Call for Sturgeon to resign over Salmond evidence

The government published legal advice on the Salmond judicial review on Tuesday.

Former first minister Alex Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon. STV News
Former first minister Alex Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon is facing calls to resign after fresh questions were raised about her role in the Alex Salmond affair.

The Scottish Government has published legal advice related to its botched investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against the former first minister.

It showed the government continued the legal fight despite being advised there was a “real risk” it would lose.

The failed action eventually cost taxpayers around £600,000.

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Meanwhile, further witness statements released by a Holyrood inquiry have raised questions over Sturgeon’s version of events.

The First Minister is due to give evidence to MSPs on Wednesday, however the Scottish Tories said they would now submit a motion of no confidence her.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Credible witnesses have now backed up Alex Salmond’s claims and the legal advice shows the government knew months in advance that the judicial review was doomed but they still went on to waste more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money.

“There is no longer any doubt that Nicola Sturgeon lied to the Scottish Parliament and broke the ministerial code on numerous counts.”

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He added: “The weight of the evidence is overwhelming. Nicola Sturgeon must resign.

“We will be submitting a vote of no confidence in the First Minister.”

Responding to Conservatives’ statement, a spokesperson for the First Minister said: “The First Minister will address all of the issues raised – and much more besides – at the committee tomorrow, while the independent adviser on the ministerial code will report in due course.  

“But to call a vote of no confidence in the middle of a pandemic, before hearing a single word of the First Minister’s evidence, is utterly irresponsible. 

“It is for the public to decide who they want to govern Scotland and – while we continue to fight the Covid pandemic – with the election campaign starting in just 20 days, that is precisely what they will be able to do.”

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.

Redacted legal advice published by the Scottish Government on Tuesday evening showed that lawyers advised them in September 2018 that there “is a real risk that the court may be persuaded by the petitioner’s case in respect of the ground of challenge based on ‘procedural unfairness’.”

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On December 6, 2018 legal advisers told ministers that in their view the “least worst option” would be to concede the petition.

They wrote: “We understand how unpalatable that advice will be, and we do not tender it lightly.

“But we cannot let the respondents sail forth into January’s hearing without the now very real risks of doing so being crystal clear to all concerned.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the published legal advice showed the Scottish Government were right to carry on with their legal action.

He said: “Today the Scottish Government has taken the exceptional step of releasing key legal advice.

“We have done this in recognition of the overwhelming public interest in rebutting the false allegations made about the advice informing decision-making in the judicial review.

“These documents are clear. Our legal advice was optimistic about the government’s prospects for success at the start. It became gradually but progressively less optimistic over time.

“It was only in December that the advice concluded that our case was no longer stateable and we should concede. Indeed, as late as December 11, ministers were advised that we should continue.

“Within a matter of days of being advised that the case was no stateable, we have taken the decision to concede. That was right and proper.

“Significantly, however, this comprehensively disproves claims that we had continued the case in defiance of legal advice. That is categorically untrue and these documents put that beyond doubt.”

Scottish Labour said the published legal advice showed the government’s handling of the complaints had been “indefensible”.

Deputy lead Jackie Bailie said: “The Scottish Government’s unlawful handling of harassment complaints appears to be indefensible, and I look forward to having the opportunity to question the First Minister on the failings of her government.”

Sturgeon has repeatedly denied breaching the ministerial code over the Salmond saga.


Coronavirus: Majority of high school pupils return full-time

Secondary schools across Scotland start back on Monday morning following the Easter holidays.

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Coronavirus: The majority of schools return on April 19.

The majority of secondary school pupils in Scotland are returning to the classroom full-time on Monday.

Most primary and high schools across the country start back on April 19 following the Easter holidays.

High school pupils will no longer have to adhere to two-metre social distancing rules but other mitigations have been strengthened to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Face masks must be worn in all areas – classrooms, corridors and communal areas. This applies to S1-S3 pupils – not just those in the senior phase of their school education (S4-S6) – unless medically exempt.

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Furthermore, twice-weekly lateral flow tests are available for all secondary school pupils.

Pupils in Aberdeen, Fife, Dumfries and Galloway, Moray, Shetland and the Western Isles returned to the classroom last week on April 12.

