Businesses push for clarity on easing lockdown restrictions

Tourism and hospitality groups express frustration after First Minister updates Parliament on roadmap out of lockdown.

It will be the end of April at the earliest before pubs reopen. Leon Neal via Getty Images
It will be the end of April at the earliest before pubs reopen.

Businesses have said more clarity is needed about the easing of restrictions after the First Minister’s lockdown announcement.

Nicola Sturgeon detailed how lockdown would be lifted in Scotland in Holyrood on Tuesday, with a three-phased approach, the first of which saw some pupils return to schools this week.

The second phase, which will not start until at least March 15, will see more pupils back in school and non-contact sports for those aged 12-17 allowed to restart, while the third phase will see a full return of schools, the lifting of the stay at home order and the expansion of the essential retail definition – but not before April 5.

The First Minister then said Scotland would return to a localised levels approach, similar to what was in place towards the end of last year.

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While business groups are frustrated with the lack of detail in the plans, some have acknowledged the need for a cautious approach.

Dr Liz Cameron OBE, the chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “While it does not go as far or as fast as the Prime Minister did [in England] towards clarifying when we can get back to business, we will continue to robustly represent business views to Scottish Government to help inform this plan in the coming days and weeks.”

She added: “More detail on the roadmap is essential as it will enable both consumers as well as businesses plan for reopening, and we need the Scottish Government to stick to its guns on these dates as much as is possible.”

Scottish Tourism Alliance chief executive Marc Crothall said: “Today’s provisional timescale of the gradual re-opening of the economy as set out by the First Minister today is welcome, however, I know from the many conversations I’ve had with tourism businesses this week, and particularly within the last 24 hours that they were hoping for more detail around the pathway to reopening.

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“The detail announced today does not go far enough in giving our sector the clarity needed at this point to plan for reopening.”

Mr Crothall went on to say there has already been substantial interest in Scottish tourism since the Westminster road map announcement on Monday, and pushed for a Scottish Government backed marketing campaign to drum up interest in visits to Scotland in the late summer and autumn.

With a return to the levels system which was in place last year, opening dates for hospitality premises cannot yet be determined.

Scottish Licensed Trade Association spokesman Paul Waterson said a return to the system, which imposes opening restrictions on bars and restaurants at certain levels, could see operators decide to remain closed.

“Brighter days lie ahead – there’s no doubt about that. However, pubs, bars and restaurants have been unable to open since before Christmas – under significant Covid constraints – and large swathes of 2020 were lost to lockdown closures or severely limited trading conditions,” he said.

“While it is encouraging that our sector can hopefully reopen from the end of April, we are concerned that a return to the previous tiered system will lead many operators to decide that such restrictive reopening conditions are simply not worth the time, effort and money involved.”

Politicians urged to ‘step up to the challenge’ on child poverty

Charity warns that new Scottish Child Payment will not be enough to meet 'ambitious' child poverty targets on its own.

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Scottish Child Payment started for eligible families last week.

Scottish Government ministers have been warned they risk missing their targets on child poverty – as analysis indicated a new payment to help poorer families does not go far enough.

Nicola Sturgeon and other Scottish Government ministers have spoken about the impact the new £10-a-week Scottish Child Payment could have on hard-up families.

But the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) warned that on its own, the payment will not be enough to meet Scotland’s “ambitious” child poverty targets.

The charity said its analysis shows that without further action, Scotland will miss its interim child poverty target by 4% – leaving 40,000 children trapped in poverty as a result.

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Ministers have set a target of reducing the proportion of children living in relative poverty to 18% by 2023, ahead of a cut to 10% by the end of the decade.

Scottish Government figures show that in 2018-19, almost a quarter (23%) of children were living in poverty.

While the JRF said the Scottish Child Payment, which started being paid to families last week, would “significantly reduce the child poverty rate in Scotland”, it added that “without further action, it isn’t enough to meet the targets”.

