Five-tier lockdown system could see live events return to some parts of Scotland within days – Brian Ferguson

It seems scarcely believable but Scotland could be just days away from the return of live music, theatre and comedy nights after an agonising hiatus.

Stornoway, in the Western Isles, which may go into Level 1 in the Scottish Government's new five-tier system of coronavirus restrictions next week.
Stornoway, in the Western Isles, which may go into Level 1 in the Scottish Government's new five-tier system of coronavirus restrictions next week.

Venue owners are likely to be able to start to plan for reopening for the first time in more than seven months – but only in certain parts of the country.

Two significant things have happened in recent days which could pave the way for the roll-out of live events across Scotland.

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Firstly, the Scottish Government has, for the first time, moved small-scale indoor events into the same category as small-scale outdoor events.

Eden Court theatre in Inverness, which was transformed into an emergency hub for Highland Council during the pandemic, is due to reopen to the public this week. Picture: Jane Barlow

The latter were finally given the green light at the end of August, just in time to allow Scottish Opera to reunite its performers and audiences at series of outdoor shows.

However a provisional mid-September date for Scotland’s indoor concert venues, theatres, comedy clubs and nightclubs to reopen was put off before then when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the return of strict new curbs on household gatherings and hospitality businesses.

The second key change is the introduction of the five levels of restrictions.

In Level 1, for areas with the second lowest levels of infection, the latest government plan envisages the opening of music venues and theatres, and the go-ahead for “small seated indoor events.”

An Lanntair, Stornoway, which has already reopened to the public, could be one of the first venues in the country to host live events again.

And the First Minister has strongly suggested that large parts of Scotland – namely Highlands, Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and Moray – will go into that very level next week.

On the face of it, this feels like a big moment for the cultural sector, given the almost total shutdown of live events since March.

It is now entirely possible that pilot events could be staged at arts centres, theatres and other flexible spaces over the next few weeks – and the number of such areas should grow if things go according to the First Minister’s plan.

But there are a few flies in the ointment.

The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh has been unable to host any live music events since March. Picture: Unique Events

The first is the fact that venues, artists, performers and event organisers across the Central Belt are left in an agonising limbo at the moment with this part of the country set to enter Level 3 initially.

Although the rules on hospitality businesses in this level have been relaxed to allow bars and restaurant to reopen on the same basis as cafes, including a ban on selling alcohol, arts venues must wait and cinemas who have been battling to survive are facing temporary closure.

Another looming headache is what impact the Central Belt travel restrictions may have on the outdoor events that are already planned and have sold thousands of tickets or on performers, technicians and other freelancers who are due to make work behind closed doors (including for film and television) in the next few weeks.

For all those hospitality businesses that are open from next week, they will still have to operate under a ban on background music – a restriction critics claim is harsher than anywhere else in the world.

Ms Sturgeon has at least announced the creation of an “expert group” on the issue – although a taskforce to get the entire cultural sector back on its feet might have been more help given the challenges lying ahead.

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