Blackford says FM ‘acted honourably’ after Salmond claims

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has said Nicola Sturgeon 'acted in an honourable way'.

Sturgeon: First Minister with Alex Salmond. Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Sturgeon: First Minister with Alex Salmond.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has said Nicola Sturgeon “acted in an honourable way” after former colleague Alex Salmond reportedly claimed she breached the ministerial code by misleading the Scottish Parliament.

Former first minister Salmond’s submissions to an inquiry into sexual assault claims against him have been obtained by national newspapers, in which he claims Sturgeon’s evidence over when she knew about the allegations was “simply untrue”.

Sturgeon, who took over as First Minister and SNP leader in late 2014, initially told Holyrood she first heard of complaints of sexual misconduct against her predecessor at a meeting with him at her home on April 2 2018.

But in Salmond’s subsequent criminal trial, it was revealed Sturgeon had been made aware of the allegations in an informal meeting with his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein on March 29 that year – four days earlier – with Sturgeon later telling the inquiry she “forgot” about the encounter.


Blackford said he did not believe the allegations about Sturgeon were correct.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme: “I believe that the First Minister has acted in an honourable way, she’s someone that I’ve every faith and trust in.

“I can tell you that the approval ratings for the First Minister, the respect that she has right up and down the country of Scotland, is enormous and this is something that will pass – when she appears in front of the committee these matters will be dealt with.”

In his inquiry submission, Salmond said the March meeting had been arranged after Mr Aberdein was told of two allegations made under a new complaints procedure set up in light of the MeToo movement.


According to The Herald, Salmond said: “This (preliminary) meeting was for the purpose of discussing the complaints and thereafter arranging a direct meeting between myself and the First Minister.

“There was never the slightest doubt what the meeting was about. Any suggestion by the First Minister to the Scottish Parliament that the meeting was ‘fleeting or opportunistic’ is simply untrue.

“Most seriously, Parliament has been repeatedly misled on a number of occasions about the nature of the meeting of 2nd April 2018.

“The First Minister told Parliament (see Official Report of 8th, 10th & 17th January 2019) that she first learned of the complaints against me when I visited her home on 2nd April 2018.

“That is untrue and is a breach of the ministerial code.”

Salmond, who was cleared of 13 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh last March, also confirmed to The Times he had submitted the evidence to James Hamilton – the independent adviser on the ministerial code who is conducting a separate investigation into Sturgeon.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The First Minister and the permanent secretary stand by what has been said to Parliament and in written evidence to the committee.


“The permanent secretary has also already provided detailed answers in person to the committee and will provide further oral evidence on Tuesday.

“The First Minister looks forward to answering questions when she appears later this month.

“In relation to the ministerial code referral, Mr Hamilton has the freedom to investigate as he feels is appropriate and we will not prejudge that process.”

A spokesman for Sturgeon said: “The First Minister entirely rejects Salmond’s claims about the ministerial code.

“We should always remember that the roots of this issue lie in complaints made by women about Alex Salmond’s behaviour whilst he was first minister, aspects of which he has conceded.

“It is not surprising therefore that he continues to try to divert focus from that by seeking to malign the reputation of the First Minister and by spinning false conspiracy theories.

“The First Minister is concentrating on fighting the pandemic, stands by what she has said, and will address these matters in full when she appears at committee in the coming weeks.”

Sturgeon to announce latest easing of Covid restrictions

Non-essential stores, cafes, restaurants, beer gardens, museums, libraries and gyms are expected to reopen from Monday.

Chalabala via IStock
Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

Nicola Sturgeon is due to set out the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions as Scotland’s route map out of lockdown continues.

The First Minister is expected to confirm that non-essential stores, cafes, restaurants, beer gardens, museums, libraries and gyms can reopen from Monday.

However, hospitality will need to close their doors at 8pm indoors and 10pm outdoors, with alcohol only allowed to be served outside.

All areas of Scotland currently in level four are also expected to move to level three on April 26. And although Scotland’s islands would be able to move to level two, a decision was previously made to align them with the rest of the country to stop the need for travel restrictions to the islands.


Travel is also expected to be allowed to other parts of Britain, with reviews planned on journeys to Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The FM will update the country during the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 briefing later on Tuesday.

STV News
Kelvingrove Park: Scots gathered in the sunshine on Friday.

On Friday, Scots were able to leave their local authority area for socialising, recreation or exercise, though travel between the mainland and some islands remains off-limits.