The JRF estimates the targets could be met if the new welfare payment is upped to £30 – which it says will cost an additional £380m a year.

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But it added that if the UK Government does not extend increases in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits introduced last spring, the Scottish Child Payment would need to rise to £40 a week for the 2023 target to be achieved – which could cost an additional £520 million.

Chris Birt, JRF deputy director for Scotland, said: “All parties in Scotland have made a promise to stamp out child poverty. Politicians and the public have a shared vision of a Scotland in which every child can grow up healthy and safe and go on to live a full and rewarding life.

“Our analysis shows there’s a lot of work to do but that it is possible to lift thousands of children out of poverty. With an election coming up, all parties must demonstrate how they plan to turn the tide on child poverty and meet their own ambitious targets.

“The Scottish Child Payment is a welcome start, but on its own it does not go nearly far enough.

“It’s time for all parties to build on this momentum and step up to the challenge. A plan to tackle Scotland’s stubbornly high poverty levels must be a priority in this election.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We remain determined to deliver on our ambition to eradicate child poverty in Scotland and will set out plans for further ambitious action in our second Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, to be published in March 2022.

“In 2019-20 we invested nearly £2bn in support for low-income households, including over £672m targeted specifically at children, and we are committed to going even further.

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“In our response to Covid we have committed over £500m to support people and communities impacted by the pandemic, including over £50m for continued free school meal provision, across school closures and holiday periods, and over £30m for awards of hardship payments to children in low-income households.”

He continued: “Later this month, we will start making payments of the new ‘game changing’ Scottish child payment for children from low-income households – worth £40 every four weeks for each child under six.

“Our Scottish child payment together with best start grant and best start foods will provide over £5200 of financial support for families by the time their first child turns six. As this report highlights, the UK Government must make tackling poverty a priority starting with making the £20 uplift to Universal Credit permanent and matching our ambitions by introducing a benefit similar to our flagship Scottish child payment to lift people out of poverty.”

Forbes urges opposition to back her tax and spending plans

Finance secretary says her budget provides a 'solid foundation' for Scotland's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

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Kate Forbes' budget plan will be voted on by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.

Finance secretary Kate Forbes has urged MSPs to back her tax and spending plans for the coming year – saying these provide a “solid foundation” for Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19.

Forbes called for other parties to back her draft budget as it comes before the Scottish Parliament for voting for the first time, saying the country is still in the grip of a “national emergency”.

And she insisted that in these “unprecedented times” the parliament must work together to “provide the support that our businesses, people and communities need”.

The draft budget for 2021-22, unveiled by Forbes last month, promises record funding of £16bn for the NHS in Scotland, while local authorities will also get money to freeze the council tax – with the Scottish Government seeing this as a way of helping families who have been struggling financially in the wake of the pandemic.

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But councils have continued to press the government for more than the £11.6bn local government has been allocated.

To help businesses impacted by coronavirus, Forbes also said the budget would extend the 100% rates relief for some of the hardest-hit sectors – including retail, hospitality, leisure, aviation and newspapers – for a further year.

With the Scottish Government not having a majority in Holyrood, ministers need to win the support of at least one other party for the budget to pass.

In recent years deals have been struck between the SNP government and the Scottish Greens but, earlier this week, their Holyrood co-leader, Patrick Harvie, said ministers must do more to help those most in need.

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He said: “The recovery from Covid cannot return to the broken old system that left too many Scots on poor wages with insecure jobs.

“That’s why the Scottish Greens have called for the Scottish Government to go further in the budget to boost household incomes, whether by strengthening the social security safety net, cutting public transport costs, making homes warmer and more efficient or providing more free meals for children at school.”

Forbes however insisted she had put together a “consensual budget for unprecedented times”.

Speaking ahead of Thursday’s debate, the finance secretary stated: “I have engaged widely to ensure we deliver not just the Scottish Government’s priorities of creating jobs, supporting our sustainable recovery while responding to the health crisis and tackling inequality, but also those raised by other parties.”

