‘Sooner or later we’ll all rely on social care’

Our latest look at the key issues for Scots voters ahead of the Holyrood election.

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At around 11am every day, there’s only one thing on Laura McArdle’s mind. 

“Car, car!” she shouts, and flashes a cheeky smile, the excitement beaming across her face. 

It’s her way of telling mum Marion she’s ready to go for a run in the car near their family home in Clydebank. 

“It’s one of her favourite things to do,” says Marion. 

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After that, she’ll have lunch and probably watch an episode of the Singing Kettle; it’s Laura’s life on Laura’s terms. She has choice and control. “She’s the boss,” jokes Marion. 

Laura was born with with Down’s Syndrome and later suffered brain damage. The 37-year-old has complex needs and requires round-the-clock care. 

But Marion faced a two-year uphill battle to get Laura the social care that she not only needs, but is entitled to.

“Her voice was never heard before,” Marion says. “She was the bottom of the queue for everything because it was difficult for her to communicate.

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“Before now, she didn’t have much say in her day. She could have had as many as 42 different people in her life in one week.

“But the difference we see now, because this team know Laura so well, she feels so safe. If Laura can get it right, I think most people could.” 

Now that Laura’s social care needs are being met, her health has vastly improved.

“Laura hardly ever sees a doctor now,” says Marion. “I find it difficult to separate Laura’s health needs and social care needs. But Laura didn’t ask for these social care needs, I’m sure she’d rather not have them.”

In this election, Marion wants politicians to make social care a priority. She supports the creation of a national care service, recommended in a recent independent review into adult social care, carried out in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“First and foremost, the thing that needs to happen is a change in attitudes,” says Marion. 

“It’s as if social care is a poor cousin of healthcare. I would love to see the same amount of respect shown to people with social care needs as is shown to people with health needs.

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“When you see a doctor, they automatically think ‘how can we help that person get better?’. But with social care, it’s ‘how much is this going to cost?’.

“If we’ve to concentrate on money and budget we’re going to get it wrong, we’re prioritising it wrongly.”

‘We need to see some action’

In a sector that employs more than 200,000 people and is worth £3.4bn to the Scottish economy, many believe Covid exposed deep-rooted inequalities in care.

Some feel these problems developed over decades and a complete overhaul of the “broken” system is needed.  

“I think what we’ve seen is the current system (of social care) doesn’t work, so that has to be top of the agenda,” Derek Barron, director of care at Erskine, says.

“For example, there’s no cabinet secretary in government for social care.

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Derek Barron

“There is one for health, so it’s all very well talking about parity of esteem and how important it is, how much our staff have put ourselves on the front line and their lives at risk, which is all true, but we actually need to see some action.

“All of the political parties need to sign up to the idea of a national care service. We want to see more than just words if we’re going to elevate social care and understand the importance of the sector.” 

More than a third of those who died with Covid in Scotland were care home residents – the majority during the first wave when agencies such as Scottish Care were appealing for more PPE and protections for social carers.

Derek worked in the NHS for more than 30 years before moving to Erskine. He says his staff have more than proved their worth and deserve equality.

“The words are ‘you are as important’, but the actions are something completely different,” says Derek. “The slogan that’s interesting to me is, protect the NHS, but if you invest properly in social care, invest in us – we do protect the NHS.

“The message is slowly coming in, but it needs to come in with some action and power behind it.”

‘They weren’t alone, we were there’

For Heather Scanlan, care is a family affair. Her nephew works alongside her at Erskine Care, and she met her husband on the job too.

She’s worked in the sector for more than 30 years but says challenges thrown up by Covid have left her exhausted.

“The last year has been extremely difficult on many levels,” she says. “The emotional stress that you go through. I’ve learnt lots of new things. Most of our residents are in their late 80s or early 90s, they’re vulnerable. With all the best intentions in the world, you can’t prevent everything.”

During the first wave, Heather held the hands of many dying residents and comforted them when their families and loved ones couldn’t be present. 

“They weren’t alone, we were there,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. It’s a reminder of those dark days and a desire to never return there. 

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Heather Scanlan

Heather believes carers “weren’t looked out for” in the early stages of the pandemic, when hospital beds were cleared and patients were transferred to hospitals without being tested for Covid.

