The world didn’t end on 22 October 1844. For the thousands of followers of the American preacher William Miller, that day, on which they had anticipated the return of the Messiah, became the “Great Disappointment”.
Nearly 177 years clear, it’s an intriguing reminder of the risks of being too definite on dates. Covid-19 has left us all desperate for an equally clear prediction on when we might again hug a loved one or go to the pub, depending on one’s priorities.
Dates and rumours of dates have featured heavily in this week of roadmaps and roadmap responses. On Monday, the UK government set out plans to end restrictions in England by 21 June, providing strict conditions are met.
On Tuesday, the Scottish government unveiled its roadmap. Deliberately devoid of dates, it proposes only that, in two months’ time, the whole country may return to something like the restrictions of late October.
Yesterday, Scottish businesses reacted; and bafflement characterised their responses. This marks a tonal contrast to Monday’s reports of growing confidence among employers. Missed goals or new strains may make a mirage of Johnson’s June 21 target. Yet, for businesses, it appears even a provisional date is better than none.
For hospitality and tourism, the problem is acute. While foreign visitors are restricted, these businesses will need domestic tourism. Yet the Scottish government’s proposals give a potential visitor from England little confidence to plan a holiday in Scotland.
The first minister’s strategy is, as it has long been, to pitch Nicola’s strait and narrow Boris’ wide and broad. So far, this has largely made sense. The UK government’s reluctance to impose stricter measures have too often appeared rash.
Yet vaccines seem to be shifting sentiment. For the UK government, the success of Britain’s roll-out – unparalleled among larger countries – has put the spring back in Johnson’s step. For Sturgeon, a more definitive roadmap could have served as a vote of confidence in a Scottish vaccination programme which, despite a faltering start, is showing results.
Caution is still vital. The unpredictability of this virus is why the UK government’s proposed dates remain provisional. Easing the restrictions must, as both governments recognise, be an irreversible step along the way to full recovery.
Any proposed reopening date carries the possibility of joy and the risk of disappointment. For many businesses, the Scottish government’s current roadmap offers disappointment now with only a remote possibility of joy later.