She said further changes to her spending plans may be required after UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils his Budget next week.

But she stressed the Scottish budget “delivers £1.1bn for jobs and skills, record spending for health services, £11.6bn for local government plus a further £259m of non-recurring coronavirus funding, and new resources to tackle climate change”.

Forbes said: “It lays a solid foundation for Scotland’s recovery and renewal and I look forward to it being supported across the chamber.”

Sturgeon: Crown Office influence claims ‘downright wrong’

Lord Advocate called to Parliament to answer urgent question about Crown's role in Alex Salmond's published evidence.

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Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond campaigning in 2015.

Nicola Sturgeon has attacked Alex Salmond for not turning up at a Scottish Parliament committee examining the Government’s handling of harassment complaints against him.

Salmond was due to be questioned on Wednesday over his claims that the First Minister misled parliament and of a conspiracy to have him jailed.

He will now give evidence on Friday on his own claims that Sturgeon misled Parliament and broke the ministerial code.

The former first minister asked to delay his appearance after his already-published written evidence was belatedly redacted by Parliament on Tuesday following an intervention by the Crown Office – the body responsible for prosecuting crime in Scotland.

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Salmond said the Crown Office’s decision to write to Parliament – purportedly seeking redactions over contempt of court fears – was “astonishing” and asked his lawyers to seek answers about the “unprecedented and highly irregular actions”.

Asked about the saga at the daily coronavirus briefing, Sturgeon said: “Any suggestion at all that these decisions are in any way politically influenced are downright wrong.

“I would suggest that they go further than that; that they actually start to buy into what is a false and quite dangerous conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact.

“Creating an alternative reality in which the organs of the state – not just me and the SNP and the civil service and the Crown Office and the police and women who came forward – were all part of some wild conspiracy against him for reasons I can’t explain, maybe that’s easier than just accepting that at the root of all this might just have been issues in his own behaviour.

“But that’s for him to explain if he ever decides to pitch up and sit in front of the committee.”

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Sturgeon also repeated her assertion that there is not “a shred of evidence” to support her former mentor’s claim there was a “malicious and concerted” attempt to see him removed from public life involving claims of sexual harassment while he was first minister.

The Government’s investigation of the allegations was found to be “tainted by apparent bias” after it emerged the investigating officer had prior contact with two of the women who made complaints.

Salmond, who was later acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault in a criminal trial, was awarded a £512,250 payout after he successfully challenged the lawfulness of the government investigation.

A spokesman for Salmond said his lawyers will ask the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC – head of the Crown Office and a member of the Scottish Government – to explain the legal basis for the Crown’s intervention, questions over whether the legal position about the evidence has changed and why, and whether there were any representations made to the Crown Office.

Mr Wolffe was called to Parliament on Wednesday to answer an urgent question about the Crown Office intervention that caused published evidence from the former first minister to be taken down and heavily redacted.

He insisted there was no political pressure on the decision.

In response to a question about whether he was consulted about the letter from the Crown Office, Mr Wolffe said: “No, I was not.

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“The decisions in relation to this matter were made by senior professional prosecutors acting independently as they always do, and without reference to the law officers.”

He added: “Scotland’s public prosecutors take difficult decisions which some may find unpopular.

“They take those decisions objectively, professionally and in the public interest, and they act independently of any other person.”

Meanwhile, Salmond’s legal team said it was “clearly impossible” for him to give evidence under oath on Wednesday in the circumstances and offered to postpone his appearance until Friday.

A meeting of the cross-party committee agreed it still wants to hear evidence from Salmond.

The committee then voted to recall Mr Wolffe to face more questions as well as agreeing to order the Crown Office to release further documents to the committee.

Sturgeon will then make her appearance on Wednesday.

A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: “There was unanimous agreement in the committee that it wants to hear from Alex Salmond.

“His evidence has always been an important part of the committee’s work and as such the committee agreed that it would invite Mr Salmond to give evidence in person on Friday.