Six adults from up to six households are also able to meet up outdoors.


On Monday, shoppers were urged to “play their part” in helping to reduce the spread of coronavirus as the wider retail sector gets set to reopen.

David Lonsdale, Scottish Retail Consortium director, said: “Every purchase from a shop helps support jobs in local retail and throughout the supply chain.

“Retailers and their colleagues continue to work around the clock to maintain a safe shopping experience, so customers can have the confidence to return to their favourite stores.

“If we all follow the necessary physical distancing and hygiene measures and show consideration to those around us, including shop staff who are doing a difficult job, then everyone will be better off.”

Tracy Gilbert, Usdaw deputy divisional officer for Scotland, added: “The reopening of stores on Monday offers a lifeline for many retailers.

“That is good news in terms of helping to safeguard jobs, but the virus is still out there.

“We expect employers to conduct full risk assessments, follow the agreed guidance and ensure that customers are fully informed of the necessary safety measures.


“Shoppers need to play their part in helping to limit the spread of the virus and avoid further lockdowns by following the rules and respecting staff.

“Regrettably, throughout this appalling pandemic, incidents of abuse towards shopworkers doubled and Covid-19 safety measures have now become significant flashpoints.

“Abuse should never be part of the job and shopworkers – who played a vital role in getting food and medicine into our homes during the pandemic – deserve our thanks and respect.”

Large-scale probe into treatment of care home residents

Police Scotland investigating reports of concern over the care of residents at Millport Care Centre on Great Cumbrae.

© Google Maps 2020
Millport Care Centre on Great Cumbrae.

A large-scale investigation has been launched into the treatment of elderly residents at a care home on Great Cumbrae.

Police Scotland, North Ayrshire Council and NHS Ayrshire and Arran are looking into complaints that residents have been mistreated at Millport Care Centre.

The Care Inspectorate says it is aware of the concerns and issued an improvement notice to the care home, owned by Sanctuary Care Limited, on April 2.

A whistleblower told The Daily Record newspaper that she witnessed three members of staff at the home pin a woman down, while a fourth allegedly ordered a nurse to give her the Covid jab through her clothes.


Sanctuary Care strongly deny that specific allegation. Two staff members at the care home have been suspended but not in relation to the allegations presented.

A spokesperson for the company told STV News: “We strongly refute the allegations made and are confident that our staff appropriately supported an NHS nurse as they recently administered a second dose of a Covid vaccine to a resident at this home.

“We are working closely with North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership to make the improvements required in this home based on the findings of a recent Care Inspectorate report and can reassure the families of our residents that we are committed to providing their loved ones with the high quality care they deserve.”

The centre in Millport is ­registered to provide care for up to 27 adults with learning or physical disabilities.


A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Police Scotland, working with local health and social care partners, is involved in a large-scale investigation into reports of concerns over the care of residents at Millport Care Centre. Enquiries are ongoing.”

North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership (NAHSCP) is providing a staff presence at Millport Care Centre over the coming weeks while the investigation is being carried out.

A spokesperson for NAHSCP said: “As the local regulatory body for care services, NAHSCP is committed to ensuring that the welfare of those looked after by those services is of the utmost priority.

“An investigation is currently under way and North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership is working alongside partners to support the operators to improve standards.

“We are providing a staff presence at Millport Care Centre over the coming weeks to ensure that service users’ needs are being appropriately met, to maintain the safety of the individuals receiving support and [to] provide supervision and support for staff while the investigation is carried out.

“We would like to reassure the families of those who are looked after at the Millport Care Centre that their safety and well-being is our ultimate priority and as such we are contacting families and guardians to provide information and support in relation to the investigation process.”

A spokesperson for the Care Inspectorate said: “We recently inspected the service and issued an improvement notice on April 2 that details areas of care that need to improve.  


“We continue to monitor the service and we are liaising closely with the local health and social care partnership. 

“Everyone in Scotland has the right to good quality, safe care.  Anyone with a concern about a care service can contact us on 0345 600 9527.”

One in seven Scottish adults ‘experiencing data poverty’

Research found that 14% of people are not able to afford sufficient private and secure mobile or broadband data.

Andrew Brookes via Getty Images
Research: One in seven Scottish adults 'experience data poverty'.

Almost one in seven adults are experiencing data poverty and are unable to afford the online or mobile access they need, according to a new study.