Those in Edinburgh and Midlothian council areas are set to go back on Tuesday, April 20.

Only pupils who are shielding will have to wait longer until they can resume face-to-face lessons.

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Earlier this month, Nicola Sturgeon said the decision to return to in-person, full-time learning would be “a huge relief” to many children and parents.

The First Minister acknowledged that there would be some “concern and anxiety” about the move, but said safety would be “paramount”.

Scotland’s primary pupils returned to class full-time in stages during February and March, while most high school students were seeing teachers in-person on a part-time basis.

This year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled, with results being awarded instead through coursework and assessments.

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Parties warned against raising ‘unrealistic expectations’ for NHS

Leading doctors said they had a 'real concern' about some of the promises political parties are making.

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Party promises: Doctors said they had a 'real concern'.

Politicians may be “raising unrealistic public expectations” about the amount of work the NHS in Scotland can do after the coronavirus pandemic, leading doctors have warned.

While the future of the health service is a key battleground in the run up to next month’s Holyrood election, doctors said they had a “real concern” about some of the promises parties are making.

Dr Lewis Morrison, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland spoke out along with Dr Miles Mack, the chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland, also known as the Scottish Academy.

Noting that many health workers were “suffering the physical and mental impact” of working throughout the pandemic, they also called for an increased in staffing.

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Their comments come as the Scottish Conservatives promised a one-off £600m boost to to help the NHS tackle the “treatment log-jam” that has built up during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, if the SNP is re-elected its leader Nicola Sturgeon has promised work to raise NHS in-patient, day-case and out-patient activity to 10% above pre-pandemic levels within one year.

But in a joint statement Dr Morrison and Dr Mack said: “There is real concern that political parties are raising unrealistic public expectations of the potential activity of NHS in Scotland in the run up to the Holyrood election, without establishing how to create the capacity to deliver on these promises, especially in the timescales being talked about.”

The medical experts said they both fully supported “the need to urgently address the healthcare needs of patients whose assessment, investigation or treatment may have been paused or delayed as a result of the pandemic”, insisting the health service would be “continuing to do our very best to do this”.

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But they added: “This needs to be supported by an increase in capacity and workforce.

“And we cannot ignore the health and wellbeing of NHS staff who are already under severe pressure due to Covid-19 and suffering the physical and mental impact that this has had.

“In the final weeks of campaigning and when the new Scottish Government is formed, communication with the public must be realistic, and the delivery of services must be balanced with our current capacity and developed in association with NHS Scotland, the BMA, the Scottish Academy and Royal Colleges and other organisations in a position to advise on what is achievable.”


Coronavirus: No further deaths as 211 new cases recorded

The Scottish Government also confirmed that 2,744,231 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

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

There have been 211 new cases of Covid-19 recorded in the last 24 hours, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

However, there have been no new deaths from people who have tested positive for the virus.

The death toll of those who tested positive 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 1.6%, up from the 1.2% reported on Saturday.

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The Scottish Government also confirmed that 2,744,231 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

A total of 738,420 people have received their second dose.


Union starts whisky firm strike ballot over pay freeze

GMB Scotland has accused Chivas Brothers of 'corporate greed' attempts to impose a pay freeze.

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Pay row: A union has started balloting whisky workers at Chivas Brothers over strike action.

A union has started balloting whisky workers at Chivas Brothers over strike action in response to “corporate greed” attempts to impose a pay freeze.

GMB Scotland said the Chivas parent company Pernod Ricard had awarded pay rises to its workers in France earlier this year.

Discussions between the union and the employer took place earlier this month through Acas – however GMB said these talks collapsed when management suggested they were unwilling to lift the pay freeze.

The ballot runs until Monday May 10, with industrial action potentially impacting the company’s Scottish operations as early as the end of that month.

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GMB Scotland represents workers across its Scottish sites, including at Kilmalid bottling hall, Strathclyde Grain Distillery, The Glenlivet Distillery, and maturation sites in Speyside, Clydebank and Ayrshire.

