Main roads have been closed in the north and north east of Scotland following heavy snowfalls.
Road operating company Bear Scotland said the A96 Aberdeen to Inverness road would remain closed overnight between Colpy and Huntly due to drifting snow.
Teams are working through the night to clear the 10-mile stretch of road after drifts caused problems throughout the day.
Bear Scotland posted on Twitter: “The A96 will remain completely closed to all traffic between Colpy and Huntly, due to continued drifting snow. Do not pass the road closed signs and attempt to drive through. Our teams will continue to work overnight.”
Elsewhere, Highland Council announced an overnight closure of the A835 between Drumrunie Junction and Ledmore Junction also due to the wintry conditions.
The council said in a statement: “After a day trying to keep the road safe council roads staff are planning to close the A835 north of Ullapool between Drumrunie Junction and Ledmore Junction due to drifting snow.
“It is anticipated that the closure will take effect around 5pm and will remain in place overnight and until the road is safe to reopen.”
Meanwhile, Braemar Mountain Rescue Team said part of the A93 in Aberdeenshire had been buried by an avalanche.
The road was closed to traffic at the time as the snow gates were in operation.
Yellow weather warnings for snow and ice are in effect for much of Scotland overnight on Saturday and into Sunday.
Loch Glascarnoch, near Garve in northern Scotland, recorded the lowest temperature in the UK on Friday night at minus 6.5C
The Scottish Government will consider in the next week if the easing of restrictions can be accelerated, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
In an update to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, the First Minister also revealed that the next phase of school returns will go ahead as scheduled on March 15.
Primaries 4-7 will go back as previously planned on that date, while secondary pupils will now get some time in school before the Easter holidays.
At the moment Scotland is due to return to a regional, five-level system from the last week in April. However, the exit out of lockdown could come sooner due to “encouraging” figures recorded in the past week.
The First Minister said: “We will be considering if it might be possible to accelerate the exit from lockdown in any way, consistent of course with the care and caution that we know continues to be necessary.”
Sturgeon said if the Scottish Government can go “further and faster, then we will not hesitate to do so”.
She added: “All of us want to move on as quickly as possible – and, as a priority, to see friends and family again. I hope that day is now not too far away.
“But to make sure we don’t see any reverse in our progress that would put that in jeopardy, it is really important that, for now, we all need to abide by the lockdown rules.
“So please continue to stick to their letter and their spirit.”
On Tuesday it was revealed that a further 33 people have died in Scotland after being diagnosed with Covid-19. An additional 542 cases were also recorded in the past 24 hours.
Sturgeon highlighted that the average of new cases reported had dropped to 657 from 815 at this point last week. Case positivity is now consistently below 5%.
The First Minister also confirmed that the next phase of school returns will go ahead as planned.
Last week’s strategic framework said all primary school pupils would return full-time, if data supported the return.
A phased return of pupils will take place between March 15 and the Easter break, with all pupils given at least some in-school teaching in that time, before full-time schooling returns after the holidays.
However, when secondary schools return, face coverings will have to be worn at all times and physical distancing guidelines followed.
The First Minister also urged school staff and older secondary pupils to take up the lateral flow tests being made available.
She said: “I would encourage as many staff and senior phase pupils as possible to use the tests when they return to school. It is a further important way in which we can ensure that schools remain as safe as possible.”
The First Minister also thanked school staff for their work to support young people during the pandemic.
She said: “I know everyone is looking forward to having children back in the classroom as soon as possible.
“I also want to thank parents across the country. I can only imagine how difficult all of this disruption continues to be – but I hope, and believe, that the end of it is now firmly in sight.
“And my thanks too to children and young people. I know how hard it must be to be separated from friends and teachers.
“But you have responded magnificently to all the difficulties of the last year.
“I hope that you are looking forward to getting back to school later this month.”
The Scottish Conservatives said the earlier-than-planned return of secondary pupils was the “latest SNP u-turn”.
Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said: “While today marks a gradual speeding up for a return to schools, the First Minister’s latest announcement was also typically vague and only prolongs uncertainty.
“No-one wants to risk an increase in cases by moving too quickly but pupils deserve better than guesswork based on the SNP’s drip feeding of partial information.”
A system of vaccine passports could ultimately allow the return of international travel, MSPs have been told.
Professor Devi Sridhar of Edinburgh University spoke to the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee about international travel regulations during the pandemic.
The Scottish Government adviser said that if coronavirus vaccines significantly reduced transmission of the disease, as initial evidence suggested, electronic vaccine passports could help to restart international tourism.
She said EU countries were already developing plans for a digital green pass, with countries like Spain and Greece keen to welcome visitors again.