Research from innovation agency Nesta found that 14% of people in Scotland are not able to afford sufficient private and secure mobile or broadband data to meet essential needs.

More than a quarter (26%) of adults earning less than £20,000 per year identified as experiencing data poverty.

Researchers also found that those living in more deprived areas were more likely to identify as data poor (18%) than those living in more affluent areas (7%).


The research found that Covid-19 has heightened problems as before the pandemic public wi-fi offered a safety net, with one in five people experiencing data poverty regularly using wi-fi in public libraries.

Researchers said that Covid-19 restrictions have resulted in the loss of public wi-fi accessed via shops, public transport, libraries and leisure facilities, reducing use of sources of public wi-fi by as much as a third of the pre-pandemic level.

Adam Lang, Head of Nesta in Scotland, said: “In our increasingly digitised and online world, ensuring that everyone has adequate, affordable and secure data to fulfil their essential needs is an increasingly urgent social, economic and moral priority.

“That almost one in seven adults in Scotland experience data poverty is deeply alarming and requires an urgent response.


“The pandemic has shown that access to the internet is essential for individuals and communities. Many vital services such as education, social security, health and work are now online.

“Those who cannot access enough data for their needs are increasingly excluded from services, work, community participation and social engagement – that’s not good enough.”

Researchers found that those out of work, people with disabilities, adults who feel less confident reading in English, adults who live with children and those in larger households are also more likely to experience data poverty.

Financial and digital literacy was found to be an issue with half of those experiencing data poverty saying they don’t know how to shop around for the best data deals.

The survey is part of a joint research project from Nesta teams in Scotland and Wales.

It was carried out by Survation on behalf of Nesta using a representative population sample of 1006 adults in Scotland and 1002 adults in Wales between January 15 and February 6 2021.

Both reports explore solutions to help tackle data poverty including helping people to get the best data deals, whether through action from providers or regulators or financial and digital literacy support, and data sharing or gifting.


Gillian Fyfe, Citizens Advice Scotland’s (CAB) Strategic Lead for Strong Communities, said: “This is important research which mirrors the evidence that we see from Scotland’s CAB network.

“There are too many households that are unable to access digital services and are being left behind.”

Face-to-face with Colin Mackay: SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon sat down with Colin Mackay to outline the party’s message ahead of May's election.

STV News

Over the coming weeks STV will be hosting a series of exclusive interviews with the main political party leaders taking part in May’s Holyrood elections.

Next up is the leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon, who sat down with STV News political editor Colin Mackay to outline the party’s message and vision for the country.

Colin Mackay: Nicola Sturgeon, there is a lot of free stuff in your manifesto. How can you afford it?

Nicola Sturgeon: We set out the medium term financial strategy in January. The Scottish Government published that. That took account of the independent forecast by the Scottish Fiscal Commission, the OBR, and the assumptions about growth in our budget over the next five years. It gave three scenarios: high, medium and low. And we costed our manifesto slightly under the medium forecast. So it is based on the growth principally on the devolved tax revenue as our economy starts to recover.


CM: But you couldn’t do it without the Barnet Formula or the block grant could you?

NS: Interestingly when you look at the medium term financial strategy, and it is published for everyone to see, devolved tax revenues are estimated to grow by about 20%…

CM: But you could do without the extra funding could you?…

NS: The overall budget is expected to grow by 14%. The reason for that is because the Barnet Formula part of our funding is growing more slowly—that’s what’s holding overall budget growth back. But let’s nail this point Colin. The money that we get is not given to Scotland as some kind of favour. It comes from taxes that we pay in Scotland that first send to the Treasury in London only to get back. Or it comes from the massive borrowing that the UK Government is quite rightly taking to help us get through the pandemic.


CM: One of the big free promises is dental care. Dentists are quite concerned about that because they worry it could restrict the free treatments they give. Also they are worried it could be seen as a bit of a middle class giveaway given that people on benefits get free dental care anyway…

NS: We will talk to the dental community as we roll that policy out. It’s really important to stress that those are worries that will not be well founded. We will make sure we talk to the dental profession to make sure we avoid any unintended consequences…

CM: Why haven’t you spoken to them already? They say you have cancelled meetings with them…

NS: If that’s the case then I apologise for that. This is a political manifesto but the Government has ongoing consultation and dialogue with professions in the NHS and other sectors as well. But can I complete this point; it’s partly about completing the restoration of the NHS to its founding principal: providing free health care at the point of need. But it’s also part of a bigger shift here. If we take away barriers to people accessing health care, then they will get that health care earlier and it helps to shift to more preventative care and treatment. In the year before the pandemic, almost 4000 people ended up in accident and emergency departments, because they had dental health problems. Perhaps not all but some of those problems may have been averted if people got to the dentist earlier and perhaps cost was a barrier for many people.

