBATE is raging over an Inverness protest in Falcon Square against virus restrictions and the virtual lockdown which has hammered many businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry.
I turned to the always informative Facebook page of the Inverness Courier to see what was being said about it online.
Normally an article there might attract a dozen or so comments, maybe 50 if it involved an issue of local controversy.
During Monday and Tuesday these numbers went through the roof as the protest attracted nearly 1,000 responses. Feelings are running very high.
I read all of them. The vast majority were critical of those who took part. Those who expressed an opposing view issued a defence of what had taken place in more thoughtful and considered language, with some backing up arguments with statistics.
But this was not an enlightening, informative or even barely civilised debate. It was full of anger, rancour, vituperation and vindictiveness. Much of it came from those who attacked the protesters.
Some contributors said the faces of those who were pictured should be remembered so if they fell Ill with the virus they should be denied treatment, go to the back of whatever NHS queue might exist, or have to pay for it, however they supposed that would work.
They were branded morons, selfish idiots or worse in a range of colourful language.
Some people wanted to know the names of any business owners who took part in the protest so they could boycott their businesses. Well, they’d better hurry up and get on with their boycott, because the way things are going it’s quite likely these businesses will soon cease to exist, and so will the jobs of the people they employ.
Many of those who took part in the demo didn’t wear face masks, and were stupid and irresponsible not to do so.
But this protest was very different from one held at the Bught Park during lockdown, which attracted a grand total of five people. A few of those who gathered in Falcon Square may have been motivated by an intense but unfathomable aversion to wearing masks, and a handful may have been in the grip of madcap conspiracy theories about a Government scheming to keep us permanently under brainwashed control.
But how many others were there because of concerns over the damage to the economy caused by lockdown and then reopening and then further lockdowns, which could go on indefinitely? “Damage to the economy” translates into people losing their jobs, as is happening right now across Inverness and the Highlands with the end of the furlough scheme, particularly in the stricken and crippled hospitality industry. I know people affected, as many others will do. It is a dreadful situation. What are their realistic chances of finding another job in the current climate, and what are these folks expected to do? It must be a terrible time for them.
I don’t want to add to the doom and gloom but there has never been a worse time to be unemployed in my lifetime. The situation is much worse than in the infamous Thatcher jobs purge of the early 1980s.
The latest statistics show that in the Highlands and Islands during the past week only 36 people were reported as being infected by coronavirus, which translates into a rate of 15.3 infections per 100,000 people, an infinitesimally low number.
People will take their own view on that. But given these numbers it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to voice public opposition to the restrictions imposed, if people choose to do so. Neither does it seem reasonable to subject them to an outpouring of vitriol, bile and contempt.
In fact, as unemployment numbers grow, as they all too rapidly will, these kind of protests are likely to get significantly or even much larger. Will those who take part then, in dire personal circumstances, be subjected to a similar level of abuse?
And, it has to be said how, many of the most strident critics have themselves recently been told they’ve been made redundant, or soon will be. Very few, if any, I suspect.
In the current tense and febrile atmosphere people respond with gut instinct and their emotions may run out of control.
But as virus concerns continue and jobless levels soar there should be some degree of recognition of the different feelings people have about this dire situation.
Maybe that will come. But there was precious little of it evident in the rancorous and ugly polarisation over the Falcon Square protest we saw this week.