Joining the European Union as an independent nation would “put rocket boosters” on Scotland’s coronavirus recovery, a senior SNP MP has claimed.
Alyn Smith, the party’s foreign affairs spokesman, said that currently firms were having to try to survive the Covid-19 pandemic at the same time as coping with the fallout from Brexit.
He told how the decision to leave the EU had caused shortages within the labour market and resulted in empty supermarket shelves across the country.
But Smith said: “Getting back into the European Union would put rocket boosters on our recovery from Covid.”
He added: “We can do better than we are doing right now. Independence in Europe is the answer to the problems that Scotland has.”
His comments came as the former Scottish MEP, who was elected to the House of Commons in 2019, conceded that the SNP had failed in its attempts to stop Brexit.
Recalling his election to Westminster, he said: “I stood in Stirling in 2019 explicitly on a stop Brexit ticket, and we didn’t.”
He told the SNP conference that now “the reality of Brexit is dawning on the people of Scotland on a daily basis”, adding that “it has been a slow-motion trauma, for me personally, but also for Scotland as an economy and a society”.
The Stirling MP continued: “The democratic outrage of what has been done to us against our will is actually a failure on our part, because we didn’t stop Brexit.”
However with the impact of leaving the EU now becoming clearer, he said this was helping convert Scots to independence.
He told SNP supporters: “That reality is moving so many people from scepticism about independence to enthusiasm for independence in Europe.
“Because in the UK – and I see it at Westminster on a daily basis – everybody knows the ship is sinking, everybody knows the captain lies. And we’re just expected to go along with it.”
Four members of the same family are in a serious condition after their home was destroyed by a huge explosion in Ayr.
A mum and dad and their two children were all inside the house when the blast happened on Monday night.
Police said on Tuesday that a 43-year-old woman and a 16-year-old boy are currently being treated at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.
A 47-year-old man has been taken to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and an 11-year-old boy is being cared for at the Royal Hospital for Children.
They all suffered serious injuries during the blast in the Kincaidston area of the town, which was heard for miles around.
The other residents of the houses affected by the blast have all been accounted for.
Drone footage taken on Tuesday morning showed extensive damage to properties in Gorse Park. At least one house has been completely destroyed.
Residents have been evacuated from the area and two rest centres have been set up to assist those affected.
Chief inspector Derrick Johnston, area commander for South Ayrshire, said: “This is a complex incident and a number of different agencies are working together to establish the full circumstances of what happened.
“Our thoughts are with the family and everyone within the local community affected by this. A joint investigation with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is being carried out.
Emergency services were called to the scene on Gorse Park at around 7.10pm on Monday, police said, adding that local road closures were in place and the public were advised to avoid the area.
Councillor Chris Cullen from South Ayrshire Council said: “It’s absolutely devastating what’s happened, it’s not something you expect.
“You come home, you cook your tea and next thing ‘boom’ there’s an explosion beside you. There’s a lot of people who are just totally shook, didn’t know what was happening.”
‘You come home, you cook your tea and next thing ‘boom’ there’s an explosion beside you.’
Councillor Chris Cullen
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “We dispatched a number of resources to the scene, including three specialist operations vehicles, six ambulances and an air ambulance.”
Euan Bryson, who lives in the adjacent housing estate, tweeted a video showing a fire engine on a smoke-filled street in the aftermath of the explosion.
He said: “(It) was chaotic. There was personal property and rubble all over the scene.
“The video below doesn’t even do the smoke justice. Could scarcely make out peoples’ faces.”
Another resident told STV News: “It was like an earthquake. I thought (my wife) was up the stairs and I thought she fell. The next door neighbour said it was an explosion.”
Gas distribution company SGN was helping emergency services.
A spokesman said: “Our engineers are currently assisting the emergency services to ensure the immediate vicinity is made safe in our role as the gas emergency service.”
The fire service said there were still two appliances at the scene at 10.30am on Tuesday morning.
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service area commander Ian McMeekin, the local senior officer for East, North and South Ayrshire, said: “Our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by this incident.
“This has been an extremely complex and challenging incident which significantly damaged multiple properties in the area and resulted in the evacuation of other nearby homes. We will remain in attendance for some time as we work with our partners to ensure the area is safe.
“A joint investigation alongside Police Scotland will be carried out in due course to establish the full facts and circumstances.”
Siobhian Brown, the MSP for Ayr, Prestwick and Troon, urged people to avoid the area.