CM: You mentioned the pandemic. We are a year on from the outbreak. 10,000 deaths. Do you think as many people in Scotland would have been vaccinated, if we had been independent?

NS: Yes.

CM: How can you say that, when you look at the other independent countries that you mentioned during your manifesto launch the other day, Ireland, Denmark. We’ve vaccinated almost three times more than them…


NS: Because this notion that the UK has only been able to procure the vaccine and vaccinate so many people because we’re out the EU is not born out, firstly by the reality that the UK was still in the transition period, therefore subject to all of the rules and regulations of the EU, when it procured the vaccine. European countries are able if they so wish, particularly during health emergencies to procure in the way the UK did…

CM: But no other EU country is anywhere close to where Scotland and the UK is…

NS: Scotland could have chosen to procure the way it thought was best. There is absolutely no evidential basis to say Scotland would not have vaccinated as many people as we’ve vaccinated right now…

CM: Except when you look at every other European country. If you look at Ireland for example, they are planning to try and get all their over 70s done by the end of next month. We will have done all our over 40s by then…

NS: Scotland, and a Scottish Government would have chosen to procure the vaccine in the way that they thought was most effective and efficient. Now you’re just basically plucking this out of thin air saying “Scotland had it been independent we wouldn’t have been able to do that”. As long as we had a sensible Scottish Government like the one we’ve got just now and the one that I hope is re-elected come May 6.

CM: So you’re saying that Ireland, other EU countries that you’ve spoken about Denmark, Norway, they’ve done it wrong. They’ve not been sensible?!…

NS: I’m not making a comment on any other country. You’re doing that. I’m talking about Scotland. I’m talking about the decisions we’ve taken the decisions that I think had we been the government as an independent country we would have been able to take. At the heart of your argument, which a lot of politicians who were on the Brexit side of the EU referendum make, is that the UK would have been prevented and therefore by extension, any other country in the EU, would have been prevented from procuring the vaccine in the way the UK did it—had the UK still been in the EU. The point I’m making is the UK was in the transition period, it was still subject to all the rules so that point clearly is completely false.

CM: 260,000 children living in poverty in Scotland. That’s up 50,000 since you became First Minister…

NS: So child poverty is far too high in Scotland as it is in every other nation in the UK. Of course child poverty in Scotland, is the lowest of the four UK nations. It is up 50,000 because of welfare cuts that have been introduced at Westminster. Most of the independent commentators on child poverty say very clearly that the reason child poverty has risen in Scotland and across the UK is because of welfare cuts. But what we’ve done over the past parliamentary term is put in place a game changing, that’s the word of child poverty campaigners, policy to do something about that. The Scottish child payment, which is already up and running paying £10 a week for children up to age six in low income families about to be extended to children up to the age of 16, and if we are re-elected doubled in the next term of Parliament. So we have a situation in Scotland where we’re trying to lift children out of poverty with the powers we’ve got. But the powers at Westminster are being used in a way that plunge more children into poverty.

CM: You’re going to double it by the end of the Parliament. That misses the interim target set out in the Child Poverty Act by cutting it by 18% by 2023-24. You’re missing your own target…

NS: We said in the manifesto we’ll do it over the term of the Parliament. But of course we’ll set out in budgets…

CM: It actually says in page 28 by the end of the Parliament. Are you going to do it by 18% by 2023-24?

NS: These are statutory targets. I think I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong on this if this has changed in the wee while. We’re the only government in the UK that still has statutory targets. So, we are bound by law, and we will do what it takes to meet those and that’s the point I was going to make. We will set out the phasing of that policy when we put forward a budget and a programme for government, if we are re-elected.

CM: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that you could actually hit the 90% target of 2030 right now if you put the child payment up to £40. Why don’t you just do that, and actually stop child poverty?

NS: Your first question to me Colin was, “your manifesto’s full of giveaways. How are you going to pay?”…

CM: But wouldn’t that be a good one. To say you’re going to eradicate child poverty.

NS: I think in what we set out we will lift children out of poverty and we will meet our statutory targets.