“If it wasn’t for the likes of social care, where would the NHS be?” she says. “Their beds would be full all the time. We’re part of that care. 

“We should have the same recognition as our NHS colleagues. We do similar roles with some variants. We know our residents inside out, we make bonds with their families. We’re not a two-minute fix and see you later.”

‘It’s been horrific’

When Scotland’s care homes went into lockdown in early March 2020, meaningful contact between residents and relatives was effectively cut off.

Although indoor visiting has now resumed in the majority of homes, Natasha Hamilton fears social isolation has caused irreparable damage to her mum Anne, who lives in a North Lanarkshire care home and is battling early onset dementia.

“We’re losing my mum each day to dementia,” Natasha, from support group Care Home Relatives Scotland, says. “She can’t do anything for herself, she needs her family to stand up and say ‘this can’t go on’. I don’t want my mum’s journey to be in vain. It’s been horrific.”

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Natasha Hamilton

Natasha started a petition calling for emergency legislation to give nominated relatives or friends the same access rights to care homes as staff.

She now has almost 100,000 signatures and wants every political party to adopt ‘Anne’s Law’ in memory of her beloved mum. 

“I think they need to realise the system is broken,” Natasha says. “The government spent a lot of money writing guidance and care providers can turn around and say ‘no’. It’s a postcode lottery for so many people across the country. Someone has to stand up and say that can’t continue.

“I would like to see more politicians talk about it in that way and recognise why we’re asking for one person to be allowed into the care home and recognise that guidance doesn’t work – it needs to be enshrined in law.”

Natasha’s mum is only 62, but she has already lost too much time and contact with Anne.

“She cannot speak, she cannot communicate, we don’t know how she feels, we don’t know how she thinks. She’s had her two vaccines, she’s survived Covid, I don’t know what else we can protect her from.”

‘How will I get out of this?’

Shubhanna Hussain-Ahmed effectively has two full-time jobs.

One is working with the Coalition of Carers in Scotland. The other, which easily takes up more hours of her day, is at home in Stirling – caring for her autistic son and her husband who has a neurological condition.

Because she’s employed full-time, she’s not eligible for a carer’s allowance of £67.25 a week. Those in full-time education or receiving a state pension are also not eligible. She firmly believes that needs to change. 

“From between 2011 and 2018 my sole income was carer’s allowance; I have never been so poor in my life and I don’t say that lightly,” she says. “I was thinking ‘how am I ever going to get out of this?’. It traps you in poverty.

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Shubhanna Hussain-Ahmed

“So when they say that carer’s allowance eliminates carers’ poverty, that is utter nonsense.”

Over the course of the pandemic, around 400,000 Scots have taken on caring roles, bringing the unpaid carers workforce to 1.1 million. 

But according to a recent Scottish Government publication, only around 10% are eligible for carer’s allowance.

“That is something that needs to be addressed,” says Shubhanna. “It needs to be completely reformed.

You would think that the largest care workforce in Scotland would be a priority, but it doesn’t feel like that. Carers need to feel like they are being listened to and they’re involved and being treated as experts when decisions are being made about support for them and people they care for.

“The social care system as it currently stands is generally not fit for purpose.”

As part of any overhaul, Shubahha believes questions about whether social care is institutionally racist need to be openly addressed.

One of her hardest challenges during the pandemic has been finding the right care for her mum.

“Social care was never designed to meet the needs of diverse communities, that’s never been more apparent than right now,” she says.

“My mum doesn’t speak English. Local and national services are practically non-existent. Why do we have that problem?

“We’ve made very little headway in supporting carers from black and ethnic minority communities over the years.” 

‘Race to the bottom’

Originally from Spain, social care worker Carmen Simon has lived in Edinburgh for more than 12 years.

“I’ve noticed a deterioration of my terms and conditions in the last decade, there’s no pay reviews, we are losing contractual sick pay, holiday entitlement… contracts change hands, employers take the chance to offer worse terms and conditions to the workforce.

“It’s called the race to the bottom.

“Providers want to get contracts on the cheap and the ones that pay are the workers and those receiving the support. Social care should be publicly owned, that’s the way forward.”