On her Facebook page, she wrote: “Our thoughts are with those affected in the Kincaidston area as we hear reports of an explosion.
“Please avoid the area if you can and let the emergency services do their jobs.”
Secondary pupils will still be expected to wear face coverings in classrooms as they return to school after the October break.
The students, as well as staff in both primary and secondary schools across Scotland, will also have to wear a mask in communal areas and when moving around the building.
On Tuesday, the Scottish Government said it had made the decision to keep the existing Covid-19 safety mitigations in place following advice from senior clinicians.
The chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, advised that a more cautious approach would allow more time for 12 to 15-year-olds to take up the vaccination.
Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “In recent weeks we have seen the previous sharp decline in Covid-19 case numbers starting to level off, and that is why we have decided to adopt a cautious approach and maintain safety mitigations in school for the time being.
“Progress with vaccinating 12-15-year-olds has been remarkable and is already over 40%.
“However, this was only rolled out a few weeks ago and allowing further time will mean that that encouraging figure rises even higher.
“This decision is based on advice from senior clinicians and takes account of the most recent data. We will continue to monitor case rates on a weekly basis, with a view to lifting restrictions at earliest possible time.
“While I fully understand that this will be disappointing news for some young people and their parents, as has been the situation throughout, the safety of children, young people, and all education staff remains the overriding priority.
“There is no room for complacency and we must all continue to remain vigilant to reduce the spread of Covid-19.”
Teachers’ leaders welcomed the move.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said the union had “argued for great caution in any easing of school mitigations, especially in light of continuing high levels of infection and the incomplete rollout of vaccinations for pupils”.
Mr Flanagan added: “The priority is to keep schools open but as safe as possible, so this delay from the Scottish Government, with regard to easing mitigations, is welcome and will allow, also, more time for ventilation challenges to be met ahead of winter.”
MSP Oliver Mundell, the Scottish Conservatives’ shadow cabinet secretary for education, said the move will “come as a massive disappointment to pupils and parents given the SNP strongly indicated that masks in classrooms would end after the October break”.
He added: “Scotland’s schools should have been a priority for the SNP but with face masks in classrooms remaining, young people have once again been sent to the back of the queue.
“These glaring inconsistencies will be difficult to comprehend for pupils and parents, especially with such an incredible uptake of the vaccine in 12-15-year-olds.
“Pupils, parents and teachers need to see a plan from the SNP for a return to normal learning as soon as possible.”
The app used to read vaccine passports in Scotland has been updated, with businesses being urged to download the new version.
It will now show a green tick when a person’s details have been correctly scanned and they are allowed entry into large events or nightclubs.
The change comes in the days after the scheme became enforceable.
A further update to the consumer app, which will present a QR code to venues as opposed to the dates of both vaccinations, will also be released from noon on Thursday, health secretary Humza Yousaf has said.
This change is set to occur after concerns have been raised about the amount of medical data shown to gain entry.
Current versions of the smartphone app will stop working from next week, forcing users to download the update to continue to access events.
“The rollout of the green tick display when QR codes are checked will reduce the amount of information shared and confirm only that a person has a valid certificate for use across Scotland,” Yousaf said.
“The app is now working well after being introduced more than two weeks ago and updates are an important feature of this kind of technology to ensure it continues to run smoothly.
“Everyone who has the app should download the new version and those who don’t yet have the app should download it from their app store before they need to use it.”
The health secretary also praised the hospitality sector for its implementation of the scheme, saying: “I understand the night-time industry has made major adjustments for the introduction of this scheme and other measures, but the sector has complied extraordinarily well with the regulations so far.
“This is a very limited scheme and we hope this will allow businesses to remain open and prevent any further restrictions as we head into autumn and winter.
“I also want to ensure that as many people get vaccinated as possible and particularly to increase uptake in the younger age cohort, so anything to incentivise that is helpful.”
A third Scottish health board has requested help from the armed forces as it faces staffing shortages ahead of winter.
NHS Grampian has made a formal request for military assistance as the health service faces growing pressure as a result of coronavirus and the backlog of care built up during the pandemic.
Last week, the British Army was called in to help NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders, with a total of 86 personnel deployed for a three-week period.
Soldiers are also helping the Scottish Ambulance Service vehicles under a separate arrangement.
An NHS Grampian spokeswoman confirmed a request for military assistance had been made and the health board was awaiting a response.
Staffing pressures mean acute services – such as emergency departments, surgeries and diagnostics – in the NHS are operating at capacity.
