House parties are causing concern in the bid to contain the spread of coronavirus in Scotland, the First Minister confirmed.
Nicola Sturgeon pleaded with people to follow rules relating to indoor meetings, which say no more than eight people from a maximum of three households should gather inside.
She said house parties “present a considerable risk” in the fight to prevent the virus getting out of control.
Speaking at the daily briefing, she said: “I’ve spoken in recent days about the particular risks in pubs and restaurants and the need for hospitality generally to abide strictly by the rules and I want to reemphasise that today.
“But I also want today to express another concern and the basis for this concern is coming through our data now, just as concern about hospitality is, and that is a concern about house parties.
“I want to stress that these present a considerable risk so please stick to the rules about indoor household gatherings, no more than eight people from a max of three different households should be gathering outdoors.
“Apart from children under 12, people from different households must stay two metres apart from each other and you must wash hands and hard surfaces regularly.”
It comes as another 47 cases of coronavirus have been identified in Scotland in the last 24 hours.
Twenty-six of these new cases are in the Grampian health board area, ten are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde and three in Orkney.
Sturgeon warned people the virus will spread if they do not continue to follow government guidelines.
She added: “I can’t make this point strongly enough. These rules should not be seen as optional, they are absolutely vital.
“The bottom line here is if these rules are not complied with strictly, this virus is going to spread and we have evidence of that already.”
Another 41 people with coronavirus have died in Scotland, as East Lothian remained the only area to change restriction levels in the latest review.
The local authority moved from level three to level two on Tuesday morning, but Midlothian, where businesses had been hopeful of a change, will stay in level three.
Concern had been expressed about a rise in cases of the virus and test positivity rates there over the last week.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in the Scottish Parliament: “With the exception of East Lothian, which this morning moved from level three to level four, I can confirm that the Scottish Government is not proposing any changes to the levels that currently apply to each local authority area.
“The latest data shows that across the whole country and within most local authority areas, the restrictions in place are having an impact.
“The number of new cases across the country has stabilised in recent weeks… We now have grounds for cautious optimism that numbers may be declining.”
The R number now stands somewhere between 0.8 and one, the First Minister added.
Currently, 11 council areas are at level four – the highest tier of restrictions – and will remain there until December 11.
Clackmannanshire and Perth and Kinross are being monitored closely due to a rise in cases.
Scotland moved into a five-tier alert system at the beginning of the month in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in high-prevalence areas but allow more freedom in places with fewer cases.
Here is a full list of where each council area sits in the system:
No local authority has been placed at level zero..
Level one Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highland, Moray, Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands.
Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Dumfries and Galloway, East Lothian, Scottish Borders.
Angus, Clackmannanshire, Dundee City, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Inverclyde, Midlothian, North Ayrshire, Perth and Kinross.
East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow City, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian.
There were 833 probable suicides in Scotland last year, figures show, as a prevention charity called for urgent action.
Samaritans Scotland said every one of the deaths was “a devastating loss”, as the figure rose from 784 in 2018.
Of the total, 620 were men and 213 women, with the overall suicide rate increasing to 15.5 deaths per 100,000 – the highest rate since 2013.
Suicide rates peak among those aged 45 to 54 but the rate among young people, aged 14 to 25, increased for the second consecutive year.
Samaritans Scotland, who provide free 24/7 help to those in distress, said the data was a powerful reminder of the urgent need to continue to improve suicide prevention support.
Rachel Cackett, executive director of Samaritans Scotland, said: “Every single one of the 833 deaths by suicide in 2019 represents a devastating loss with far-reaching consequences for family, friends and communities.
“It’s particularly concerning to see rates of suicide increase for almost all age groups and for rates among young people under 25 continuing to rise this year.
“And, as in previous years, people living in the most deprived communities in Scotland continue to be around three times more likely to take their own life, compared to those living in the wealthiest communities.”
The data published on Tuesday covers 2019 only, with the charity saying it is still “too early” to know the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Cackett added: “By taking action, here and now, to renew and redouble their commitment to suicide prevention, government and services can help to reduce future risk.”
Rose Fitzpatrick, chair of the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group, said: “Suicide is a complex issue and one which, as the 6% increase reported today (following a 15% increase in 2018) shows all too clearly, continues to challenge us in Scotland and elsewhere to do more to support the wellbeing, mental health and life circumstances of those at risk.”
Ms Fitzpatrick added: “Today’s news shows that now more than ever we need to encourage people of all ages to talk about suicide, to be able to ask for help and to feel confident to give help when it is needed”
Over the last five years in Scotland, 3697 people took their own life. Samaritans provides free anonymous and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said the figures for 2019 were “devastating”.
