Orcadian Column, 16 December 2021


I do wonder how the Blue Door concept would go down on Dragon’s Den. Certainly the spectacle of Rita Jamieson locking horns with the Dragons would have been a ratings triumph to match anything Strictly, I’m a Celebrity or Bake Off could muster.

Sadly, Rita Jamieson has passed away within touching distance of her 100th birthday, leaving behind an astonishing legacy that touched every part of our community. Through her generosity and philanthropy, Rita helped so many local groups, organisations and charities secure the funding needed not just to function but in some cases survive. It was work carried out in understated fashion, though it rightly saw her recognised in 2018 with a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Honours List.

I’ve done a few shifts in the Blue Door on behalf of different groups over the years. It was always great fun, but it’s an operation run with military precision. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t dare question the logic of leaving me in charge of the ‘ladies fashionwear’ rails!

In my more familiar habitat, the political landscape remains dominated by the response to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of Covid. At time of writing on Tuesday morning, it’s difficult to say what will be in the First Minister’s update to parliament later today, however, she and her Ministers have spent recent days preparing the way for more stringent measures.

Already the rules around households self-isolating in the event of a positive PCR test have been tightened, while the weekend saw announcements about a ramping up the booster vaccination programme. The target of offering a booster jab to every adult in the UK by the end of the year is heroically ambitious and questions remain as to whether the capacity exists to deliver this on the ground. In a similar vein, government appeals for people to undertake lateral flow tests daily, or ahead of mixing with other households, have led to supply issues in some pharmacies and online over the past week.

In Orkney, I understand the hope is to have booster jabs offered by Christmas and completed by mid-January. This would be a remarkable achievement, and further evidence of the value in allowing island health boards to manage the process slightly differently from the rest of the country. I reminded the First Minister of this point last week as her most recent statements and national messaging have often blurred the important distinction.

Of more concern, however, was the mixed messaging that emerged last Friday, which saw Scottish Ministers and the National Clinical Director assuring the public that Christmas parties and gatherings could proceed, albeit with a need for greater caution, while Public Health Scotland was issuing a statement flatly contradicting this line.

The resultant confusion saw bookings cancelled and a hospitality sector, including here in Orkney, thrown into a tailspin. After weeks spent preparing to manage this key part of season safely for customers, staff and the wider public, businesses found the rug pulled from under them. Hopes of using the festive period as a bridgehead for keeping businesses afloat into next year have been seriously dented.

As this is still only advice, not a legal requirement, hospitality, retail and travel businesses have seen demand fall off a cliff but no support made available, as in earlier lockdowns. This is not sustainable and hopefully the picture will have changed by the time the Orcadian hits the shelves on Thursday.

If the First Minister’s messaging around this was clumsy, it pales in comparison to the antics of the Prime Minister. Mr Johnston has spent recent weeks unloading round after round into both feet with a succession of gaffes, lies and “do as I say, not as I do’s”. These have laid waste to any credibility he or his government might have had at just the moment he needs the public to trust his judgment, comply with new rules and get themselves vaccinated.

Even his own MPs appear to have had enough, with increasing numbers now openly mutinous. It may only take the Liberal Democrats to win Thursday’s byelection in North Shropshire, a seat held by the Tories for two centuries, for Boris Johnston to find himself being shown a Tory version of the blue door.

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