“The First Minister will then give evidence as the final witness to the inquiry on Wednesday.

“The committee remains determined to complete its task set by the Parliament and today agreed further actions in order to help them complete this work.”

Westminster accused of ‘power grab’ over Levelling Up funds

A fund which aims to boost regeneration is being extended to Scotland.

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SNP accuse Westminster of 'power grab'.

The UK Government has been accused of a “naked power grab” after it announced a fund which aims to boost regeneration is being extended to Scotland.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay, said communities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will now all benefit from at least £800m of investment by the UK Government.

The money, from the Levelling Up Fund, can be used for town centre and high street regeneration and local transport schemes, as well as cultural and heritage projects.

Barclay said: “Our levelling-up fund will back local projects to improve everyday life for millions of people and we look forward to working with all areas to boost local economies.

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“By extending the levelling-up fund to be UK-wide, we are ensuring that no community in the United Kingdom is left behind.”

However, the SNP accused Westminster of bypassing the devolved Scottish Government, by spending money in areas that is said were controlled by Holyrood ministers.

The party’s deputy Westminster leader Kirsten Oswald said: “The Tory Government’s move to bypass the devolved Governments and dictate spending over devolved areas is yet another sign of its naked power grab plans.”

She added: “Rather than passing on funding through Barnett consequentials – which could have seen Scotland receiving its share totalling around £400m – the Tories are intent on dismantling devolution and taking control, with absolutely no clarity over how much will be spent in Scotland.”

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Oswald said the extension of the Levelling Up Fund had come after the UK Government cut Scotland’s capital budget by 5% in the latest spending review.

She insisted: “The funding for Scotland should be passed to the Scottish Government to administer on behalf of the people of Scotland.”

But Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said the extended fund was “a fantastic example of the UK Government delivering for people in Scotland”.

The Conservative MP said: “It will provide a boost to communities right across Scotland as we set out to build back better from the Covid pandemic.”

He added that the initiative would allow the UK Government to “directly invest in capital projects in Scotland”, as he said he looked forward to

“working on the delivery of the fund in Scotland and with local authorities, who know best what their communities really need”.


A mess to embarrass the architects of devolution

Heady ideals look distinctly tarnished when following every twist and turn of what has been dubbed ‘The Alex Salmond Affair’.

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Alex Salmond with current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Open, accountable and transparent. These are the watchwords that heralded the advent of Scotland’s new democracy in 1999.

These heady ideals look distinctly tarnished when following every twist and turn of what has been dubbed ‘The Alex Salmond Affair’.

It is regrettable that the personality of the former first minister looms large. Some of the issues at the heart of this should not be lost or viewed through the prism of whether you approve or disapprove of Mr Salmond. Issues not personalities are what counts.

From the forming of the Scottish Governments harassment procedures, to the Court of Session declaring them unlawful, to the subsequent criminal prosecution of Mr Salmond through to the current procedural torture chamber that is the Holyrood Committee probing those procedures, this is a sorry tale that has not been the finest hour for openness, accountability and transparency.

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Supporters of Mr Salmond have another word for all of this, they call it ‘corrupt’. Salmond himself this week accused the Crown Office of not being fit for purpose. That charge, from a former head of Government is unprecedented and despite his bent for an eye catching headline, it is not a charge Salmond would have made lightly.

On unrelated matters in recent weeks the Scottish Conservatives have used the word ‘corrupt’ in relation to some prosecutions. The office of Lord Advocate is under scrutiny and indeed assault by question as never before. I have no problem with that, it is called accountability to Parliament.

James Wolffe QC told MSPs the other week some prosecutions related to the administration of Rangers FC in 2012 were ‘malicious’. The public purse has haemorrhaged tens of millions of pounds in damages to citizens Wolffe says should never have been prosecuted in the first place.

