Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
By Bill Heaney
But the FM refused to give guarantees – “It will be Parliament, next week, that decides whether to introduce vaccine certification. I set out the reasons for the Scottish Government’s view on that yesterday. Of course, all ministers—all 29 hard-working, dedicated ministers—are bound by collective responsibility under the ministerial code.”
In other words, she was saying that for their £30,000 a year and ridiculously long ministerial titles the Greens would now dae as they are telt.
She added: “This is a question of how we best continue to control Covid in the least restrictive, most proportionate way. I think that vaccine certification, in the limited way that I set out yesterday, has a role to play in doing that.”
But Douglas Ross was not content with that answer. He repliued: “The First Minister refused to say whether her ministers all agreed at the time of her announcement that they supported vaccine passports.
“It seems that the coalition of chaos, which the First Minister described earlier this week as “a leap of faith”, is already a leap into the dark for the Greens.
“The Greens are not the only people in Scotland who have no idea how vaccine passports are going to work.
“Hospitality groups say that the lack of engagement is extremely concerning. Scottish football clubs have warned that the Scottish National Party’s plans are completely unworkable.
“Industry groups need answers about the scheme before the Government introduces it. Why have they not had that chance?”
The FM described his contribution as “infantile opposition that characterises so much of the Conservatives’ response to Covid”.
She added testily: “This is a global pandemic. It demands of politicians—particularly those of us in government—really tough decisions, and we have all got a responsibility to live up to that.
“On the detail, we will produce the detail of how the scheme will work before we bring the proposal to Parliament for Parliament to debate and decide, through a vote, whether we go ahead with it. I say to Douglas Ross that, had I stood here yesterday or even today and announced as a fait accompli exactly how every single aspect of this was going to operate, he would be here today criticising me for taking for granted the views of Parliament and not giving Parliament its proper place. We will do this properly and we will do it in the way that people have a right to expect of their Government.”
The passports proposal would mean more restictions in night clubs and football grounds with people having to obtain them and show them at the door to get in.
Ms Sturgeon maintained: “Of course, we saw across a range of sectors yesterday an understanding of the reasons for the proposal. Nobody wants any form of restrictions, but, while we have this virus, we have to determine the least restrictive way of keeping people safe. Geoff Ellis of DF Concerts said:
“The Government are doing all that they can to avoid another lockdown. As an industry we all have to support that, and we all have to do our bit.”
The Federation of Small Businesses said that it does not want the prospect of stricter restrictions: “We believe the business community will accept this change.”
The Scottish Football Supporters Association said: “If Covid certificates are what it takes to allow fans to keep supporting their clubs then it’s better than no fans present.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “There is a degree of understanding and pragmatism among people on the front line. Perhaps Douglas Ross could take a leaf out of their book and engage with this with a degree of responsibility and recognition of the severity of the situation that we face.”
However, Douglas Ross pressed on with his questions. He said: “It is absolutely not responsible of Nicola Sturgeon to fail to answer questions at First Minister’s question time. I was asking about engagement and about her Government. Parliament will debate the plans, but it would be nice to know exactly what we are debating.
“At the moment, hospitality groups, football clubs and venues have no idea what infrastructure will be in place or whether they will get any help to introduce vaccine passports. It is just another example of the shambolic, last-minute, knee-jerk decision making of this Government.
“The same Government that brought us confusion over what is a cafe now brings us confusion over what is a night club. John Swinney U-turned on vertical drinking; now he has U-turned on Covid passports.
“A month ago, he was against them; just this morning, at the COVID-19 Recovery Committee, the Deputy First Minister suggested that vaccine passports could be permanent.
“This Government has had months to prepare to get this right. If any of it has been properly thought through, will Nicola Sturgeon tell us exactly what infrastructure will be in place, who will administer it, what financial support will be available and whether the Deputy First Minister is correct in saying that the passports might be permanent?”
The First Minister remained adamant: “First, in the face of a global pandemic of an infectious virus, the public should be—and I suspect are—very wary of politicians who suggest that any Government should take a dogmatic, unchanging position, because that is not the way that we keep the public safe.
“We have been considering the issue carefully. I could probably paper the walls of this chamber with quotes from me expressly saying that we had not ruled out vaccine certification, that we wanted to consider the issue carefully, that we were keeping our minds open and that we had ruled out ever asking for vaccine passports for essential public services but that, for settings such as night clubs, there was a debate to be had and a case to be made.
“Regular viewers of First Minister’s question time—I am not sure how big a group that is—will have heard Douglas Ross say to me that this Government needs to respect Parliament. Cabinet discussed the issue on Tuesday and I came to Parliament yesterday to tell it that it was the Government’s intention that we would take our proposals to Parliament next week.
“We are engaging with sectors across the economy. We will put the detail to Parliament to allow Parliament to decide, and then, assuming that Parliament agrees, we will implement our proposals. That is not just the way that Government should operate; it is often—until it does not suit him—the way that Douglas Ross demands that Government operates.
This is a really serious situation, not just for Scotland but for the United Kingdom and for many countries across Europe—and vaccine certification is already operating in many of those countries. Is it too much to expect, in these serious times, that we have a leader of the Opposition who can engage properly with the substance of these matters?”
Mr Ross, who is a football linesman, flagged the FM offside. He said: “Is it too much to expect to have a First Minister answer First Minister’s questions? Unless the First Minister has failed to notice it, Parliament is sitting at the moment, elected members of the Scottish Parliament are asking her questions and she is unable to answer. She may be able to paper the walls with her views on Covid passports, but she has singularly failed to answer a single question about what they will mean for businesses and industries across Scotland.
“This Government used to grandstand about its handling of the pandemic. We do not hear those boasts any more. From the display from the First Minister today, it looks as though vaccine passports will add to a long list of failures by this Government.
“We heard today that thousands of long Covid sufferers in Scotland cannot get referred to a support service, yet the Scottish National Party’s flimsy pamphlet on national health service recovery did not contain a single mention of long Covid.
“Accident and emergency waiting times are the worst in six years, drug deaths are the worst in seven years and alcohol deaths are the worst in eight years. People cannot get to see their general practitioner and are waiting hours for an ambulance.
“The First Minister is losing her grip on Covid and the NHS is in crisis. The pressure is only going to build as we move towards winter, so when will the First Minister give us a real plan to get our health service back on track?”
ScotLibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, pictured left, said: “I will state this clearly where other members have not: I and my party are fundamentally opposed to vaccine passports as a matter of principle. The rush to introduce the policy in short order throws up practical problems.
“How will it keep up with vaccinations across borders and with the booster programme, which is already in chaos?
“In addition, hospitality sees the policy as a threat and has no idea how it will police it. It is unclear what it will mean for young people. Will I need a vaccine passport to join a mass protest against vaccine passports?
“Above all, Scots will, for the first time, have to provide private medical data to strangers in order to access freedoms in our society. Vaccines are the way out of the pandemic, but vaccine passports are not. There is no time limit, and there is an open door to expansion. Where does this stop?
The First Minister told him: “I have my own concerns about the use of vaccine certification, but my view is based on the following. We are still in the grip of a pandemic. The virus is highly infectious and doing nothing over the next period is therefore not an option. We have to stem transmission and the question therefore becomes how we do that in the least restrictive and most proportionate way?”