Following the request for support last week, health secretary Humza Yousaf said the armed forces would provide additional capacity.
He said: “With increasing levels of social mixing and close social contact, it is expected that this winter Covid-19 will circulate alongside respiratory viruses, such as flu, adding to the winter pressures usually faced by the NHS.
“This military support will allow both boards to support existing staff to reduce waiting times, enhance care and provide a better experience for our patients.
“As always I would like to thank all those involved in our healthcare systems for their continuing hard work and dedication over this particularly busy time.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the latest request showed the government’s support for the NHS was inadequate.
He said: “We are not even near the peak winter period yet we have three health boards requesting urgent military assistance.
“That is a direct result of Humza Yousaf’s delays and inaction.
“His flimsy NHS Recovery pamphlet and belated winter plan for our health service are simply not cutting it.
“More and more patients are paying the price for his lack of leadership.
“Support from our UK armed forces is hugely welcome and will hopefully ease the pressure on my colleagues on the front line.”
The number of patients spending more than half a day in accident and emergency has reached its highest level ever, with more than 600 people waiting 12 hours or more in the first full week of October.
While the Scottish Government’s target states 95% of patients should be seen and either admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, in the week ending Sunday October 10 just 71.3% were dealt with in that time.
That exactly matches the record low achieved the previous week.
Meanwhile, the most recent weekly figures from Public Health Scotland show of the 25,335 people who attended at A&E 1,871 of them spent eight hours or more there.
That includes 612 people who spent 12 hours or longer waiting for treatment – the highest number since weekly records began.
The three island health boards: NHS Shetland, NHS Orkney and NHS Western Isles, all managed to treat more than 95% of A&aE patients within the four hour target time.
But no mainland health boards managed to achieve this and in NHS Forth Valley just four out of 10 (41%) of patients were dealt with in this time.
It comes as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to put the NHS under pressure, with a number of health boards having called for the army to help them deal with staff shortages.
Health secretary, Humza Yousaf, recently announced an additional £300m for the NHS but warned, despite this, the service still faces an “incredibly difficult winter”.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Covid pandemic has inevitably affected A&E attendance and the pressure is being felt across the UK.”
She said that A&E departments in Scotland had performed better than those in the rest of the UK for more than six years, adding: “Our NHS staff have faced unprecedented pressures over recent weeks as they work tirelessly and consistently to respond to the pandemic whilst continuing to provide vital treatment and optimal patient care.
“As part of the NHS Recovery Plan we have committed £27m towards the Redesign of Urgent Care to ensure people receive the right care, at the right place.
“To minimise pressures as much as possible this winter, we’ve recently announced £300 million of measures to help increase NHS and social care capacity in our hospitals and reduce delayed discharges.
“In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with those sites facing the greatest challenges to ensure rapid recovery plans are in place and are in contact daily.”
Booster vaccination dates for some eligible groups appear to have been pushed back by the Scottish Government.
The NHS Inform website now states jabs for the “other eligible groups” – which includes adults over 50 and those between 16 and 49 who are adult, young or unpaid carers, living with someone who is immunosuppressed and those with underlying health conditions – will now be able to book their third dose from “mid-November”.
But an announcement by the Scottish Government on September 14 shows the intention to ensure these groups can book via an online portal from this month.
The guide, which allows Scots to choose from a list of categories which best describes their situation, also says third doses could continue into January.
The website, which was updated on October 15, said: “A booking portal will be available from mid-November.
“Vaccinations will start from mid-November and run through December and early January.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton accused the Scottish Government of “sneaking out” the changes.
“We know that caseloads are still far too high so there can be no excuses for these delays,” he said.
“The health secretary needs to tell the public what steps he will take to speed up this rollout.
“I am concerned that we have seen errors creeping into the vaccination programme.
“Elderly constituents are being told they need to travel out of town to get jabbed and there seems to be a lack of joined up thinking in not delivering flu jabs at the same time.
“Last winter we were facing an unprecedented pandemic. There can be no such excuses for the Health Secretary this time around.”
Scottish Tory health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said: “The SNP are sneakily shifting the goalposts on their own vaccination timelines. These documents show how they have quietly dropped their initial targets.
“When the SNP should be quickening the pace of the vaccine booster jag scheme at every turn, instead, they are slowing it down.
“Humza Yousaf needs to urgently step up his game and guarantee jags will be in the arms of those eligible as soon as possible.”