Lord Tyre in another civil case last week said the prosecution of Mr David Grier proceeded without ‘probable cause’. This, the biggest scandal ever to hit the Crown Office in my lifetime, occurred in one of the world’s oldest legal systems in 2021.

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And if that wasn’t enough, the intervention of the Crown Office on Monday night led to the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body redacting evidence from Mr Salmond that he was meant to speak to today at the Holyrood committee.

This is despite the fact the contents of his submission has been in the public domain and indeed has been widely published. I am tempted to ask why the Crown Office chose to have the Corporate body redact passages freely published elsewhere?

The constitutional optics don’t look good. The Lord Advocate is a member of the Cabinet which is of course a political body. When the devolution legislation made its way through the House of Lords in 1998, the late Lord McCluskey warned of the dangers of having a Law Officer being seen to be too attached to the Executive arm of Government.

That Law Officer was ultimately responsible for giving legal advice to the Government on the harassment procedures. That Law Officer was also ultimately accountable for Mr Salmond’s prosecution and for the subsequent attempts to have his views redacted before a Parliamentary Committee. Censored is another word.

For the avoidance of doubt I make no charge of impropriety against Mr Wolffe. Having known several Lord Advocate’s I know that they take their independence very seriously in the prosecution of crime and in making decisions free from political interference.

Indeed today, in a nervy address to MSPs, Mr Wolffe said the sole reason for the intervention of the Crown on Monday night was to protect the identification of witnesses although he simply ignored pointed questions about how the decision to write to the Corporate body crystallised. He was clear that there had been no political interference in the decision to intervene.

He was ‘not getting into the substance of issues’ he told Parliament this afternoon. That will not impress MSPs who believe the actions of his office has frustrated the work of a Parliamentary Committee.

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However, Lord McCluskey’s warnings that the independence of the office could be seen as compromised by ties to politicians is an interesting one in this context. Today the Lord Advocate also made the point that both pre and post devolution the holder of his post has always been a member of the Government.

The Lord Advocate has had a locus at key stages of this long timeline. That is an uncomfortable place for any Law Officer when the intervention of his office is seen as key to the defence and credibility of a Government’s position. That being said Mr Wolffe was clear today that he offers advice without fear and no politician has ever tried to compromise his role.

Another cardinal principle in the separation of power stakes is that politicians should refrain from becoming embroiled in controversy relating to criminal prosecutions, since that is a matter for the Crown Office and the Courts.

At her Covid briefing today the First Minister, I would suggest, stretched that principle to breaking point. Of Salmond’s acquittal she said this, ‘Alex Salmond is innocent of criminality, that doesn’t mean the behaviour they claimed of didn’t happen. It is important we don’t lose sight of that’.

A prosecution has occurred and a citizen has been acquitted by a jury of fellow citizens listening to all of the evidence. And yet nearly a year after the acquittal of that citizen, the First Minister believes ‘that doesn’t mean the behaviour they claimed of didn’t happen’. That view, with respect to Nicola Sturgeon, is precisely why we have Juries. This forage into Mr Salmond’s acquittal wasn’t really wise.

Alex Salmond believes he has evidence that establishes a conspiracy to have him prosecuted for essentially political reasons. Today his successor called him and his supporters out, calling the conspiracy viewpoint variously ‘wild, untrue, false, baseless’.

She said that the preference for Mr Salmond is to make claims and not have them scrutinised and she urged him to give evidence to the committee. That evidence will now be given on Friday.

Mr Salmond has won in the Court of Session and been acquitted by the High Court of Justiciary of serious criminal charges. The end game for him is the salvaging of his reputation and the airing of what he believes is an abominable conspiracy.

I am certain that the findings of the parliamentary inquiry and indeed the separate probe of James Hamilton QC on whether the First Minister is in breach of the ministerial code are unlikely to deliver the redress that the former First Minister seeks. I equally doubt however that both probes will be the final word.


Indoor care home visits to resume from next month

Two named visitors will be able to visit each resident twice a week from March 1.