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Carmen Simon

She believes cost is often the driving force of social care assessments, rather than need, compassion or duty of care .

“We need to look at social care and think ‘how can we invest so everyone is receiving proper support and care?’. If we invest in prevention and early intervention, we are going to save taxpayers’ money in the long term, we avoid people getting into more complex situations.

“After World War Two we made the decision that we needed an NHS and we did it. For me, it’s a matter of political decisions. Now we are all talking about social care, I think people are aware of the service and support we provide.

“Sooner or later all of us will very likely rely on social care.”

What are the parties pledging?

Scottish Liberal Democrats

  • Scrap charges for care-at-home services;
  • Give relatives of care home residents ‘essential caregiver’ status.

Scottish Labour

  • The creation of a national care service;
  • Improved pay and conditions for social care staff.

SNP

  • Establish a new national care service;
  • Scrap charges for non-residential services;
  • Create a national fair wage.

Scottish Conservatives

  • Make social care sustainable;
  • Fund dementia research.

Scottish Greens

  • Creation of a national care service;
  • Better pay and conditions for carers.

Hugging and indoor visits allowed as restrictions ease

The First Minister confirmed on Tuesday that Covid rules will be relaxed further from May 17.

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Scots will be able to hug their loved ones from Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

During the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, the First Minister confirmed that the majority of mainland Scotland will move to level two of the Scottish Government’s five-tier Covid-alert system as scheduled from May 17.

From that date social distancing during meetings indoors or in private gardens will be dropped.

Sturgeon said: “I actually feel a wee bit emotional saying this, from Monday, as long as you stay within permitted limits, you can hug your loved ones again.”

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The restrictions will remain in place away from homes and private gardens.

Moray is expected to remain in level three following a surge in cases and an increase in hospital admissions. A decision will be made later this week.

In the rest of the mainland, six people from three households will be able to meet indoors, the same number can meet in a hospitality venue and eight people from eight houses can meet outdoors.

Alcohol can be served indoors in pubs, cafes and restaurants, and cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades can reopen.

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Many of Scotland’s islands will move to level one due to vaccination coverage and low case numbers.

The Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland are included, as are all islands in the Highland Council area except Skye. The move will also apply to islands in the Argyll and Bute council area.

Updates from the briefing:

  • Most of mainland Scotland will move to level two of the Scottish Government’s five-tier Covid-alert system as scheduled on Monday, May 17.
  • Moray could be left in level three due to rising coronavirus cases. A decision will be made later this week.
  • Islands including Shetland and the Western Isles will move to level one.
  • Six people from three households will be able to meet indoors, the same number can meet in a hospitality venue and eight people from eight houses can meet outdoors.
  • Hugs are back. From Monday, the rules on physical distancing will be dropped for personal gatherings inside and outside people’s homes. The restrictions will remain in place away from homes and private gardens.
  • Alcohol can be served indoors in pubs, cafes and restaurants until 10.30pm from Monday.
  • Cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades can reopen. Adult outdoor contact sports and indoor group exercises can resume.
  • International travel will move to a ‘traffic light system’ from Monday.

Regarding the easing of international travel, Sturgeon advised that Scots should “think seriously” about taking holidays and “err on the side of caution”.

Announcing the move to a new ‘traffic light system’ from Monday, the FM said: “Even though the rules on non-essential travel are starting to change, that doesn’t mean we’re saying that non-essential international travel is desirable.

“Everyone should think seriously about whether they should travel abroad this summer.

“When it comes to holidays abroad, my advice continues to be to err on the side of caution and to staycation this summer.”


At-a-glance: What Covid restrictions are easing from May 17?

First Minister confirms that most of mainland Scotland will move into level two of coronavirus restrictions from next Monday.

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Pubs can serve alcohol indoors until 10.30pm from Monday.

Most of mainland Scotland will move to level two of the Scottish Government’s five-tier Covid-alert system as scheduled from next Monday.

A decision will be made later this week on whether Moray should remain in level three. Covid rates – at 94 cases per 100,000 people – are around four times higher in that area than across Scotland as a whole.