Union organiser Keir Greenaway said: “Despite the many challenges that have faced the whisky industry over the past year, from Brexit to the US tariffs and through a global pandemic, the efforts of Chivas workers in Scotland have kept the profits rolling in for Pernod Ricard.

“These pay negotiations were an opportunity for the company to reward the workers for their substantial efforts with a pay offer that reflects the value of their contribution to the success of the business.

“It’s not right that Chivas workers in Scotland should be treated like second-class citizens, taking real-terms cuts to their pay while their Pernod Ricard colleagues in France have rightly been awarded a pay rise.

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“This is about standing up to corporate greed in the fight for proper value, and that’s why we are now balloting our members for industrial action.”

As well as its namesake products, the company produces brands including Ballantine’s, Glenlivet, Royal Salute and Aberlour.

In a statement to the PA news agency, Chivas Brothers chairman and chief executive Jean-Christophe Coutures said: “We deeply value the hard work and commitment of our teams during this crisis, and we are proud that we have been able to navigate these unprecedented times while maintaining 100% of jobs and salaries.

“Like many others, the Covid-19 crisis has negatively impacted our business – and the wider Scotch whisky industry.

“We are the most affected business in Pernod Ricard and the export value of the Scotch whisky sector fell £1.1bn last year, its lowest level since 2010.

“In order to protect our long-term resilience while the crisis is ongoing, we took the difficult decision to implement a salary freeze across the entire business for the past financial year.

“However we have been in constructive discussions with our unions for many months to find alternative ways to reward our teams, and we believe our proposals recognise their continued hard work and dedication.

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“We are extremely disappointed that our latest offers – which have included guaranteed pay increases in 2021 and 2022 – have been rejected.”


Tories pledge £600m to clear NHS backlog in manifesto launch

Douglas Ross is promising a one-off boost to deal with the backlog exacerbated by the pandemic.

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Tories: £600m fund would help clear NHS backlog.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross will pledge a £600m fund to help clear the NHS treatment backlog as the party launches its manifesto on Monday.

The Tories are promising a one-off boost of £600m, managed by an independent task force rather than government, to deal with the backlog exacerbated by the pandemic.

They say this is on top of the extra £2bn they have already pledged for the NHS over the course of the next parliament.

The Tories say the task force should be led by clinicians and focus on making sure those with the greatest need are treated first.

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Ross is due to launch the manifesto in Glasgow on Monday, setting out plans for 15 Bills during the next session of the Scottish Parliament.

Speaking ahead of the launch, he said: “Unlike the SNP, we are not setting out a fantasy wish list. Their manifesto could easily cost in excess of £100bn in a single year.

“The Scottish Conservatives fully-costed manifesto will focus on what matters most – rebuilding our economy and our NHS after the Covid pandemic.

“Treatment times were already too long under the SNP and Covid has turned a problem into a crisis.”

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He continued: “It may require difficult choices and sacrifices in some other portfolios but we will be advocating for £600m of targeted support to tackle the treatment logjam.

“This one-off cash injection, over and above our plans to increase the health budget by at least £2bn, would give a task force of clinicians the resources they need to get treatment times under control.

“While the SNP spend the next 12 months focussing on how to get another independence referendum, the Scottish Conservatives would fixate on substantially reducing treatment wait times by the end of next year.”

Commenting ahead of the Conservatives’ manifesto launch, SNP depute leader Keith Brown said the Tories’ opposition to a second independence referendum showed the “weakness of their position”.

He said: “The Tory strategy for trying to block a referendum on independence is utterly undemocratic.

“It’s clear that Douglas Ross and his party have no route through the pandemic, no vision for recovery, no ambition, no intention of setting out a detailed plan on how they would run Scotland and offer no leadership.

“That is irresponsible and disrespectful to voters, who deserve better from the Tories than a long list of things they are against and virtually nothing about what they are for.

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“That lack of clarity betrays the weakness of their position, and their panicked obsession with the SNP shows they are running scared of the verdict of the people of Scotland in this election.”


UK scientists ‘must learn’ about Indian Covid variant

Seventy-seven cases have been detected in the UK, including four in Scotland and 73 in England.

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Scientists urged to speed up Indian variant analysis.