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Indoor visiting at care homes can resume from early March, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

Two named visitors will be able to visit each resident twice a week, although only one person can visit at any one time.

Full guidance on the resumption was published by the Scottish Government on Wednesday.

Deaths in care homes related to coronavirus have reduced by almost 70% over the last four weeks, according to official figures.

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Care homes will have to put various safety measures in place before welcoming visitors, including personal protective equipment such as face masks.

A vast majority of care home residents have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

However, some care providers such as Barchester have questioned the decision, with one saying only vaccinated people should be able to visit.

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “That may not sound like much and we obviously hope to get back to even more normality in the weeks to come, but I know for many across the country, even that is a big step back to a more normal way of life.

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“It’s not a complete return to normal yet, because there will still be a lot of Covid safety measures in place, face coverings, rigorous hygiene and the availability of testing, but it is nevertheless a very important way forward.”

Barchester said it would ask the government to prioritise regular care home visitors for vaccination.

A spokesperson said: “We think it is important to take a cautious and phased approach, ensuring the one designated visitor per resident or patient is supported in complying with the protocols including the use of PPE and being tested using a Lateral Flow Device before entering a home, and our desire is that they are also vaccinated, if possible.

“In order to support this, we are lobbying with the government for designated visitors to be prioritised for a vaccination.”

Meanwhile, the GMB union has said there needs to be more staff in care homes, a whistleblowing protocol for homes not meeting safety standards and “stringent enforcement” of Covid-19 rules.

Rhea Wolfson, from GMB Scotland’s women’s campaign unit, said: “The balance between compassion and safety is precarious at this moment. Confidence is fragile among care home workers and there can be no room for complacency.

“That’s why ahead of the return to care home visits GMB has asked the Scottish Government to ensure the delivery of three basic provisions.”

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She added: “Everyone wants to see families reunited but government and employers owe a great debt to these key workers after the last year, and it’s important their voices are now being heard.”

A 36-page guidance document for visiting outlines a number of criteria which should be met, including adequate stores of personal protective equipment (PPE), staff and visitor testing and “high level coverage” of the coronavirus vaccine.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said: “I am grateful to care home providers and Scottish Care, directors of public health, Care Home Relatives Scotland and partners for helping to develop this guidance and for supporting its implementation.

“Essential visits are unaffected by the resumption of indoor meaningful contact and should always be compassionately and generously enabled by care homes when needed.”


Salmond questions ‘irregular’ Crown Office intervention

The Scottish Parliament agreed to belatedly redact large sections of Salmond's written evidence.

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Salmond: Questions 'highly irregular' intervention.

Alex Salmond has questioned the Crown Office’s “unprecedented and highly irregular actions” after it intervened to have his evidence redacted.

The Scottish Parliament agreed to belatedly redact large sections of Salmond’s written evidence in which he accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of misleading Holyrood and breaching the ministerial code, following a letter from the Crown Office expressing concern about possible contempt of court.

The former first minister’s legal team is now calling for the Lord Advocate to explain the “astonishing” intervention that attempted to censor evidence already in the public domain.

A spokesman for Salmond said his lawyers will also ask the Crown Office – the body responsible for prosecuting crimes in Scotland – to not destroy any possible evidence about the decision to intervene.

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Salmond’s evidence, alleging that Sturgeon had breached the ministerial code – a claim she denies – and describing the Crown Office as “simply not fit for purpose”, was eventually published by parliament on Monday evening.

However, following a letter from the Crown Office purportedly suggesting parts of the evidence could amount to contempt of court, parliament removed the submission on Tuesday before replacing it with a version with five sections redacted.

It prompted Salmond to pull out of his scheduled appearance to give oral evidence to the Holyrood inquiry that is examining the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation of sexual harassment allegations made against him, although he has offered to attend on Friday instead.

“In light of this astonishing decision to intervene at the eleventh hour and in light of the timing, Mr Salmond asked the committee to defer his evidence by 48 hours to enable his legal team to consider the full implications of this extraordinary intervention,” Salmond’s spokesman said.

