Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross has accused Nicola Sturgeon of putting her party before the pandemic by planning for a “reckless and irresponsible” second independence referendum.
Ross outlined his criticism of the First Minister in a speech on Monday responding to the SNP’s roadmap for a second vote on independence.
The roadmap states a ballot will be called if a pro-independence majority is elected in May’s Holyrood election.
There have now been 20 consecutive polls showing a higher level of support for independence than remaining in the UK.
In the speech, Ross said Sturgeon was no longer the First Minister from the start of the pandemic and was “back to being the SNP leader”.
The SNP accused the Tory leader of launching a “ridiculous and deeply hypocritical attack”.
Ross said it was the “duty of all politicians to come together and focus on the national interest” during the pandemic.
“The public expects 100% focus on the vaccine rollout and our recovery,” he said.
“So you can imagine the sheer outrage that people across the country felt when the SNP launched a new indyref2 taskforce and an 11-point plan to deliver a Catalonia-style referendum.
“It has brought politics, and that same, old divisive constitutional debate, back to the fore.”
He added: “How can the Scottish Government credibly argue that this announcement is above party politics and in the interests of all of Scotland?
“Nicola Sturgeon is back to being the SNP leader.
“She’s no longer the First Minister from the start of this pandemic.
“There is no getting away from it, the timing of this plan is reckless and irresponsible.
“She has put party before pandemic, and risked damaging trust in the government when it is needed most.”
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said the comments were a “patently ridiculous and deeply hypocritical attack from a party more interested in desperate soundbites than working constructively to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Scottish Government is absolutely focused on tackling the pandemic, which remains everyone’s top priority, and paused work on independence last year at the start of the Covid crisis – unlike the Tories who disgracefully ploughed ahead with Brexit in the middle of the pandemic,” he said.
“But the question is who the people of Scotland want to be in charge of rebuilding our country and economy, a Scottish Government or a Westminster one led by the likes of Boris Johnson?
“And we are determined to give the people of Scotland that choice in a post-pandemic referendum.”
Brown added: “The Tories are all over the place.
“Just yesterday, Alister Jack was attacking the First Minister’s commitment to keeping the public updated and informed through daily public health briefings – now his colleague is claiming the opposite.
“They’re clearly in panic mode, but people in Scotland will see right through this bizarre outburst.
“While Douglas Ross carps from the sidelines, the First Minister will continue to be fully focused on helping steer the country through this crisis.”
The formal election of Scotland’s First Minister is set to take place at Holyrood on Tuesday afternoon.
MSPs will vote to choose the First Minister from 2pm, with the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon expected to continue leading the country following the Scottish Parliament election earlier this month.
Nominees for the position must put themselves forward by 1.30pm, ahead of the vote that is overseen by the new Presiding Officer, Alison Johnstone.
Candidates will have five minutes to appeal for support from other MSPs who will each be able to cast one vote.
In the case of only one candidate, MSPs will be asked to vote for, against or abstain. If that candidate obtains a simple majority, he or she will be declared as the Parliament’s nomination for First Minister.
If there are two candidates, a candidate is selected if they obtain a simple majority of votes in their favour.
Where there are more than two candidates, a winner would be elected if they exceed the total number of votes for all other candidates.
If they fall short of an absolute majority, the candidate with the smallest number of votes is eliminated and further rounds of voting take place until a candidate is selected.
Scotland must maintain its guard to keep coronavirus under control, despite “encouraging signs” in tackling the virus, according to John Swinney.
The Deputy First Minister made the comments as he said that a spike in cases in East Renfrewshire has caused concern.
Speaking to STV News, Swinney indicated that case numbers will be reviewed on a daily basis in evaluating whether further action needs to be taken.
It comes as the majority of Scotland moves to level two of Covid restrictions, with the exemption of the City of Glasgow and Moray, with both areas having seen a rise in cases.
East Renfrewshire currently has a case rate of 86.9 per 100,000 – higher than Glasgow’s when it was announced on Friday the city would be kept in Level 3 restrictions.
“We made it very clear when we set out the strategic framework that although we wanted to move down the levels in as unified a fashion as we can across the country, there may be exceptions where we have local outbreaks that we have to take action to strengthen the restrictions,” said Mr Swinney.
“Now, we’ve obviously regrettably had to do that in the City of Glasgow.
“We are looking at the numbers in all local authority areas on a daily basis to make sure that nothing is running away from us and obviously the East Renfrewshire situation is causing some concern.