CM: You’ll lift 47,000 out. But you could lift 240,000 out…

NS: We will set out through as we have done in our manifesto, the action on the child payment, free school meals…

CM: You could lift people out quicker. You’re just not going to do that?

NS: That’s not the case. We’re putting forward a costed, affordable plan that is going to lift children out of poverty. The child payment in its current form, let alone its doubled form, is something that no other government in the UK has in place. And that is the determination we have. To lift children out of poverty, and make child poverty a thing of the past.

CM: You’re going to recruit 3500 teachers and classroom assistants. How many of each?

NS: Again, over the pandemic we recruited 1400 additional teachers…

CM: This is what we are looking at in the future. You’re talking about 3500. How many of each?

NS: We haven’t made that calculation yet.

CM: Have you spoken to the EIS about it?

NS: I was going to try to help you with the answer if you give me a moment. Over the last parliamentary term, we’ve employed 3000 more teachers. In the pandemic 1400 more teachers and 200 classroom assistants. So that’s perhaps a rough idea of the balance we will strike there. But yes we will discuss with teaching unions and local authorities, local authories being the actual employers of teachers and classrooms assistants. But we are making clear the funding is there to build on the 3000 extra teachers we’ve recruited over this parliament, to recruit 3500 teachers and classroom assistants. Now, we also want them to have some flexibility to find the balance that works in their own situations.

CM: In your last manifesto you said you wanted to close the poverty related attainment gap. You could have done better on that, couldn’t you?

NS: We could have done better and I want us to do better. We were making, and are making real progress here. We would have done better had covid not upended every aspect of our lives. But if you look at National Fives we reduced the attainment gap by a third. At level six we’ve redusced it by a fifth. More young people are going from deprived communities to university than was the case five years ago. But I want to do more. I want us to do better. We’ve made progress and if we are re-elected we will continue that forward progress that we’ve already started.

CM: So you could have done better in education. You took your eye off the ball with drug deaths. Hospitals opening years late. Failing to meet waiting times. It’s not a great record to take into this election is it?

NS: I do not agree with that characterization of it. People have a choice, whether they want a first minister and a candidate for first minister to sit and arrogantly say “there’s no room for improvement, there’s not more that we want to do” or whether they want to first minister says “you know what I’m really proud of our record. Here’s the areas where I want us to do better, this is what we’re going to do to do better” and people will make that choice.

CM: On the economy you say in your manifesto that you’ll set over the first six months of the Parliament, a new ten year strategy for economic transformation. You don’t have one for recovery yet then?

NS: Well you know the Benny Higgins review that took place last year that has already put in place, a strategy that for example a recommendation which is already being implemented for the young person guarantee, giving every young person between…

CM: Well if you’ve already got a ten year strategy why do you need that?

NS: Well others can say, we don’t need that ten year [strategy], but it’s actually a good thing to look ahead. We have recovery from the pandemic. We’ve got the imperative to meet net-zero which is a big obligation but a massive opportunity as well. So we are I think doing the right thing saying that we’re going to bring businesses, trade unions, academic experts together to look ahead and say “what are the goals we want to achieve as a country over the next ten years” and how do you go about doing that. So some people would say that’s not necessary. I think it is necessary and I think it’d be a fantastic opportunity.

CM: In the last Parliament you lost two ministers to sleaze. You were embroiled in court cases. Why should the people of Scotland trust you to be the government?

NS: Because I think we’ve got a good record. I think we’ve done a good job for Scotland.

CM: But you’ve just admitted you could have done better…

NS: I think that any government that has been candid will say “we’ve done well here. But because of circumstances we could have been better here”. But why should people trust the SNP was your question. Firstly because we’ve demonstrated over the last year we are the government with the commitment and the experience to lead the country through the pandemic. We’ve put forward a bold programme for government to kick-start a recovery. And yes we want to give people in Scotland the choice over the country’s future once the pandemic has passed and, you know, that’s what I’m asking people to put their trust in on May 6.

CM: And yet your party has split over the last year of so. How can you claim you can lead the country to be a united Scotland as an independent country when you can’t even keep your own movement united?