He added: “More than two people a day, young and old, are dying by suicide. Hundreds of families have had their world turned upside down.”
Scottish Greens health spokeswoman Alison Johnstone said: “These distressing statistics reveal that more than two people took their own lives each day in 2019.
“My thoughts go out to all those whose lives have been impacted by this tragedy, but of course condolences are not enough. This devastating loss of life shows the urgent need for the Scottish Government to improve access to mental health services.”
You can contact Samaritans by phone on 116 123 or visit here to find your nearest branch.
In what will be a world first, legislation granting universal access to sanitary products is set to be passed in Scotland later today.
MSPs are due to vote on the landmark bill, following a three-year campaign to bring it into law.
It’s hoped the new measures will go some way towards tackling period poverty, as well as addressing the stigma and taboo which has traditionally surrounded menstruation.
Kerry Wright from Aberdeen has first-hand experience of having to go without.
“I was raised in a household where there was very little income, and what income there was, it wasn’t prioritised to the children,” she said.
“Often when my period did appear I was using socks, toilet roll, whatever I could get a hold of, just to help with the flow of bleeding.
“I would miss school because I didn’t want to go out if I didn’t have materials to use. It was quite a shameful experience. It was embarrassing.”
Three years ago the CFINE food bank in the city where Kerry now works was involved in a Scottish Government pilot project, handing out tampons and sanitary pads to girls and women from income families.
Following its success, legislation expected to be passed in parliament will create a universal scheme, making such products freely available to anyone who needs them.
The move is being welcomed by schoolgirls at St Paul’s High School in Glasgow.
They’ve made it their mission to educate fellow pupils on menstruation.
“We speak to the younger girls in school to let them know we have products in the school and to spread awareness on what period equity is,” said Caitlin Grimley
“We don’t have to treat it as a luxury item anymore, and society can hopefully get on the path of making sure that it’s a need and not a want,” added Aimee Chadha.
“It happens, it’s completely normal and it’s not something that people should be scared to talk about and it’s something that needs to be talked more about because half the population go through it,” said Erin McGunnigle.
‘If the Scottish Parliament passes this bill we will be the first country in the world to have legislation that provides products of this nature to everyone who needs them so it really is a game changer.’
Monica Lennon MSP
Sanitary products are currently free at schools, colleges and universities across Scotland.
But today’s bill places a legal duty on ministers to ensure anyone can access them at many different locations.
Healthcare workers are also among those supporting it, like consultant Rosie Baruah.
“Given that so many of NHS employees are female and given the nature of the shifts that we work, I think it is something that health boards should feel is an obligation to their employees,” she said.
“They need to make sure that they’re not put in the position where on top of everything else we deal with we’re also having to worry about bleeding through our clothes in the middle of a busy shift.”
The bill was put forward by MSP Monica Lennon, who believes Scotland is leading the way in tackling period poverty.
“If the Scottish Parliament passes this bill we will be the first country in the world to have legislation that provides products of this nature to everyone who needs them so it really is a game changer, who believes Scotland is leading the way in tackling period poverty.
“I think it’s really significant. This is the first legislation of its kind. If the Scottish Parliament passes this bill we will be the first country in the world to have legislation that provides products of this nature to everyone who needs them so it really is a game changer in that respect,” she said.
“As well as access to period products, there’s been a wider conversation about menstrual wellbeing and the importance of having early education for both boys and girls, and to make sure that products are there for everyone who needs them including trans and non binary people too, so I think this does break down many barriers.”
Kerry says if the bill is passed, it will ensure her own daughter doesn’t have the same experience she did.
“I get very emotional about it, because it was such a big issue for me as a teenage girl,” she said.
“My little girl will now grow up in a world or in a country where sanitary products are given as standard. They’re free, accessible and she can access them wherever she needs to or needs them.
“The fact that we now have sanitary products that will be available free of charge and accessible in multiple different places is wonderful.”
No ‘reasonable jury’ would have convicted Lockerbie bomber
Former Libyan intelligence officer Megrahi was found guilty of mass murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 27 years.
No reasonable jury could have convicted the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi of the Lockerbie bombing, appeal court judges have heard.
The bombing of Pan Am flight 103, travelling from London to New York on December 21 1988, killed 270 people in Britain’s largest terrorist atrocity.
Former Libyan intelligence officer Megrahi, who was found guilty in 2001 of mass murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 27 years, was the only person convicted of the attack.
A third appeal against his conviction began at the High Court in Edinburgh on Tuesday.
Claire Mitchell QC, representing the Megrahi family, said the original trial court agreed the disaster was caused by the explosion of an improvised explosive device in a Toshiba cassette player.
