Richard Leonard calls for Christmas Day visits to be allowed

Scotland’s ban on home visiting should be lifted on Christmas Day to give an increasingly weary public something hopeful to aim for, the Scottish Labour leader has said.

Richard Leonard said the rules should be relaxed at the festive season
Richard Leonard said the rules should be relaxed at the festive season

Richard Leonard said public consent for the coronavirus restrictions was “fraying at the edges” and called on Fir st Minister Nicola Sturge on to make an announcement on Christmas soon.

He said “special guidelines” should b e introduced for the festive period, including a relaxation of the home visiting ban on Christmas Day itself.

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He added that it was important that an announcement was made soon, otherwise people’s “heads will go down” and there was a risk they would start to flout the rules.

There are growing cross-party calls for the Scottish Government to outline what its approach to a Covid-safe Christmas will be, but SNP ministers have insisted it is too early to decide.

Earlier this week, Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson called for a “temporary and proportionate moderation of household restrictions”.

She said there was a strong case for Scotland to allow a “limited degree of in-home socialising” on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, for all areas outside tier 4.

Mr Leonard said: “We think there needs to be an attempt to try to find sensible, special guidelines for Christmas.

“If we can have special guidelines for Halloween, surely we can have special guidelines for Christmas which are a bit more responsive to the human condition.

“If we are still at the point of having restrictions that prevent household-to-household contact indoors, then maybe there could be a relaxation of that, for example.

“If there is a wholly rigid approach to this, the danger then is that people will flout not just a ‘no household contact’ rule but other rules that have been laid down.

“There needs to be an understanding that, out there in the real world, people are looking for some respite at Christmas.”

Mr Leonard added that, instead of waiting until December, Ms Sturgeon should make an announcement soon to give people something to aim for over the next few months.

“There is a danger that people’s heads will go down and there will be a growing spirit of pessimism, and I don’t think that’s good either for people’s mental welfare or for the societal need for people to co-operate with the guidelines and the restrictions,” he added.

His calls echoed an appeal from Roman Cat holic Bishop of Paisley John Keenan, who said coronavirus restrictions should be eased for Christmas D ay, amid grim predictions of a "digital Christmas".

The bishop asked if there could be a 24-hour "circuit-breaker" put in place on December 25, comparing it with the ceasefire on the Western Front during the First World War.

The Scottish Government has said it is still too far from the holiday to be able to say wh at restrictions will be in place.

But Mr Leonard , who was speaking before the publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report on Labour anti-Semitism and former p a rty leader Jeremy Corbyn’s subsequent suspen sion, warned of a “fraying at the edges” of public support for coronavirus restrictions in Scotland.

He said this could be countered by the publication of “demonstrable evidence” about why certain restrictions were being used and why they were deemed effective.

Mr Leonard also appeared to soften Labour’s position on another Scottish independence referendum, saying his party “does not favour” another vote in the next five years.

He said its manifesto for next year’s Holyrood election would say that indyref2 should not be a priority for the Scottish Government “at this time”.

His comments are a change of tone from an interview he gave last month, when he stressed that Labour remained “opposed” to a second vote .

Asked to set out his party’s policy on the issue, Mr Leonard said: “We do not favour a second referendum on Scottish independence during the course of the next term of the Parliament.

“We think the priorities of the next five years are going to be dealing with the public health crisis of the pandemic, the jobs crisis we are bound to be in and how we can recalibrate the economy and public services.

“Our position will be a clear one: that we do not see, at this time, it being a priority of the people and certainly not to the Scottish Labour Party to have a second referendum.”

Asked if this was a softening of Labour’s position on indyref2, he replied: “I don’t think there’s anybody that says ‘never’ – even [former Scottish Conservative leader] Jackson Carlaw says 35 years.

“We understand the priorities of the people, and they are not for a second independence referendum any time soon.”

Mr Carlaw said last year that the 41 years that elapsed between the UK’s two votes on Europe was a good definition of a “once-in-a-generation” vote.

Support for independence has risen markedly this year, according to polls, with the most recent suggesting between 55 and 60 per cent of the population would back Yes.

Mr Leonard said he thought this had been driven by Boris Johnson’s election as Prime Minister. “I don’t deny that the polls are saying there has been a rise in support for independence but they are also telling us that people do not see that as a priority,” he added.