“And we’ll be reviewing these numbers on a daily basis to make sure that we take prompt, swift action to tackle any spread of the virus because that’s the way in which we’ll be able to maintain and sustain a position of lower restrictions within Scotland if we keep the virus and its prevalence under control.”
Swinney suggested the rise in cases in Glasgow were driven by the so-called Indian variant of the virus.
He said: “We’re at an early stage in understanding some of the most recent data on hospitalisations.
“Obviously, we think that some of the challenge within the City of Glasgow has been driven by the variant of concern that’s emerged in India.
“If that is the case, we need to see what the impact on hospitalisation is out of that particular variant of concern.
“So, we’re watching a range of data – case numbers, we’re looking at hospital admissions, we’re looking at positivity rates, and the welcome today has been the positivity rate has fallen again, case numbers are lower than they have been.
“So, there are encouraging signs, but we have to maintain our guard to make sure we keep the virus under control and the vaccination strategy, which has been very, very successful, is proving to be a very powerful weapon in containing the virus and in providing the public safety and assurance that we require.”
While restrictions eased across the rest of Scotland, pubs and restaurants in Glasgow had their reopening plans ruined as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the city.
Hospitality bosses were left angry by the “eleventh hour” announcement on Friday meaning staff they had hired and the stock they had ordered have uncertain futures with no reopening date to look forward to.
Last week, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that the country would move from Level 3 to Level 2, with some island areas going down to Level 1.
But amid a surge in cases in Moray, the First Minister said it was unlikely the area would join the rest of Scotland in having restrictions eased. On Tuesday, a decision had not yet been reached.
On Friday, it was confirmed Moray would remain in Level 3 along with Glasgow as the city became the country’s Covid-19 hotspot.
“It’s outrageous,” said Paul Stevenson, owner of Sugo Pasta in the city centre, “Trading under Level 3 restrictions means we are not making money…without the sale of alcohol and the restrictions of trading hours. Going down to Level 2 gave us a chance.”
Covid-19 cases in Glasgow are rising with the rate now higher than 100 per 100,000 people.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “We are looking at the numbers in all local authority areas on a daily basis to make sure that nothing is running away from us and obviously the East Renfrewshire situation is causing some concern.
“Obviously, we think that some of the challenge within the City of Glasgow has been driven by the variant of concern that’s emerged in India.”
Donald MacLeod, convenor of the Glasgow Licensing Forum, said: “What should have been a happy Monday, a manic Monday, is really a blue Monday, a really depressing blue Monday.
“I really feel for them, I think it was a disgraceful decision at the eleventh hour to make by the Scottish Government.”
The city’s health board said eligible residents should have received texts or will have letters soon inviting them to get vaccinated.
Professor Linda Bauld, of the University of Edinburgh, told STV News: “I think the testing is working well. We have a lot of testing. We’re testing more in the UK and in Scotland than most parts of the world. People need to come forward for the testing.
“The vaccines also extending to other age groups, really positive, but that’s not a quick fix. It takes time for that protection to be built up.”
Calum Steele, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) general secretary, said officers who were on the ground told him the violent disorder that followed largely peaceful celebrations was the worst experience they had ever had in decades on the job.
He told STV News: “There is an inevitability that through adrenaline and through being pelted with missiles that officers are going to receive cuts and bruises.
“But when that violence extends to officers being thrown up in the air, injuring their backs, having teeth broken, and further in the west of Scotland, having their arm broken, there are some serious questions that have to be asked about the kind of society we are living in.”
As the crowds of Rangers fans became increasingly disorderly following the consumption of “copious” amounts of alcohol, police in riot gear armed with shields began to disperse them, moving them off George Square.
As they were forced down the city streets, some supporters threw various missiles at officers.
Mr Steele said: “All of those that undertook and participated in the disorder in George Square are absolutely responsible for their own actions. But throwing of missiles, bottles, barriers, fireworks and other pyrotechnics at police officers, you present a real risk to life.
‘We’ll identify far more people that were involved and they’ll be getting a chap on the door in the next few days and weeks.’
Gary Ritchie, Police Scotland assistant chief constable
“When we have police officers, with over 20 years experience, telling me that this is the worst experience, the worst violence that they’ve dealt with in 20 years, I think that’s something that has to be taken very seriously.”
Earlier in the day, one fan is understood to have suffered an extreme injury to his hand when a pyrotechnic he was holding exploded.