NS: I think if you look beyond the headline of opinion polls, and I appreciate opinion polls are not what counts. It’s the election result that counts. But if you look beyond the headline of opinion polls, the underlying statistics, what you see is SNP support is strong. It’s very united…

CM: You must be disappointed it split on your watch…

NS: The SNP hasn’t split. We’ve had a relatively small number of people decide to support another party. That is their right and I respect their right to do that. But to say the SNP is split is a massive, massive overstatement. If you look at the opinion polls and the election result, I take nothing for granted. What is interesting, and this was obvious in the debate you so expertly chaired, was that all of the other parties in this election are vying to be leader of the opposition. It is only me and the SNP that are putting forward a serious programme to be the government and that’s what the country needs.

‘Quarter of council workers’ sought help for mental health

More than 12,000 Unison members working across Scotland’s councils were asked about the pandemic’s toll on their health.

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Mental health: Eight in 10 council workers say stress levels have risen.

More than a quarter of local government workers in Scotland have sought medical help for mental health issues in the past year, a trade union survey has indicated.

More than 12,000 Unison members working across Scotland’s councils were asked about the pandemic’s toll on their health over the past year, with eight in ten saying their stress levels had risen.

Respondents included care workers, school support staff, social workers and housing staff among others, said Unison Scotland.

The findings “lay bare the enormous sacrifices these workers have made to keep our services going” and they need support to “provide them with the reward and recognition that they deserve”, said the union’s head of local government, Johanna Baxter.


The survey also indicates that six in ten workers had to do more work than usual and more than a third said they had lost annual leave due to work pressure.

Some 27% said they had sought professional help over their mental health in the past year.

Ms Baxter said in a statement: “These findings should be deeply troubling for local authorities across Scotland.

“This report lays bare the enormous sacrifices these workers have made to keep our services going – forgoing their own annual leave, coming into work even when they have suffered bereavements themselves and adapting to changes in the workplace and their own roles.


“Urgent action is needed right now to support these frontline workers and provide them with the reward and recognition that they deserve.”

Mark Ferguson, Unison Scotland local government chairman, said: “We know that our members have been going above and beyond to keep our local services running during the pandemic but this report shows the impact this past year has had on their health”.

He added “it is clear that more needs to be done to support our members and to recognise their efforts through their pay and rewards”.

Some 12,077 Unison members working in different roles across every local authority in Scotland were surveyed online between March 26 and April 13.

The survey represents 15% of Unison membership in Scottish local government.

‘I look at Billy and it’s all in the past… he’s perfect’

Mum admitted to intensive care with coronavirus while 28 weeks pregnant gives birth to baby boy.

STV News

Even before he was born, Mechelle Smith described her son as “mummy’s little miracle”.

That’s because after testing positive for coronavirus, pregnant Mechelle was in intensive care, fearing for both her son’s and her own survival.

Now at home with her baby boy, those days feel like a distant memory for the 35-year-old from Kilmarnock.

“I look at Billy now and it’s all in the past, he’s perfect,” she said.


STV News last spoke to Mechelle in February, when she described her battle with Covid as the scariest time of her life.

The diabetic mum was 28 weeks’ pregnant when she was placed in a medically induced comma. After 18 days in hospital, she was allowed home for her youngest daughter’s first birthday.

Her fourth child was due to be born on April 17, but was delivered three weeks early on March 25 by emergency caesarean section.

Mum and son are now thriving and little baby Billy has been the centre of attention for his three besotted big sisters. 


Mechelle said: “I’m absolutely elated and so in love with him. Sometimes I can’t believe he’s here considering everything he has been through.

“[During the final weeks of pregnancy] I had problems with my blood sugars, pains I hadn’t had before. I was feeling really breathless and I didn’t know if that was due to Covid or the pregnancy.”

STV News
Mechelle Smith and baby Billy in hospital.

The effects of Covid linger for Mechelle; her aftercare includes help to deal with post-traumatic stress.

However, the progress shown by mother and baby boosted the spirits of the medical team at Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock, with staff eager to visit the new arrival.

“I felt like a celebrity,” said Mechelle. “It was funny, but it was lovely.

“Everywhere we went, they were like ‘is this the miracle baby?’. One of the nurses who looked after me in intensive care was also a midwife, so she was there too when I was readmitted.”  

The easing of coronavirus restrictions has now given friends and relatives the chance to meet the new family of six.


Mechelle said: “Hopefully over next few weeks and months, we can get him out and about to see people and also my other daughter, Jessica.

“She was born just before the first lockdown last year. We still have family and friends who haven’t met her yet.”

Coronavirus: No further deaths as cases rise by 232 overnight

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 104 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19.

Peter-gamal via Pixabay
Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

A further 232 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in Scotland, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

No additional deaths have been reported overnight.