UK scientists must urgently learn as much as possible about the Indian Covid-19 variant, a leading epidemiologist has warned.

Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said as much information about the new variant must be gathered “as quickly as possible”.

He said: “What’s concerning about the Indian variant is there appear to be two mutations which… may make the vaccines less effective, and may make the virus more transmissible.”

According to the latest update, 77 confirmed cases of the B.1.617 variant, which was first discovered in India, have been detected in the UK, including four in Scotland and 73 in England.

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However, UK environment secretary George Eustice said there is no evidence that the Indian variant of coronavirus is able to “get around” the vaccine.

He said: “The last I think I saw… there were around 70 cases. But I think I’ve seen lots of different numbers on different variants – you’ll appreciate, there is quite a few – so it is a fairly small number at the moment. But it is something that we are watching.

“I’m told that there is no evidence at the moment that this particular variant is able to get around the vaccine, for instance, or indeed that it is necessarily more contagious than the others,” he told Sky News On Sunday.

Dr Hopkins, chief medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace added: “We have seen a couple of cases [of the Indian variant] that haven’t arisen from travel but we’re still trying to undergo the investigations to look in great detail at where they might have acquired it from.

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“To escalate it up the ranking we need to know that it is increased transmissibility, increased severity or vaccine evading, and we just don’t have that yet.”


‘Life is on hold’: Mum’s plea two years on from son’s murder

Tony Ferns died after being assaulted in his Audi A3 in Thornliebank during 2019.

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Appeal: Tony Ferns died with his mother Phyllis watching on.

A mother has said her “life is on hold” as she made an appeal for information two years on from her son’s murder in Glasgow.

Tony Ferns was in his Audi A3 in Crebar Street, Thornliebank, on Thursday April 18, 2019, when a man approached and assaulted him.

The 33-year-old managed to make it home with serious injuries to Roukenburn Street, where paramedics fought to save his life.

However Mr Ferns died with his mother Phyllis watching on.

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A murder inquiry was launched and more than 600 people have been spoken to as officers examined thousands of hours of CCTV footage.

Two years on, his mother has appealed to members of the public for help, saying: “I cannot believe it is now two years since my son Tony was brutally murdered and taken away from me forever.

“My life is on hold. I have not been able to move on or accept the fact I won’t see my boy again.

“I need closure. I need the person or persons responsible to be prosecuted.

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“I appeal and plead with anyone who has any information to contact police or Crimestoppers.”

Crimestoppers is also offering a reward of up to £10,000 for information which assists the investigation into Mr Ferns’ murder.

Detective Chief Inspector Gillian Grant, who is now leading the inquiry, said: “I am determined to find whoever is responsible for Tony’s murder. It’s clear he was a much-loved son and partner and is deeply missed by his family.

“I am convinced there are people out there who have information, vital to this investigation, who have failed to come forward.

“This may be down to fear or some misplaced loyalty to those responsible for this horrific crime, but please do the right thing and contact us, you can be assured your information will be treated in the utmost confidence.

“Phyllis had to watch her son, Tony, suffer and die, something no mother should have to go through.

“Put yourself in her shoes and think how she must feel, does she not deserve to know why her son was murdered and taken from her? Please help us find answers for a mother who deserves to know the truth.”

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Anyone with information is asked to call Police Scotland via 101, quoting incident number 4732 of 18 April 2019, or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where you can give your information anonymously.


Rangers end Celtic’s grip on Scottish Cup with 2-0 win at Ibrox

Steven Gerrard's side continued their dominant domestic form to knock out their rivals.

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Steven Davis opened the scoring with an acrobatic volley.

Rangers have beaten Celtic 2-0 in their Scottish Cup fourth round clash at Ibrox.

Steven Gerrard’s side, who have already clinched the Premiership title this season, are on course for a domestic double while Celtic’s difficult season continues and the Parkhead club lost their grip on the last of the three trophies they were defending from last season.

Rangers went ahead after just ten minutes when an attack on the right saw a cross spin up and into the box. Steven Davis met the ball with an acrobatic volley that Scott Bain couldn’t stop.