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“Mr Salmond has now asked his lawyers, Levy & McRae, to write to the Lord Advocate as the head of the Crown Office to ask for an explanation for the Crown’s unprecedented and highly irregular actions.”

The statement, issued on Wednesday morning, also reveals questions that Salmond’s lawyers will put to Lord Advocate James Wolffe – head of the Crown Office and a member of the Scottish Government.

They include demands for him to explain the legal basis for the crown’s intervention, questions over whether the legal position about the evidence has changed and why, and whether there were any representations made to the Crown Office.

The spokesman added: “Mr Salmond has instructed his lawyers to request specifically that the crown preserve and retain all material and communications with all or any third parties which led to their decision to intervene at the very last minute just as he was set to give his evidence.”

The current First Minister has denied any breach of the ministerial code and said there is “not a shred of evidence” that Salmond can show to prove there was a conspiracy against him.

Scottish Labour interim leader and member of the Committee on the Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints, Jackie Baillie called for the Lord Advocate to answer an urgent question in parliament about the decision to redact Salmond’s submission.

Baillie said: “The credibility of the inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints, and indeed the credibility of the entire Parliament, hangs in the balance.

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“The Crown Office’s unprecedented intervention yesterday demands explanation – we cannot have this Parliament cowed into submission by the will of the Crown Office.

“The Lord Advocate must appear before the parliament to explain the actions of the Crown Office immediately.”

Parliament’s Presiding Officer has since allowed an urgent question to be asked of the Scottish Government on Wednesday afternoon, about whether the Lord Advocate “was consulted about the letter from the Crown Office to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body in relation to the evidence from Alex Salmond published by the Parliament”.

The call was echoed by the Scottish Conservatives, who have also urged the current First Minister to publish her submission to the separate investigation into whether she broke the ministerial code.

Party leader Douglas Ross said: “The SNP government and the Crown Office are shutting down scrutiny at every turn.

“The Lord Advocate must face Parliament to explain why the Crown Office are strong-arming parliament and suppressing evidence – not to protect victims’ identities – but to protect Nicola Sturgeon.

“The First Minister broke cover this week in a panic to demand Alex Salmond bring forward his evidence, only for the Crown Office to shut it down.

“If she won’t release her own evidence on ministerial code breaches, she’s a hypocrite and, once again, she’s trying to dodge scrutiny.”

The Scottish Government and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service have been contacted for comment.


Police issue 500 Covid travel fines in three months

People in poorer areas and those with criminal records were more likely to be fined for breaking restrictions, report finds.

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People with criminal records were also more likely to be caught out and handed a FPN.

More than 500 fines for breaching Covid-19 travel restrictions were handed out by police in the last three months.

A report to the Scottish Police Authority found those in poorer areas and with criminal records were more likely to have to pay-up for rule-breaking.

The review on the use of temporary coronavirus law enforcement powers showed levels of inequality in the numbers of fixed penalty notices (FPNs) issued.

The report read: “Some individuals are feckless or careless, and some transgress through genuine confusion, albeit the persistently large number of unlawful house gatherings may be hard to excuse in that way.

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“Some, especially when it comes to self-isolation, may simply be unable to adhere to requirements due to financial or other need which continues in many cases to go unmet and unsupported.”

University of Edinburgh Professor Susan McVie’s latest data report showed that people living in the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods of Scotland were more than 11 times more likely to receive a Covid fine than those on the opposite end of the scale.

People with criminal records were also more likely to be caught out and handed a FPN.

Professor McVie said the prevalence of those with criminal histories suggests that a better understanding of their behaviors and experiences is needed.

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Between November 20 and February 14, officers made 2033 interventions relating to Covid travel restrictions, including issuing 532 FPNs.

More than 10% of people who were fined once received an additional ticket.

The highest single FPN value given out in Scotland was £480, the maximum possible is £960.