“The harm these kinds of projectiles can cause should never ever be understated,” Mr Steele told STV News.
The wounded officers have received medical treatment, one for a serious injury, and Police Scotland confirmed they were recovering well.
Police Scotland’s assistant chief constable Gary Ritchie said that a full investigation into Saturday’s incidents was underway.
He said: “We’ll look at CCTV, speak to witnesses, [and] police officers that were there. We’ll identify far more people that were involved and they’ll be getting a chap on the door in the next few days and weeks.
“We’ll share the information around the identities of the people we believe are responsible with the club. I don’t think anybody who was involved in that on Saturday night should get anywhere near a football ground again in the future.”
It’s a puzzle that Steve Clarke has been chewing over pretty much since the minute David Marshall saved the penalty that sent Scotland to the European Championship.
Who do you take to Euro 2020?
And who do you leave out?
On Wednesday, those questions will be answered when the Scottish FA reveals the final selection.
When Marshall saved the crucial penalty in Belgrade, the finals were seven months away. Circumstances have given the national team boss an extra year on top of that to consider the best blend of players and the possible teams he might field in three group games and hopefully more beyond that.
Just over three weeks ago, Clarke had settled on his choices “more or less”. And then UEFA announced that they were increasing squad sizes from 23 to 26, reasoning that after a shortened, concentrated season it may ease the workload on top players.
You might think that the increase would have been popular with managers, allowing them a bigger hand to choose from, and leaving them with fewer difficult phone calls to players who missed out.
But Clarke saw it differently.
“Obviously it will make the job when you’re there more difficult because you’re leaving players out that won’t be involved in the games,” he told Sky. “But it’s a chance for some players that might have missed out to be in the squad and to experience the whole atmosphere of a major tournament, which will be good.”
A traditional 23-man squad might have ramped up tension about who would be left out. Clarke has worked to build a club mentality in the squad and embed his ideas at individual and team level and that has meant a consistency in selection.
A few weeks ago – when Clarke knew his top 23 “more or less” – anyone who’s followed the national team could have had a fair stab at knowing it too.
Now, a combination of factors means it’s a little different and there could be some interesting choices on Wednesday.
Injuries have already ruled out a couple of almost definite picks and opened up space, UEFA’s increase to 26 players gives more room and end of season form may have seen some potential picks push harder than others.
Between the sticks
The one area where Clarke is unlikely to spring a major surprise is his goalkeeper selection.
David Marshall, Craig Gordon and Jon McLaughlin have been the go-to choices for some time and there hasn’t been a serious case to dislodge any of the trio at this late stage.
It’s been suggested that the manager might make a private phone call to Allan McGregor to sound out the veteran Rangers keeper after a vintage season, but the very reasons it would be private (risk of upsetting the established picks, and McGregor’s history with the Scottish FA) are the same ones that make it unlikely.
Case for the defence
The current preference for a three-man central defence means plenty of places for part of the team where there’s no defined first-choice partnership.
Kieran Tierney, having overcome injury problems, is a certainty for the left of the trio and a good number of players have their eyes on the remaining places.
Grant Hanley, Scott McKenna, Declan Gallagher, Jack Hendry, Andy Considine and Liam Cooper all have claims to make the squad, with the question of who will start against Czech Republic one to answer further down the line.
In the wing-back positions, Andy Robertson is captain and will be the first name on the team-sheet, with Celtic’s Greg Taylor the accepted back-up while Tierney takes on the central role.
On the right flank, Stephen O’Donnell isn’t going to miss out after tireless work over the last couple of years, though Liam Palmer might be nervously checking his phone on Wednesday morning now that James Forrest is back and available as an option.
Midfield is where injury has already sent Clarke’s early plans awry. Ryan Jack, having shown consistently strong performances for Rangers at home and abroad, had already been ruled out before Kenny McLean was cruelly robbed of his place in his last game of the domestic season. The Norwich midfielder has been a solid part of the squad and shown a cool head in penalty shoot-outs.
Scott McTominay’s spell at the back appears to be over and Scotland aren’t going to leave a Manchester United regular behind to watch the Euros on television. Likewise, John McGinn is on the verge of being a talismanic figure and will be in the starting line-up.
Celtic duo Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie will be in Clarke’s plans, as will Stuart Armstrong, while John Fleck’s case for inclusion has probably strengthened with McLean’s absence.