Many of Scotland’s islands will move to level one due to vaccination coverage and low case numbers.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday that Scots will be able to hug their loved ones again as social distancing restrictions during meetings indoors or in private gardens are dropped.

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Eight adults from up to eight households will be able to meet up outdoors from next Monday.

The FM also confirmed Scotland will join with the rest of the UK in implementing a ‘traffic light system’ for international travel from next week.

The Scottish Government’s updated framework on the planned easing of restrictions is available here and the key changes can be viewed at a glance below.

All of the indicative dates are subject to change in accordance with the prevalence of the virus and the progress of the vaccination programme.

From May 17:

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
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Levels: Most of mainland Scotland will move to level two of coronavirus restrictions. A decision will be made on Moray later this week. The Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland will move to level one, as will all islands in the Highland Council area, except Skye. Most islands in the Argyll and Bute council area will also move to level one.

Socialising: Six people from three households can socialise indoors in a public place, such as a cafe or restaurant. Six people from three households can also socialise inside a house and stay overnight. Eight adults from up to eight households are able to meet up outside.

Hospitality: Venues can open and sell alcohol indoors until 10.30pm or outdoors until 10pm.

Sport: Outdoor adult contact sport and indoor group exercise can restart.

Recreation: Cinemas, theatres, amusement arcades, casinos, bowling alleys, snooker/pool halls, and bingo halls can open.

Further education: Universities and colleges can return to a more blended model of learning. Non-professional performance arts can resume outdoors.

Worship: Communal worship can open, subject to capacity constraints.

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Weddings and funerals: Up to 50 people can attend weddings and funerals

Stadia and events: Outdoor seated and open space events are advised to operate with a maximum capacity of 500 people. Outdoor grouped standing events are advised to operate with a maximum capacity of 250 people. Small seated indoor events are advised to operate with a maximum of 100 people.

Not permitted to reopen: Soft play, funfairs, nightclubs and adult entertainment must remain closed.

From early June:

hxyume via IStock

Levels:  Scottish Government plans to move Scotland into level one in early June.

Socialising: Under level one restrictions, up to eight people from three households can socialise indoors in a public place, such as a cafe or restaurant. Six people from three households can socialise inside a house. Twelve adults from up to twelve households are able to meet up outside.

Hospitality: Hospitality can remain open until 11pm.

Events: Attendance at events can increase, subject to capacity constraints.

Weddings, funerals and places of worship: Up to 100 people can attend weddings and funerals.

From late June:

Fizkes via Getty Images

Levels: The Scottish Government plans to move Scotland into level zero by the end of June.

Socialising: Under level zero, restrictions up to ten people from four households can socialise indoors in a public place, such as a cafe or restaurant. Eight people from four households can socialise inside a house. Fifteen adults from up to fifteen households are able to meet up outside.

Offices: A phased return of some office staff.

Scottish McVitie’s factory to close with hundreds of jobs lost

Plans would see the Tollcross biscuit making site close next year.

© Google Maps 2020
The firm said the planned closure was a result of excess capacity in the business' factories.

Glasgow’s McVitie’s factory is set to close with hundreds of jobs at risk, the brand’s owner has announced.

Pladis, the global company that owns the Tollcross site, said the closure would mean 468 people’s jobs were threatened and the proposal was subject to consultation.

The factory’s operations would cease in the latter half of 2022, with production moved to other Pladis sites in the UK.

The firm said the planned closure was a result of excess capacity in the business’ factories and is necessary to ensure its future success.

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The factory first opened in 1925, as part of the Macfarlane and Lang’s Victoria Biscuit Works, and has since been where Hobnobs and Rich Tea Biscuits have been made.

David Murray, Pladis UK and Ireland managing director, said: “We know this news will be difficult for our colleagues at Tollcross.

“Our priority now is to provide them with the support they need during the consultation process. Pladis is home to some of Britain’s best loved brands which have been part of the fabric of our society for nearly 200 years.

“In order to protect them for generations to come, we must take steps to address excess capacity in the UK. This overcapacity limits our ability to make the right investments in future capabilities to meet the very big changes in our industry.”