Prof Sridhar said: “I think if these vaccines stop transmission, which they look like they might, we will reach a stage of vaccine passports.
“It’s already being discussed in the EU. We already have countries like Israel introducing green cards domestically, if you actually have gotten vaccinated.
“You will be allowed to fly and we can have international mobility, but only when people are vaccinated and we have that confirmation that you will not infect others when you travel.”
She said airlines have also collaborated to create an application called CommonPass, which allows passengers to upload medical information such as test results or vaccination status, and generates a pass in the form of a QR code.
Prof Sridhar said this could lead to a two-tiered approach as many poorer countries in the world do not yet have access to vaccines.
Some countries were considering using vaccination certificates domestically to allow people to access clubs or bars, she said.
The professor added that a vaccine passport could encourage more a widespread take up of the coronavirus vaccine: “This is also to encourage young people to get vaccinated because many people in their 30s think: ‘Why should I get vaccinated?”‘
“And then you can really start creating an incentive for people to say: ‘If you want to go to the concert, if you want to be able to be active in places where spreading occurs, then you have to protect and make sure you’re not infecting others.”‘
A further 33 people have died in Scotland after being diagnosed with coronavirus, the Scottish Government has confirmed.
The death toll of those who tested positive stands at 7164, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is at least 9347.
Total confirmed cases of the virus has risen to 203,012 – an increase of 542 in the past 24 hours.
The daily test positivity rate is 4.4%, down from the 4.5% reported on Monday when 386 cases were recorded.
Of the new cases reported on Tuesday, 158 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 104 are in Lothian, 101 are in Lanarkshire, and 74 are in Forth Valley.
The rest of the cases are spread out across eight other health board areas.
According to NHS boards across Scotland, 784 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19
The Scottish Government also confirmed that 1,634,361 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, an increase of 22,783 from the day before.
A total of 84,445 people have received their second dose, a rise of 5580.
Some suspended football leagues have been given the go-ahead to resume.
League One, League Two and the Women’s Premier League have all been given the go-ahead after talks between the Scottish FA and Scottish Government.
However, other leagues will remain suspended indefinitely.
Speaking at in the parliament First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said all players must be tested before matches.
All lower leagues were suspended in January after a rise in coronavirus infections.
No dates have been announced for when fixtures will return in any of the leagues or the Scottish Cup.
Sturgeon said she hoped the news “will be welcomed by football fans across the country”.
Rod Petrie, Scottish FA president, said: “We are pleased that the First Minister has again recognised the importance of football in Scotland.
“The decision to temporarily suspend parts of the professional game played by predominantly part-time teams was not an easy one to take.
“None the less, given the sharp rise in infection rates caused by new strains of the virus at the start of the year, it was the right thing to do to assist the national effort to reduce its prevalence during lockdown.”
Nurses have branded the Scottish Government temporary pay rise for NHS staff “a disgrace”.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman wrote to NHS employees to explain they will be given a 1% rise backdated to December 2020 until negotiations can be concluded.
But campaign group NHS Workers Say No said the move was to cover delaying discussions over pay until after the Holyrood elections on May.
Brenda Eadie, nurse and Glasgow-based organiser, told STV News: “It’s a token to say we’re still looking at it, but they are delaying doing til after the elections.
“So we lose all our leverage, and realistically we’ll end up with 3.5%. Nothing is going to get better, it’s going to get worse.”
Staff affected are those directly employed by health boards under the Agenda for Change system – approximately 150,000 NHS workers.
Campaigners and unions say NHS staff have suffered real-term pay cuts over the past decade, with pay not rising in line with inflation.
“We do our jobs until we drop. But right now, most of us have already dropped.”
Brenda Eadie, nurse and organiser
Ms Eadie said members campaigning for fair pay have been insulted, with one describing the 1% offer as “another wee slap in the face”.
In her letter, Freeman pointed out that Scottish staff are the best paid in the UK and said the government is committed to maintaining the “premium”.
Pauline Brady, a mental health nurse and Nurses say No organiser, said: “It’s strange how Scottish NHS campaigners are told they should be quiet because we have been offered more than England/Wales.
“I couldn’t imagine feeling like that about any part of the NHS. We are all grossly underpaid and the fight is a joint one.”
Last year, nurses and other frontline NHS workers staged a number of protests after they were left out of a public sector pay rise.
Doctors and dentists, along with other public sector staff, were given a pay bump of 2.8% but this did not include all NHS workers with nurses, cleaners and porters left out.
Hundreds of protesters gathered on Saturday, August 8, at Glasgow Green, with other demonstrations held across the UK.
