ONCE again, we are facing a weekend in lockdown. This is hard, and I’m sure listening to politicians like myself talk about how hard it is has started to become tiresome, so I’ll just briefly say that we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and we simply cannot throw away all the progress we’ve made.

Despite muddled messaging from the UK Government, in Scotland it is still the law – as well as our personal responsibility – that we all must stay home, protect the NHS, and save lives.

The UK Government has had a bad week when it comes to communications. We all know now know how it went wrong by this point. Number 10 insiders decided to brief the Sunday papers that their messaging strategy would change from the very clear and very impactful “Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save lives” to the vague and fluffy “Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives”.

The devolved government first heard about the change in messaging form the media and it sparked a very quick reaction, with the First Minster making clear the message in Scotland hadn’t changed, and the Welsh and Northern Irish Governments both making similar statements.

After a day of being memed into oblivion about his poor messaging, Boris Johnson delivered a 13-minute address to the nation where he stated that he was the Prime Minister of all nations in the United Kingdom, but didn’t bother to mention that the change he was making to lockdown procedure affected England only.

The address was messy and, frankly, very problematic. There’s been plenty of discussion and discourse around the change, and the morals of asking working-class people to walk to work and avoid public transport to make money for billionaires to hoard, or asking cleaners earning the minimum wage to walk to rich people’s houses to clean for them as those rich people work from the safety of their homes. I’m certain you can imagine my opinion on that, so I’m not going to spend more time digging into it here.

Instead I want to turn to the newly announced Covid Alert System.

It is a five-point scale which – in theory – tells you what the overall state of the coronavirus in the UK is, and what actions we need to take to reduce it. The lowest stage on the scale shoes that Covid-19 has been eradicated from the UK, and the highest that the NHS imminently faces being overwhelmed as cases spread out of control.

The lowest end of the scale would see life becoming more recognisable, with the Government monitoring the spread internationally to prevent the virus making its way back to the UK. The highest end of the scale is full lockdown (which we have lived with for the past eight weeks).

When it comes to messaging from governments, I think numbered scales with clear “this means that, and this means that” messaging is extremely helpful. It is clear, concise and everybody can understand what they have to do and when.

It would be very helpful, as we look to a potential future of social distancing measures increasing and decreasing at different times, to be able to say: “OK, we’ve had X new cases and the R-number has reached Y so from Monday the alert is gong to four and that means Z.”

Sadly, that is not what the UK Government has done. Instead, during his address, the Prime Minister showed slides putting us somewhere between a three or four and failed to state clearly what people are allowed to do at three or four. A four to a five on the scale means that “social distancing continues”. A three means a “gradual relaxation of restrictions’, and at two the advice changes to, “minimal social distancing, enhanced tracing”.

It is like giving someone directions in the fog and tripping them up as they go in the direction you’ve pointed. The complete vagueness totally undermines and wastes what could have potentially been a good public information campaign for England. Instead, all we have had is different UK ministers contradicting each other in live interviews, England diverging from the other three of the four nations, and people in England being expected to see their bosses before they see their loved ones.

Messaging from political leaders is always incredibly important, but never more so than at a time like this. The muddled messaging of the past week cannot continue.