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Pladis, formed in 2016, is behind some of the UK’s best known snack brands including McVitie’s, Jacob’s, go ahead! and Carr’s. With its headquarters in the UK, the firm operates seven factories and its research and development hub across the country.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Throughout the pandemic these workers were told by the company that they were essential to the nation’s response to the crisis.

“But now, after decades of underinvestment, they have decided to close this iconic factory. This is a kick in the teeth to that dedicated workforce and McVitie’s owners must think again.

“This pandemic has created a jobs crisis in Scotland and this news will devastate almost 500 families. My thoughts are with them today.

“We urgently need a jobs plan as part of a national recovery. Ministers both in Edinburgh and London cannot sit on their hands and let more Scots end up out of work. They must act urgently to protect livelihoods in the east end.

“Scottish Labour stands ready to work with trade unionists, Scottish Enterprise and both of Scotland’s governments to keep this iconic brand and these vital jobs in Glasgow.”

Unite Scotland, the union, called the news devastating and urged Glasgow City Council, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government to meet with trade unions to look at ways of keeping the site operational.

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Pat McIlvogue, Unite industrial officer, said: “The news that hundreds of jobs are at risk at McVitie’s Tollcross factory is devastating. The factory has been present in the local area for 100 years, and the McVitie’s brand which was established in Scotland, has a footprint dating back 200 years.

“We can’t allow a world-renowned Scottish brand to have no workers left in Glasgow and Scotland. Closure simply isn’t an option.”

Glasgow East MP David Linden said: “Today’s news comes as a total body blow to our community.

“Above all, it’s a massive kick in the teeth to the loyal workforce at Tollcross – many of whom have worked there for decades.

“Since 2017, I’ve been engaging with Pladis around the challenges they face as a business and I was genuinely encouraged to learn that things had started to turn a corner.

“Therefore, news of proposed closure comes as something of a bolt out of the blue.

“My sole focus right now is on engaging with Pladis, local and national government, as well as the trade unions.

“This is a deeply worrying time for everyone associated with the factory at Tollcross and no stone must be left unturned as we fight to protect local jobs.”

Gary Smith, secretary of the union GMB Scotland, said: “This is an utterly shameful decision by pladis – the lowest of the low after a wretched year.

“Staff have worked through the Covid-19 pandemic because management insist these are key workers, helping this business increase its lockdown sales into billions of pounds, but instead of re-investing some of that money back into the Tollcross plant and its dedicated workforce, management are rewarding them with the closure of their site within a year.”

An Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are concerned to learn that Pladis UK is entering into consultation with its workforce over the potential closure of its Tollcross site. This is a huge blow to the company’s staff, their families and the local area who will be affected by this decision.

“The Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise has offered support and ministers have spoken to Glasgow City Council to discuss our partnership approach going forward.

“Scottish Enterprise has been working with Pladis UK and will continue to engage with the company throughout its consultation period to explore all possible options to support the business and its workforce.

“We greatly value the food and drink industry in Scotland so this is a matter of concern both locally and nationally. Our priority will be to work in partnership with the company, the unions and the local authority to provide every support possible to help ensure a productive future for the Tollcross site and its workforce.

“Should job losses happen, we will provide support to all affected employees through our initiative for responding to redundancy situations, Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE).”

FM confirms ‘traffic light system’ for international travel

From Monday countries around the world will be sorted into lists depending on the state of the pandemic within their borders.

Scottish Government via Twitter / encrier via IStock

Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed Scotland will join with the rest of the UK in implementing a ‘traffic light system’ for international travel from next week.

From Monday, May 17, countries around the world will be sorted into lists depending on the state of the pandemic within their borders.

On Friday, UK transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the 12 countries and territories on the green list of the traffic light system – visits to which would have no quarantine requirement – and the First Minister confirmed they were the same for Scotland.

The green list destinations are Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, the Faroe Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and St Helena, Tristan de Cunha, Ascension Island.

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Although there is no quarantine requirement for these countries, travellers will be expected to take a PCR test for coronavirus. The First Minister also said that the green list countries would be the “exception not the rule” with most destinations instead appearing on the amber list.

Sturgeon also announced the three counties currently on the red list, visits to which require managed isolation in a quarantine hotel for ten days at the cost of £1750 for a solo traveller.