A car rally protest toured hospitals in and around Glasgow and Ayrshire on Saturday, November 14.
“NHS workers have never felt so demoralized and they know it’s time to fight for our worth.”
Brenda Eadie, nurse and organiser
Now, campaigners say, staff are prepared to take unprecedented industrial action.
Ms Eadie said: “They want to strike they are ready to strike, NHS workers have never felt so demoralized and they know it’s time to fight for our worth.
“Historically, because of the amount we care, we don’t walk away. We do our jobs until we drop.
“But right now, most of us have already dropped, working 60-hour weeks just to make ends meet.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader and health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “NHS and care staff have been on the frontline of this pandemic, dealing with death every day for the last year.
“We need to see the Scottish Government reward these vital workers with a pay rise that reflects the work that they do and the danger they have been put in.
“It’s time for Kate Forbes and Jeane Freeman to get round the table with NHS workers and their unions, and hammer out a pay increase that reflects the vital work our NHS heroes do.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “NHS Scotland Agenda for Change staff are already the best paid in the UK, and in recognition of an exceptional year of significant pressure NHS Agenda for Change staff, including nurses, will receive an interim pay increase of 1% which will be backdated to December 1 ahead of the final 2021-22 pay settlement.
“This follows the £500 thank you payment announced earlier.
“While pay increases are usually effective from April 1 both the 1% interim rise and the full pay settlement, once agreed, will be backdated to December 1, 2020.
“Formal negotiations over staff pay have been affected by the cancellation of the UK Government’s budget and subsequent impact on the Scottish Spending Review.
“Scotland is the only part of the UK to have provided this interim uplift, and recent reports suggest the UK Government’s budget this week will not specify funding for a pay uplift for NHS England staff before the pay review body has completed its work in May.”
John Swinney had admitted the legal advice reveals concerns about the unlawful investigation of Alex Salmond but claimed there were “good public policy grounds” to not concede the case for another three months.
After agreeing to hand over the “key” legal advice following the threat of a no-confidence vote, the deputy first minister said government lawyers “have not identified any documents” that support Salmond’s claim the government deliberately delayed conceding the case in the hope a criminal trial would “overtake” his judicial review.
The Scottish Government launched an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by the former first minister but it was found to be unlawful, unfair and “tainted by apparent bias” because of prior contact between the investigating officer and two of the women who complained.
Although the investigating officer, Judith Mackinnon, said under oath that she had always been open about the contact with complainers, Scottish Government lawyers purportedly did not learn of it until October 2018, nine months after the investigation began.
It took the Scottish Government until January 8 for the government to concede the case – a week before the full judicial review was due to start.
The former first minister, who was awarded maximum legal costs of £512,250 in part because of the late concession, has alleged that the government had hoped a looming criminal trial would “ride to the rescue” and prevent its unlawful investigation suffering a “cataclysmic” civil court defeat.
In November 2020, the Scottish Parliament twice passed motions demanding the government publish all the legal advice it had received about Salmond’s judicial review.
After a motion of no confidence was lodged on Monday in the deputy first minister over the government’s refusal to comply with the will of parliament, Swinney agreed to hand over the “key” legal advice to the Holyrood inquiry into the botched investigation.
In a letter ahead of the release of the legal advice, Swinney acknowledged lawyers had raised “reservations” about the issue of prior contact.
But he insisted there were “good public policy arguments and reasonable grounds for the government to continue to defend the judicial review and to seek a determination from the court on the matters raised, until the events of late December 2018”.
That December, a private civil court commission was held ahead of the planned court hearing as part of efforts by Salmond’s legal team to get the government to hand over evidence.
Swinney added: “During his evidence session with the committee on Friday, Mr Salmond also raised an allegation that there was a desire within government to seek to sist [pause] the judicial review once the issue of prior contact with the complainers was identified.
“I have asked officials to review the relevant documentation, but they have not identified any documents which support this allegation.”
Swinney, who is leading the government’s response to the committee after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recused herself, suggested he agreed to release the legal advice over concern that the allegations “could impact negatively on public confidence in the parliament, government and even our justice institutions.”
He said the legal advice would be provided to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints on Tuesday afternoon – after they have questioned the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe; the head of the Crown Office and the Scottish Government’s chief legal advisor.
Mr Wolffe rejected criticism of the Crown Office as he appeared before the committee on Tuesday morning.
He said: “Any suggestion, from any quarter, that the Crown’s decision-making has at any time been influenced by irrelevant considerations or improper motivations would be wholly without foundation.
“Insinuation and assertions to the contrary are baseless.”