by Colin Campbell
AS the virus threatens to cast gloom over another winter in Inverness, it has been announced that the city’s hugely popular and uplifting Winter Festival has again been cancelled.
The Ness Islands Halloween display, the Bught Park bonfire night, the Christmas lights switch on and the New Year Red-Hot Highland Fling will all be affected.
Councillor Ian Brown, chairman of the working group responsible, said: “The health, safety and welfare of the public and staff involved in the events has obviously been paramount in our thinking, and with the recent announcement, there are substantial challenges in ensuring that the traditional large-scale events organised by the group can go ahead in their usual format this year.
“I understand that colleagues in High Life Highland (HLH) are working to identify ways that alternative activities are able to be facilitated in such a way that will allow families to mark these special occasions in the calendar, but neither encourages nor accommodates large gatherings.”
Ian Brown is avoiding saying the festival has been cancelled, but that’s just playing around with words. If all the main elements of it are not going ahead – and they can’t because they would attract “large crowds” – it has been cancelled in all but name.
The recent announcement he’s referring to is Nicola Sturgeon’s intention to introduce “vaccine passports” for large events like concerts and football matches from October 1.
This has been criticised for its lack of detail and even if some sense does emerge from it it’s widely considered to be unworkable. The scheme may not even go ahead.
And was it ever intended to apply to events like bonfire nights and open air Halloween parades in any case?
Why have councillors and others involved in the Winter Festival been so quick to cancel it when full details of Sturgeon’s proposals have still to emerge?
Their full announcement included several repetitions of the “public safety is our paramount concern” mantra.
Does this need to be repeated ad nauseam? It has begun to sound pious, pompous and self-righteous, as if those at local level making the decisions on “paramount safety” believe they have the knowledge and wisdom to prevent the rest of us from behaving like reckless idiots.
They don’t. They’re just as much in the dark about Sturgeon’s shambolic restrictions, careering all over the place, as everyone else.
Thousands attending football matches week in and week out, and that will continue, but bonfire nights and Halloween parades and festive lights switch-on events being cancelled months in advance because of “paramount safety”?
This makes absolutely no sense.
With virtually everyone fully vaccinated, was the risk posed by anything on the traditional festival programme so acute as to merit cancellation?
Such as a Halloween parade of kids and parents which could so easily have been “socially distanced” through the Ness Islands being summarily scrapped?
Those attending a Bught bonfire night wouldn’t have been standing shoulder to shoulder. The place is big enough to enable people to watch it from anywhere they chose. And according to all available science, the chances of catching the virus – and feeling off colour for a day or two if you did – at a scattered outdoor event are close to non-existent.
But still councillors and organisers leapt in when summer’s just fading to call everything off for the winter.
And as a result plunge everyone, fully vaccinated, into winter gloom ahead.
This ridiculously premature move was either caused by paranoia or idiocy. Either way, it took “risk aversion” to a new extreme.
Are those who made it part of the “one virus infection is one too many” brigade?
Are they in tandem with those lockdown enthusiasts who believe that if there is the slightest risk of anyone being infected we’re right back to square one? And that a return to normality is dangerous and must be constrained?
It looks like it, as they chunter on about “paramount safety” and deny people the chance of some winter cheer ahead.
Some alternative to the Winter Festival may emerge. But it’s not going to bear any resemblance to what normally brightens up the city.
What “alternative activities” will be available to individual families? How is that going to be possible?
Maybe there are plans to set a bonfire and fireworks display and create a Halloween event at a secret, guarded location and invite people to watch it on Zoom.
I’m not sure how much fun that would be.
Despite a rise in the number of infections as of yesterday there were 31 people in Highland hospitals with coronavirus. That’s still a vanishingly small number from a population of over 200,000, and with the exception of three days in August, there has been no-one in intensive care since the beginning of March. In no shape or form can that credibly be characterised as “a surge”.
But it’s been enough to kill off the Winter Festival.
Of course Inverness can endure another winter without it.
But it would have been encouraging and uplifting to see these hugely popular events go ahead as the city returns to normality.
The Sturgeon “vaccine passport” shambles and the feeble, fearful and timorous response to it from the powers-that-be in the Highland capital have well and truly put paid to that.