Further up the field, Forrest’s value to Scotland has been proven over the years, even if injury robbed him of most of this season, and Ryan Fraser’s creativity is essential if the team are to entertain hopes of going beyond the group stage.
Going for goals
The Clarke era has unearthed striking options and after persuading Lyndon Dykes to bring his physical and direct play to the dark blue jersey instead of his native Australia, and converting Che Adams to the cause, they will account for two places in the 26.
Kevin Nisbet and Lawrence Shankland looked to have been in direct competition and it’s likely the Hibs striker has nosed ahead in the last couple of months – but there could be room for both.
Oli McBurnie has been ruled out. Off-the-field issues and a Premier League goal return that’s the same as the Liverpool goalkeeper’s meant Clarke might have faced a tough decision on the Sheffield United forward, but McBurnie revealed on Monday that his fractured metatarsal won’t have healed in time for the Euros.
No discussion of Scotland’s forward options can be complete without mention of Leigh Griffiths, especially when England are among the upcoming opponents. The Celtic striker has had a season to forget but there are plenty who would support his case for inclusion based on an ability to deliver something unexpected.
Waiting by their phones
Beyond these names, most of whom have been in multiple squads throughout Clarke’s reign, there is the potential for a big surprise in Wednesday’s announcement.
The manager’s mention of experiencing a major tournament suggests his last places might go to younger players who can use it to further their career at the top.
David Turnbull’s smooth ascent to becoming a key player in midfield for Celtic must have put him in the frame, while Rangers’ young right-back Nathan Patterson would be a real outsider, though one that could give an option in a difficult position. Hibs centre-back Ryan Porteous has already made previous squads and has made no secret of his hopes to force his way in.
The real story would come from a gamble on either one of a pair of diminutive Scottish midfielders who have enjoyed 2020/21. Ryan Gauld’s move to Portugal was always a brave choice and, despite setbacks, he seems to have found his feet. Nine goals and seven assists in a Farense team that’s been in the bottom half of the top flight might be enough to nail a wildcard spot if there’s one going.
Gauld would have competition from one of Clarke’s old clubs. Billy Gilmour earned first-team appearances under Frank Lampard at Chelsea, but appeared to be back at the drawing board when new manager Thomas Tuchel arrived. However, the former Rangers youngster has returned to the team at Stamford Bridge and shown he’s capable up against the EPL’s best.
The inclusion of either one would be the headline from Wednesday’s squad reveal, but Clarke’s choices will be debated way beyond this week.
Scotland’s first appearance at a major finals in a generation means every spot in the squad is up for scrutiny.
Whether Clarke’s 26 can make the most of it will be the story of the summer.
A theatre is bidding to save its 70th anniversary celebrations by setting up stage outdoors for the summer.
For most venues, social-distancing rules and capacity restrictions have made putting on performances simply not worthwhile.
But the Pitlochry Festival Theatre has found a way around the pandemic problem by creating a new amphitheatre and bandstand.
Boasting a vast plot of picturesque land, looking out onto Ben Vrackie, the theatre hopes to offer arts lovers more to feast their eyes on than just what’s on stage.
Artistic director Elizabeth Newman told STV News: “We are still here and gearing up to welcome audiences for the summer, but it has been a really challenging year.
“As soon as the two metres [distancing rule] became a reality we began to plan to move outdoors because that seemed the most likely option for audiences.
“We actually took the decision to prepare for not being able to produce theatre in the way that we’re used to until it becomes safe for audiences, which is why we’re going to be socially distanced outdoors.”
While the 70th anniversary celebrations aren’t quite what they were initially hoping for, the theatre has 17 shows planned, ranging from children’s favourite The Wind in the Willows to David Greig’s new play, Adventures with the Painted People, and evenings of musicals and opera concerts.
Curtains remain closed
Other theatres are not so fortunate, with the Tron in Glasgow recently cancelling its 2021 pantomime.
Meanwhile, Iain Gordon, manager at the city’s Pavilion Theatre, told STV he thinks it will be September before shows can realistically return to the stage there.
Andrew Panton, artistic director of Dundee Rep theatre, which also remains shut at the moment, said: “We would love to see, in the next few weeks, the social distancing come down to one metre.
“Then very quickly we’d work with the Scottish Government to find a safe way to lose that distance completely.
“All we want to do is throw these doors open and see audiences in here, chatting at the bar and heading into the auditorium, seeing the work, but we want to do that when we can do that safely.”