IT WASN’T only Susan Aitken who was taken aback at finding herself on the front page of a national newspaper accused of breaching social distancing guidelines.

The leader of Glasgow City Council was photographed having drinks with three other colleagues in a Merchant City bar, apparently flouting the stricture that we must only meet with two other households. Of course, this guidance is now changing to one other household.

But back to Ms Aitken. It was also pointed out that different households, when indoors in a bar or restaurant, should be one metre apart.

One metre apart in bars and restaurants? I can’t count the number of people expressing surprise at this and feeling a bit sheepish realising they’d breached the guidelines multiple times. Having made the absolute most of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme last month, it’s easy to see why a one-metre rule isn’t easy to adhere to – not every bar or restaurant has tables large enough to keep you at the required distance.

Was Ms Aitken at the required distance? Who knows. It’s impossible to tell from a photograph. She might have been on her colleague’s lap for all you can see from the papped picture. Perhaps she was testing her eyesight. An SNP spokesman said that two of Ms Aitken’s companions are, in fact, an extended household and so the council leader had been within the guidelines after all.

Nicola Sturgeon, who you sense at this point feels her politicians should step back and let her crack on, said those in the public eye should lead by example and not appear as though the “rules apply to other people and not to us”.

It’s hardly Barnard Castle. It’s hardly, dare we say it, visiting your second home during lockdown.

It is, though, easy to understand the desire to name and shame those in the public eye who appear to be bending the rules. The problem, of course, is when appearances and reality don’t match up: you may be accusing someone of wrongdoing who is doing no wrong at all.

There’s also the issue of casting first stones. One of the most vocal critics of Ms Aitken was Glasgow Conservative group leader Thomas Kerr, who levelled a charge of “recklessness” before a photo emerged of him at a restaurant table with four other people and no apparent distancing taking place. He then apologised.

Ms Sturgeon is correct, though. Those in the public eye must lead by example. For anyone who spends any time at all on social media, it’s been astonishing to see the number of people happy to share photographs of themselves apparently flaunting the rules. The social media influencer, let’s say, who one week tweeted that she was quarantining after a holiday in France but the next week posted a photograph of herself in the hairdresser’s with a mask on. Even if the photograph was taken before the holiday to France, it’s deeply unhelpful for people in the public eye to give every appearance of disregarding the rules.

That influencer is far from the only one. Similarly business owners posting Spanish holiday snaps then back-to-work photos mere days later. Not a shift goes by without someone sending in screenshots of people who really should know better unashamedly publicising their breaking of the rules.

The vexation at this is on several levels. For many of us there is a fundamental guilt about having any sort of nice time during a period of such suffering for so many. Fancy food photos and beach snaps suddenly feel crass. Of course, treats and pleasures are vital for maintaining mental health and wellbeing but there’s a sense these should be enjoyed quietly.

Then, there’s the sheer anger at seeing people apparently flout the rules – especially with infection rates rising – when you’ve been making sacrifices for the greater good.

Lockdown had eased and now it’s tightening again. This isn’t unexpected – with the return of businesses, hospitality and schools, and an increase in public transport, it was obvious that rates would rise and fine balances would have to be struck. We knew, also, that if we didn’t do what was asked of us we risked sliding back towards stricter containment measures.

These changes bring with them additional frustrations. Yet more rounds of cancelled plans, yet more distance from loved ones, yet more anxiety about catching the virus. Yet more desire to shop those who aren’t adhering. There’s necessary partnership at play here. We must do what is asked of us. The governments must also provide us with scaffolding to ensure those demands are possible.

The TUC has warned this week that the test and trace system will not work unless statutory sick pay is increased. Its research found that four in 10 workers would face financial hardship if forced to self-isolate for two weeks. Even if you had savings enough to allow you to live for two weeks on £95.85, millions of low-paid workers don’t qualify for statutory sick pay anyway.

You might want to name and shame your neighbour for appearing in public when you know they should be self-isolating but are you also asking your political representatives to mend the holes in the social safety net?

A friend recently arrived from Canada and quarantined for two weeks in Scotland but had no contact from officials and no advice given at the airport. Conversely, while quarantining for 14 days back in Canada she’s had contact from the government by phone and email. It’s infuriating to see people showing off about breaking quarantine – and worse to see them get away with it. But why isn’t the Government creating a system that more closely monitors those newly arrived back in the country?

In England new Covid Secure Marshals are to help ensure people are observing social distancing and gathering in groups of no more than six. The idea has been mocked as a Dad’s Army of busybodies but it seems like an attempt at a step in the right direction. Rule breakers are putting everyone else at risk but when a public naming and shaming seems like the only recourse to having people follow the guidance, the system is defective – and risks persecuting those who have done nothing wrong.

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