It was in a brown Samsonite suitcase along with various items of clothing that were bought at Mary’s House in Malta.
The court heard that during the trial, shopkeeper Tony Gauci gave evidence that a man resembling Megrahi had purchased the items of clothing at his store.
She said the Crown case in the original trial was that the suitcase was loaded on to flight KM180 at Luqa airport, Malta, which flew to Frankfurt.
The bag was then transferred to a feeder flight for Pan Am 103 from London and on to that flight itself.
She said the Crown case did not establish how the suitcase, referred to as the “primary suitcase” was loaded on to the flight from Malta.
Ms Mitchell said: “The absence of any other explanation of the method by which a primary suitcase might have been placed on board KM180 is a major difficulty for the Crown case and one which has to be considered along with the rest of the circumstantial evidence.
“That is a critical issue because I say in this case that the way in which that major difficulty was overcome was by the court making the finding that on December 7 the appellant (Megrahi) purchased the clothing, which was found in the suitcase containing the bomb.”
Appeal judges heard the trial court found the reliable parts of Mr Gauci’s evidence were the person who purchased the clothes was Libyan and the clothes were bought from his shop.
The High Court heard on Tuesday that Mr Gauci said Megrahi resembled the buyer but did not make an unequivocal identification.
Ms Mitchell said there were questions over whether the date of the purchase was December 7 1988, a date when the Crown could prove that Megrahi was in Malta, or a different date.
She suggested the evidence did not reach the necessary base level of quality. The QC told the court: “It is submitted in this case that no reasonable jury, properly directed, could have returned the verdict that it did, namely the conviction of Mr Megrahi.”
An appeal against Megrahi’s conviction was lodged after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred the case to the High Court in March, ruling a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
Judges then granted his son, Ali al-Megrahi, permission to proceed with the appeal in relation to the argument that “no reasonable jury” could have returned the verdict the court did, and on the grounds of non-disclosure of documents by the Crown.
The appeal, which is taking place virtually, began on Tuesday and is being heard before five judges including Lord President Lord Carloway.
Megrahi’s first appeal against his conviction was refused by the High Court in 2002 and was referred back five years later following an SCCRC review.
He abandoned this second appeal in 2009, shortly before his release from prison on compassionate grounds while terminally ill with cancer. Megrahi returned to Libya and died in 2012.
Few changes are expected to Scotland’s local coronavirus alert levels following a review on Tuesday.
Nicola Sturgeon is due to make a statement to the Scottish Parliament at 2.20pm after a cabinet meeting, however the First Minister already signalled that she does not expect there to be “much, if any, change”.
At the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 briefing on Monday, Sturgeon said the “overwhelming majority” of local authority areas will remain at their current level, however East Lothian will move down from level three to two.
Midlothian was also due to move down, but is now expected to remain at level three due to concerns about a rise in cases in recent days.
Acknowledging the move would be “disappointing” for those living in Midlothian, the First Minister added it was “better than moving the area down a level only to possibly to have to move it back up again in a week’s time”.
She added: “What we are seeking to do with the level system is get as much stability as possible for people and for businesses.”
Currently, 11 council areas are at level four – the highest tier of restrictions for Scotland.
This status – which affects more than two million people – is due to continue until at least December 11.
Scotland moved into a five-tier system of localised restrictions earlier this month in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly virus in high-prevalence areas but allowing more freedom in places with fewer cases.
On Monday, Sturgeon said coronavirus “won’t take Christmas off”, however talks are being held to ease the restrictions over the festive period.
Sturgeon confirmed discussions were held on Saturday with the UK Government and devolved nations in regards to a four-nation approach to the rules over Christmas, but stated that no agreement had been made.
The First Minister said she hopes to confirm the festive rules and precautions later this week, but there are no plans to ease the regulations over New Year.
Sturgeon said the “slight and careful” easing of the rules will likely feature extended household bubbles for a short period of time to combat isolation and loneliness.
Sex offender who raped woman jailed for five years
Man, 38, jailed for five years after sex crimes against women.
A man who repeatedly raped a sleeping woman at a house in Dundee has been jailed for five years.
Gavin Cooper, 38, went on to commit sex crimes against two other women, including uploading explicit footage to a social media site.
A judge told Cooper at the High Court in Edinburgh: “Your behaviour is plainly abusive of women and demonstrates in all their cases a callous disregard for their privacy, private space and their bodies.”
Judge Norman McFadyen said the rape offence was the most serious but Cooper’s other crimes disclosed “a troubling attitude towards women”.
He said: “I accept you have been acquitted of some of the most serious charges against you but you remain convicted of serious charges against three different women.”
He added it was clear that a custodial sentence was required to deal with Cooper, who followed the sentencing proceedings by a video link to Perth prison.