The death toll of those who tested positive currently stands at 7642, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is now more than 10,000.

The daily test positivity rate is 2.5%, up from the 1.6% reported on Sunday when 211 cases were recorded.


Of the new cases reported on Monday, 58 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 56 are in Lanarkshire, and 30 are in Lothian.

The rest of the cases are spread out across seven other health board areas.

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 104 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19. Out of those, 14 patients are in intensive care.

The Scottish Government also confirmed that 2,747,694 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, an increase of 3463 from the day before.


A total of 757,115 people have received their second dose, a rise of 18,695.

Election 2021: Parties on campaign trail ahead of vote

Rennie urges Davidson voters to back the Lib Dems in May as Tories launch manifesto.

STV News
Rennie: Urging Davidson voters to back Lib Dems.

All of Scotland’s main parties have been on the campaign trail ahead of the Holyrood elections in May.

On the day that the Scottish Conservatives revealed their manifesto, Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie has been urging Ruth Davidson backers to vote for his party as Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar pledges to tackle child poverty.

Meanwhile the SNP say they will create a ‘fan bank’ that will help football fans own a stake in their club and The Scottish Greens are calling for rent controls.

Calling on voters who backed former Scottish Conservatives leader at the last election Rennie said: “Many people backed Ruth Davidson at the last election because she promised what she described as a moderate and centrist platform with an open and optimistic outlook.


“I know many of these people are not attracted by the Conservative Party led by Douglas Ross and Boris Johnson.

“There is a home with my Liberal Democrats for all these people who now feel politically homeless because of the departure of Ruth Davidson.

“I oppose another independence referendum and am offering an open, optimistic vision for the country together with a platform that has a broad appeal.

“And it is Liberal Democrats wins in this election which could be the difference between the nationalists winning a majority or not. If Liberal Democrats win we can focus the parliament on recovery.”


Pledging to make child poverty a key priority, Sarwar said: “Scotland has the powers to tackle head-on the impact of child poverty.

“At this election, our national recovery plan has eradicating child poverty at its heart. That’s what I’m obsessed about.”

Co-leader of the Scottish Greens Lorna Slater said: “The SNP’s rent pressure zones have failed, it’s time for proper rent controls.

“We need a fair and green recovery from the pandemic and that starts with making sure everyone has a secure home.”

On setting up a “fan bank” the SNP said: “Sports clubs are a massive part of our communities – but too often, fans have watched powerlessly as neglectful owners damage those clubs.

“If re-elected, the SNP will set up a ‘Fan Bank’ to help fan groups get the capital to own a stake in their club.”

And at their manifesto launch, the Scottish Conservatives pledged to “rebuild Scotland” and stop another independence referendum.

Police issue warning after orca pod disturbed by boat

Officers were called after the incident involving the killer whales off Shetland.

Lazareva via IStock
People have been warned to keep their distance from the animals as disturbing them is against the law.

Police have issued a warning as officers on Shetland are investigating the disturbance of a pod of orcas by a boat.

Police were called after the incident involving the killer whales at Brae around 4pm on Saturday, April 10.

People have been warned to keep their distance from the animals as disturbing them is against the law.

Police Sergeant Victoria Duthie, of Lerwick Police Station, said: “In Shetland we are extremely fortunate to be able to see many cetacean species, including orca, regularly from land. There are lots of good places around Shetland’s coast to sit and watch cetaceans – you do not have to go out in a boat to be able to experience that.”


Those who are on the water in a kayak or boats have been urged to follow the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code.

Sergeant Duthie said: “The main thing is to keep your distance – at least 200m for pods with calves, slow your speed and minimise your time with these animals – no more than 15 minutes.

“Always approach cautiously. In practice this means slowing down to less than six knots when you are a good distance away. If animals come to you  – maintain a steady course and speed.”

Sergeant Duthie said that signs that you have disturbed the whales, dolphins or porpoises can be subtle. She said they can change their behaviour such as diving times, swimming speed or tail slapping. They can also stop what they were doing, including ceasing feeding or socialising.


“If you think you see any changes then back off and slow down,” she said.

“The key is to let the animals be in control of the entire encounter. They should choose how close to approach. If they choose not to interact, or to depart, this should be respected. A good encounter is one which is enjoyable for you and neither threatening nor harmful to the animals.”

For further information on the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code visit NatureScot’s website here.

A guide to best practice for watching marine wildlife can be found here.

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