AS governments across Europe look to start easing Covid-19 lockdown measures, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of many leaders urging caution. With Germany having received international praise for its handling of the crisis and its remarkably low death rates thus far, it has inadvertently set itself up as a model of how to end restrictions and inch daily life back towards something resembling normality.

Whatever its successes to date however, it has as much to lose as any other country if its re-opening plans go wrong.

Unlike much of Europe, Germany refrained from implementing strict lockdown rules at national level, but restrictions were imposed to varying degrees across the country. It was announced last week that, subject to social distancing rules, all shops across Germany would be allowed to reopen, that restrictions on meeting people from other households in public would be relaxed, that places of worship – previously closed in some states – would re-open, and that more care homes would be allowed to accept visitors.

The measures, led largely by state governments, are not without risks and are not uncontroversial.

Merkel herself has warned: “We still have a long fight against the virus ahead of us.”

With some states pushing in recent weeks to begin re-opening more businesses, she was arguably talked into backing reduced restrictions before she personally might have chosen to. Ever the pragmatist and never one to claim a monopoly on wisdom, however, she accepted the plans. Putting her faith in the abilities and judgment of the country’s 16 state prime ministers and of the German people, she announced: “Our republic is built on trust … if we don’t have trust, we might as well call it quits.”

Germany’s re-opening efforts will be watched closely from across Europe and may not go to plan. Indeed, official data already suggests infection rates are on the rise again. With clear rules in place, however, – that reports of 50 acute cases per 100,000 inhabitants in any particular area will see a return of lockdown measures – the country appears to have a strategy, understood and accepted by governments across the land, of how to ease and, if necessary, re-impose restrictions.

Contrast Berlin’s position with that of Westminster, where the British Government has just run roughshod over the “four-nation” strategy, dropping its Stay at Home message, apparently without having even consulted the governments of the devolved nations.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon first heard of the shift in UK Government advice in the weekend’s press and has stressed that she has no intention of implementing it in Scotland at this stage. Health Minister Jeane Freeman criticised the very nature of the UK Government’s new Stay Alert advice, saying she had “no idea” what it meant.

Questioned repeatedly by journalists on Sunday about the risks of mixed messaging, the First Minister said discussions were under way to try to minimise the deployment of England-only Stay Alert messaging in Scotland. She also said, however, that she trusted the people of Scotland to be able to filter out the messages that do not apply to them. That’s a skill all Scots have had to hone over the decades, but the clarity and quality of the Scottish Government’s information and advice during this crisis has made it all the easier to do so in recent weeks.

Whether by accident or design, the UK Government has bungled its Covid-19 communication efforts over and over again. From its confused claims regarding PPE, to its colourful testing count, to its new clear-as-mud Stay Alert slogan, Boris Johnson’s team has provided a masterclass in how to undermine public trust.

Like the Scottish Government, those of Wales and Northern Ireland have refused to echo Westminster’s Stay Alert message. As well they might, because while Germany pursues its lockdown-easing efforts from a position of having kept deaths to a minimum, the British Government is trying to do the same just days after its own figures showed the UK had Europe’s highest death toll.

Moreover, while Germany’s states manage lockdown from a position of openness, trust and mutual respect, the devolved governments of the UK are left to find out about Boris Johnson’s plans from third parties and must scramble last minute to implement whatever damage limitation strategies they can. It’s hardly the sort of situation that instils inter-governmental trust.

Of course, these are not ordinary times, but the apparent communication breakdown between governments across the UK is not limited to the Covid-19 response. Brexit has likewise been a story of unilateral action on the part of the UK Government, with little to no input allowed from the devolved administrations, while Westminster’s position on Scotland’s right to a fresh independence referendum could hardly be said to be steeped in trust and respect.

MODERN Germany is a country built on compromise, respect, shared competence and trust, not because its people are any more or less trustworthy than the next, but because its system of governance was deliberately created in such a way as to promote such values.

The German notion of federalism stretches back through history but the Germany we know today is a creation of the post-war years. It was designed specifically to foster sensible, mutually beneficial decision making. It was designed to prevent power from ever again becoming concentrated in the hands of any one party or individual. It was designed well, and it was designed, at least in part, by the British.

Talk of UK federalism arises perennially and looks set to return with the rise of Keir Starmer to the Labour Party leadership, and, of course, with the Scottish Government’s push for a fresh independence referendum.

Germany provides a fine example of the Brits’ competence in creating federal structures where they see fit. A question that will face the people of Scotland in the coming years is not whether the UK Government is capable of creating a workable, mutually beneficial federal system, but whether it can be trusted to actually do so in the UK, if and when it says it will.

The First Minister has stressed often that she has no interest in politicising her, or the UK Government’s, response to the Covid-19 crisis. Sooner or later however, when the dust settles, the people of Scotland are going to look back and reflect on the events of this year from a political perspective.

Whether consciously or not, each one of us is already assessing the positions of our governments, the actions of our parliaments and politicians, the effectiveness of the institutions and structures that currently govern our day-to-day lives, and how those institutions and structures might work better for us in the future.

We’re thinking constantly about morality, about competence, about trust and where it lies: in our health services, in our media outlets and in our governments. Such thinking is not only natural but necessary as we move forward into a new post-Covid reality.

The post-pandemic world will prompt a rethink of many aspects of our lives, and trust in those leading us forward will be the foundation of success. Trust must be built and earned, and it may yet be so in some of the places we least expect. In the areas where it is shot, however, to paraphrase the German Chancellor, we might as well call it quits.