Judge McFadyen also ordered that Cooper be kept under supervision for a further three years and warned that if he failed to comply with conditions his licence could be revoked.
Cooper had originally faced a total of 23 charges and denied the offending during an earlier trial.
He was found guilty of raping one woman on various occasions between December 2010 and June 2015.
He was also convicted of sexually assaulting a second sleeping woman by touching her thigh, breasts and privates at a hotel in Edinburgh on August 5 in 2018.
He was further convicted of sending explicit images and video footage of a further woman to her and another woman in Dundee in January last year.
Cooper was also found guilty of sending footage of the woman engaged in intercourse to her and another female and uploading it to the YouTube website with the intention to cause her fear, alarm or distress in January last year.
Defence counsel Jonathan Crowe said that Cooper continued to deny the offences, but respected the decision of the jury at his trial.
He said the self employed electrician had worked both in this country and abroad and was set to go to Amsterdam for a contract when he was detained last year.
Mr Crowe said his previous offending did not have a sexual element and added: “He has never previously received a custodial sentence.”
Cooper was told that he would be placed on the sex offenders’ register indefinitely.
Public sector pay will dominate post-pandemic politics
The Chancellor will outline his spending plans for the next 12 months on Wednesday.
As the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak prepares to deliver his spending review on Wednesday, already there is a looming fight over public sector pay that could dominate the politics of the post-pandemic landscape.
Before addressing that issue, let’s look at some of the big picture issues that condition what the Chancellor can and cannot do.
When he presented his pre-lockdown budget in March, he told MPs that government borrowing this year would be £55bn. In fact, it is on course to be over £350 billion, an eye watering 17% of GDP. And that’s before we get to the issue of public sector net debt which will top two trillion pounds.
Look out this week for the update from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) who are likely to conclude that the UK economy is likely to shrink by more than 10% this year.
The statement will cover spending in the next financial year and will not detail plans for a three or four-year cycle as is normally the case. That’s probably wise.
The final bills associated with Covid are not yet known and he does not want to commit to future spending which may have to be reviewed depending on how the pandemic ends and the new normal settles.
We know defence spending will rise and in all likelihood there will be a squeeze on the overseas aid budget. More details will be given on infrastructure spending and there will be more money for the NHS and education in England which will trigger more resources for Scotland through the Barnett Formula.
What is less clear is what will happen to spending outwith NHS money. In the decade to 2019/20, that was cut in real terms by 20% as austerity became the policy choice to deal with the 2008 post-crash structural deficit.
Some services were cut to the bone long ago, so the scope for further cuts must be limited almost certainly pointing to a longer term policy of tax rises.
Those are for another day and another tax year or two. Taking money out of the economy now would be self-defeating. The only issues over tax increases centre on timing and which taxes he decides to put up.
The big strategic question for this week is what the measures taken together tell us about the direction of travel of the Chancellor.
Sunak looks like he is speaking in forked tongue. This will not be austerity, he declared yesterday as he toured the TV studios and yet he has been clear there will be a need for restraint.
His Sunday interviews were an exercise in saying little, with onlookers being left to decode on the basis of what was left unsaid or by how quickly he deflected an issue by answering a question he wasn’t asked.
The elephant in the room is public sector pay. In 2019/20, the UK Government spent £204bn on the salaries of 5.4 million public servants. Those same people saw a real-terms decrease in their spending power as over the previous decade they were made to pay for the failings of the banks.
Little wonder that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has concluded: “Relative to pay in the private sector, public sector pay has fallen to its lowest levels in decades likely exacerbating difficulties with recruitment and retention.”
Now, public sector pay in Scotland is largely a matter for the Holyrood administration, but what happens in England is important since it affects the ability of minsters here to fund more generous pay settlements.
If spending on NHS workers and teachers in England rises, so too does the budget for those services, which in turn triggers more money for ministers here to follow suit.
Conversely, pay restraint in England limits the growth of money that could come here and by default means the Scottish finance secretary would have to raid budgets to fund higher wage demands.
The Chancellor cannot have it both ways. He can’t argue that austerity is dead and at the same time cut in real terms the wages of workers who have already seen living standards squeezed.
If NHS staff in England are exempted from either a pay freeze or a below inflation cap as rumoured, then he will create a hierarchy of entitlement something that the trade unions can never accept since it views some workers as more deserving than others.
The consequence of further restraint will be strike ballots fuelled by a burning sense of injustice that having paid for the folly of the banks workers are now being asked to pay for a pandemic.
If the Scottish Government follow suit then they will have to explain their position during the Holyrood election campaign next April.
Unions are circling and they are angry. 2021 could well see a summer of discontent.
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