The report found the data suggested “there was a small core of individuals who repeatedly breached the regulations”.

The report said: “These findings do reflect an additional degree of inequality in the way the pandemic was experienced amongst some people who live in communities that are already typified by poorer health, economic, educational and environmental outcomes.”

Women and older people living in deprived areas were also more likely to receive FPNs according to the data, but that it was not possible to explain the pattern of why some groups received fines more often than others.

During the first lockdown, the majority of FPN recipients were young men, and most of the individuals who were fined had prior criminal records.

Fund for workers ‘fallen through cracks’ plagued by issues

The £6m pot is to help support newly self-employed people and those who have mobile and home-based close contact businesses.

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Finance secretary Kate Forbes said those affected by the glitch were contacted quickly.

Two new Covid-19 funds intended to support those not eligible for previous grants have been plagued by issues.

The mobile and home-based close contact business fund and a second run of the newly self-employed fund opened last week but a glitch saw some applications automatically rejected – without any appeal process available.

The Scottish Government said that the technical issue affected a small number of people but other business owners and self-employed people claimed there were more problems with accessing the funds.

When the online form was completed it was not possible to read the submission to check it over meaning typos and other minor errors led to applications being rejected.

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James Moffat, a driving instructor in Glasgow, said: “This fund is meant to help people that have fallen through the cracks.

“I was really, really disappointed, to be honest I felt a wee bit sick.

“I’ve been waiting and hoping, when Kate Forbes made the announcement in December, that there was going to be something to help driving instructors.”

Mr Moffat was told his application was rejected because his identity could not be authenticated despite him submitting all of the correct information, he said.

‘Putting out a statement saying we’ve been contact when we haven’t makes people panic, thinking we’ve been overlooked.’

James Moffat
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“This is what’s going to keep my business going, without this I can’t make the payments for my overheads,” he told STV.

The Scottish Government said more than 10,000 applications had been successfully received and 1500 were already approved.

Finance secretary Kate Forbes wrote on Twitter that all those unfairly rejected due to the system glitch had been contacted.

But, she said: “The vast majority of rejections are due to authenticating bank details. It is extremely important that you read the application guidance in advance and submit the right bank details for the right period.”

Mr Moffat believes he was unfairly rejected and said he has had no contact.

He said: “Putting out a statement saying we’ve been contact when we haven’t makes people panic, thinking we’ve been overlooked.”

A letter from Forbes to parliamentary colleagues said that those whose applications were affected by technical or minor errors were being identified and proactively contacted to offer them the opportunity to reapply.

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The £60m fund, which opened on February 16, closes for applications on March 16 and makes grants of £4000 available to people who have been unable to work or run their businesses due to the pandemic.

The cash has been made available to support hairdressers, driving instructors, make-up artists and recently self-employed people, many of whom were ineligible for the UK Government grants or funds released last year.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The Scottish Conservatives have received lots of reports that people cannot access this fund and have been wrongly rejected.

“Far from dealing with the problem, the SNP’s response is beyond a joke. To try and blame the people applying for grants is woeful when the failure is all their own.

“We’re used to seeing the SNP try to shift the blame but that’s usually onto other governments, not onto the public.

“People deserve a lot better than having to trawl Twitter for information, only for the finance secretary to talk down to them, as if they’re making up these problems.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “More than 10,400 applications have been received across both funds. Almost 1500 applications have been approved so far, with applicants receiving almost £6m in support since both schemes launched one week ago.

“We acted on early feedback to resolve the identified systems issues – which we know are significant for the individuals involved – and we will continue to monitor and review the situation. Where system errors have been identified, applicants have been given an opportunity to reapply again.

“The application process balances the need to mitigate against fraud with simplicity, to ensure appropriate governance is in place for public funds.

“We urge anyone planning to apply for either of these funds to read the guidance on Find Business Support carefully and watch the support video beforehand to ensure that all details entered are correct and fully up to date.”

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