Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows round-up: Sturgeon insists she ‘did not mislead’ Scottish parliament

Sunday shows round-up: Sturgeon insists she 'did not mislead' Scottish parliament
Nicola Sturgeon on the BBC's Andrew Marr show
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Nicola Sturgeon - ‘False conspiracy theories’ being spread in Salmond assault inquiry

Continuing his series of interviews with the UK’s major party leaders, Andrew Marr this morning spoke to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland. A major feature of the interview was the continuing row between Sturgeon and her predecessor and former mentor Alex Salmond. Salmond was famously put on trial for multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment in early 2020, and was acquitted of all charges. A Holyrood inquiry is being conducted into the handling of the complaints made against Salmond, who has accused Sturgeon of misleading the Scottish Parliament over what was known when and by who. Sturgeon rejected his version of events, in a drama that looks set to escalate further:

NS: At times I appear to be simultaneously accused of colluding with Mr Salmond… and then on the other hand being accused of some dastardly conspiracy to bring him down. Neither of those things are true…

AM: Do you agree with your own spokesperson that he is spinning ‘false conspiracy theories’…?

NS: There are false conspiracy theories being spun about this… By Alex Salmond, by people around him – you can draw your own conclusions around that.

‘I did not mislead Parliament’

Sturgeon emphatically denied any suggestion that she had misled the Scottish parliament in any way:

NS: I am clear I did not mislead Parliament… And that’s what I will set out clearly when I get the opportunity, which I haven’t had in from of the committee of inquiry yet.

‘95 per cent’ of care home residents have been vaccinated

The differences between NHS systems across the UK have meant that discrepancies have arisen in who has been prioritised for doses of the coronavirus vaccines. As of Friday, even England’s worst performing region had seen over 50 per cent of over 80s receive their first dose, compared with 34 per cent for the same demographic in Scotland. Sturgeon said that the current figure was now around 40 per cent and cited advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation for the difference in Scotland’s policy:

NS: We took a deliberate decision in line with JCVI advice to focus initially on vaccinating older residents in care homes because that is going to have the most immediate and biggest impact on reducing the death toll… In Scotland [we have vaccinated] 95 per cent of care home residents.

Boris Johnson ‘frightened of democracy’

In unsurprising news, Sturgeon reaffirmed her commitment to a future referendum on Scottish independence. She dismissed holding a Catalan-style referendum without the consent of Westminster, instead seeking ‘a legal referendum’ as part of her campaign ahead of May’s Holyrood elections. She rejected the likelihood that the elections could be delayed by Covid, and threw down the gauntlet to the Prime Minister:

NS: He’s frightened of democracy. The polls now show that a majority of people in Scotland now want independence. If the SNP win the Scottish elections in a few months time on a proposition of giving people that choice, then what democrat could rightly stand in the way of that?

Matt Hancock – Vaccine progress ‘absolutely brilliant’

The Health Secretary was the government’s representative today, after self-isolating for two weeks. As the UK’s coronavirus death toll creeps towards 100,000, the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has said that the country’s ‘R’ rate is now back between 0.8 and the critical number of 1. Speaking to Sky’s Stephen Dixon, Hancock waxed lyrical about the effectiveness of the vaccine rollout, at the same time warning of the new strains of the virus discovered in Brazil and South Africa:

MH: Over 5 million people have been vaccinated. As of this morning, three quarters of all over 80s in the UK have been vaccinated, which is absolutely brilliant progress. A similar number [in] care homes… And in fact, we’ve vaccinated more people in just the last three days, than France has in [the] entire history of this disease.

‘We should all be worried enough’ to follow the rules

However, despite this good news, Hancock insisted that the government was ‘a long, long, long way’ from easing the third lockdown. As well as the South African variant to contend with, of which there are at least 77 known cases in the UK, Hancock cited the UK’s homegrown variant as a reason for concern:

MH: We should be worried enough, all of us… to follow the rules… Scientists do think that [the new variant] may be more deadly… We are not exactly certain about how much more deadly, but… we’ve got to get this virus under control.

12 week wait for second dose ‘will save lives’

Hancock defended the approach of Public Health England to administer the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine after 12 weeks, and not six as the British Medical Association has called for. He said the laws of supply and demand meant that the policy was the best way to make use of the finite resources available:

MH: What we do know is that this policy is going to save lives… So long as there is decent efficacy after the first dose… then in a situation where there is only a limited supply… you want to get as many people to have as much protection as quickly as possible… This is the way to save most lives fastest.

People should stay home after getting vaccinated

Hancock also told Marr that it was still important for people’s health and general transmission to continue to abide by the lockdown and not assume that the vaccine was a silver bullet at this early stage:

MH: We don’t yet know the impact of how the vaccine [on] how much you transmit the virus. That’s why it’s so important that people continue to stay at home after they’ve had the vaccine.

Nick Thomas-Symonds – Government should introduce ‘quarantine hotels’

The shadow home secretary spoke to Stephen Dixon and criticised the government’s preparedness for dealing with the virus coming into the country. Praising the Australian management of border control, Nick Thomas-Symonds put the case for an enforced quarantine in designated hotels:

NTS: Nobody could say the situation at our borders is satisfactory, or that there is sufficient protection in place for our people against the different strains that could be coming from around the world… We need an effective quarantining regime… I would support for example, the use of hotels.

Arlene Foster – NI border poll would be ‘reckless’

Northern Ireland’s First Minister reacted to the news that a poll for the Sunday Times showed that just over half of people asked thought that there should be a referendum on Northern Ireland’s status as part of the UK:

AF: I think it is very disappointing to see that some nationalist parties across the United Kingdom… are actually trying to take this opportunity to talk about constitutional politics. We all know how divisive a border poll would be… [We] have to come together to fight against Covid and not be distracted by what would be absolutely reckless at this time.

May’s Brexit deal ‘certainly not’ better than Johnson’s

And finally, after Great Britain formally left the EU’s single market and customs union, Northern Ireland has experienced some teething trouble in adapting to the new state of affairs. Some supermarkets have seen empty shelves, while there have been higher import tariffs on goods such as steel. Dixon asked Foster whether it would have been better to opt for Theresa May’s Brexit deal, which her DUP comprehensively rejected at the time:

AF: Theresa May’s deal would have left us in the EU customs union and indeed the single market forever… So I think people… should revisit [May’s deal] and see what it meant for us… and I think they will come to the conclusion that it certainly was not a better deal.