Celtic responded with shots from Odsonne Edouard and Callum McGregor but missed a golden chance after 24 minutes. A low cross from the left came into the path of Stephen Welsh right in front of goal but the defender steered it back the way it came when he had the goal at his mercy.

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Rangers went further ahead ten minutes later and the move yet again came down their right flank, with Joe Aribo beating Diego Laxalt before hitting the line and firing in a cross that Jonjoe Kenny knocked into his own net under pressure from Ryan Kent.

After the break David Turnbull tested Allan McGregor with a fierce shot from outside the box as Celtic looked to gain a foothold in the game.

The visitors then had another huge chance when Mohamed Elyounoussi’s shot was blocked by McGregor but spun up and into Odsonne Edouard, who flicked the ball over the bar with the goal gaping.

Rangers had further chances. With Kent and Alfredo Morelos trying to beat Bain in quick succession but Celtic kept them out while pushing for a goal of their own.

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The chance with just over ten minutes to go. Leigh Griffiths, brough on for Ryan Christie, was fouled by Joe Aribo in the box and Celtic had a penalty.

Edouard took responsibility from the spot but McGregor dived to parry away his penalty and complete Celtic’s misery.

Neither side could find a goal in the final minutes and Rangers took victory, and progress to next week’s cup quarter-finals where they will meet St Johnstone.


Sturgeon insists SNP manifesto ‘designed to unite Scotland’

Policy proposals, published this week, set out plans to hold a second vote on Scottish independence by the end of 2023.

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Nicola Sturgeon has insisted the SNP’s election manifesto is designed to 'unite Scotland'.

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted the SNP’s election manifesto is designed to “unite Scotland” as the country looks to recover from coronavirus.

While the policy proposals, published this week, set out plans to hold a second vote on Scottish independence by the end of 2023, it also promised free dental treatment, extended childcare and a “green transport revolution” – including giving bikes to youngsters who could not otherwise afford them.

Sturgeon insisted the manifesto, put forward in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament election on May 6, is the “most bold and ambitious” the SNP has produced.

Her comments came as she urged Scots to vote for her party, “to re-elect me as First Minister and for a serious government which will deliver the fairer and more prosperous Scotland that we all want to see”.

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She vowed that in addition to this she would give “the people of Scotland a choice over their future once the Covid crisis has passed”.

Her political rivals have claimed if the SNP wins a majority in next month’s Holyrood elections, Ms Sturgeon will be focused on independence and not ensuring Scotland recovers from the pandemic.

Speaking about her party’s manifesto, Sturgeon said: “It is designed to unite Scotland around shared goals as we lead the country through the pandemic and into a sustainable recovery.”

The SNP leader stated: “At the heart of our plans is a belief that the recovery must benefit everyone.

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“We cannot simply wind the clock back to 2019 – we must be prepared to make long-term investments which will provide much-needed support to families right now, but will also have long-term benefits for our health and wellbeing.

“I’m proud that the SNP has delivered a massive increase in childcare provision, has rolled out free school meals to all P1 to P3 pupils, abolished prescription charges and introduced the Scottish Child Payment.

“But now is the time to build on these ambitions by going even further.”

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Sturgeon calls for four-nations Covid-19 inquiry this year.

The First Minister also said a four-nations inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic should begin this year.

Sturgeon said she had already committed to an inquiry covering Scotland in 2021, but said a UK-wide inquiry could also look at issues affecting each nation.

The Prime Minister has previously said he supported holding an inquiry into the UK’s response to Covid-19 but a timescale has not yet been set.

The SNP’s election manifesto says there should be a “person-centred” public inquiry that would hear from those who have lost loved ones to the virus.

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Sturgeon said: “I am committed to establishing in Scotland a judge-led public inquiry to examine all aspects of our handling of the pandemic – including the situation in our care homes – and to have this under way before the end of this year.

“This will happen in Scotland whether or not it happens in other parts of the UK.

“However, there is no doubt it would be beneficial to have an inquiry that could look across the four nations as well as at specific issues within each nation – this would help provide answers to families, businesses and all those who have made sacrifices over the last year.

“I hope all governments across the UK will join me in committing to a full public inquiry starting later this year.”


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