Those red list destinations are Turkey, Nepal and the Maldives.

The First Minister said that most countries will be on the amber list, visits to which will require self-isolation at home with two PCR tests taken during that period.

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Concerns have been raised over the cost of PCR tests, with private tests costing as much as £120 on the high street. However, airlines, airports and holiday companies have been offering cheaper test packages to travellers with many costing around £60.

At the coronavirus briefing on Tuesday afternoon, the First Minister said: “Let me be very, very clear… we still intend to be highly cautious on international travel given the risk of new variants.

“We have a consistent four-nations position, made possible because the decisions the UK Government has arrived at are appropriately cautious.”

But Sturgeon said that should the situation change and a different approach would be better for Scotland, then decisions will be made that “are right for Scotland”.

Despite the changes, the First Minister asked Scots to err on the side of caution and staycation this summer.

She said: “Even though the rules on non-essential travel are changing, everyone should think seriously about whether they need to travel abroad this summer.”

Responding to the First Minister’s announcement, Airlines UK, AGS Airports and Edinburgh Airport issued a joint statement calling the lack of countries on the green list a “missed opportunity”.

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It read: “We are again in the position of being a week away from a major change to operations and are waiting on details of how the Scottish Government wants this to work and how it will be managed. We need that detail as soon as possible to allow everyone to understand what is required.

“We appreciate there are many things to consider but we encourage the Scottish Government to work with us on making testing more affordable rather than it being a barrier for those who need and want to travel. We would also encourage government to take advantage of the vaccination rollout to open up many more green countries in the EU at the new review point in three weeks, as the EU themselves have proposed, and to work where possible as the four nations to ensure consistency and avoid confusion for operators and passengers.

“The Scottish Government must also be very clear about when and how we can encourage visitors from green list countries to try and save the thousands of jobs in Scotland that depend upon international travellers.”

The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA), the professional body for travel agents and the travel sector in Scotland, welcomed Tuesday’s announcement.

Joanne Dooey, president of the SPAA, said: “The inclusion of Portugal on this list is very significant and important for Scotland – it’s one of the most popular holiday destinations for Scots ranking in the top choices along with Spain, Greece and Turkey.

“We expect to see airlines and operators transferring any spare capacity to flights to Portugal this summer and consequently travel agents across Scotland are ready to advise travellers and to help them to make their plans safely.

“PCR tests remain an expensive option, particularly for those travelling as a family group. Our position remains that the cost of testing – particularly the requirement for a PCR test for each traveller on return to the UK – is too high and that affordable testing in the form of antigen and lateral flow is needed.”

Scotland’s tourism industry also welcomed the changes, noting that the found-nations approach is an important step.

Marc Crothall, CEO Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “The loss of inbound travel has had a critical impact on so many businesses across different sectors within Scotland’s tourism industry and I know that there will be some relief for many.

“Forty-three percent of overnight tourism spend in Scotland comes from our international market; it would require around seven million domestic overnight stays to replace that lost income.  

“From  the research the STA has undertaken which we will be releasing this week, we can see that we are quite some way from the staycation tourism boom that has been referenced in various media reports and by other commentators recently.”

Green list countries – From May 17

  • Australia
  • Brunei
  • Falkland Islands
  • Faroe Islands
  • Gibraltar
  • Iceland
  • Israel
  • New Zealand
  • Portugal
  • Singapore
  • South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
  • St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

Teenage girl sexually assaulted in nature reserve attack

The attack on the child is said to have taken place on Saturday night in the Merkland Nature Reserve in Kirkintilloch.

Police Scotland
Police said they are pursuing a number of lines of enquiry into the incident.

Police are investigating after a report of a 14-year-old girl being sexually assaulted in an East Dunbartonshire park.

The attack on the child took place on Saturday night in the Merkland Nature Reserve in Kirkintilloch.

Police said they are pursuing a number of lines of enquiry into the incident and anyone who may be able to help is urged to get in touch.

The previous week, on Friday, April 30, a woman was sexually assaulted on the canal footpath in the town. Police said that there is currently no evidence to suggest the two attacks are linked but that investigators are keeping open minds.

Police Scotland
Officers revisited the scene of the April 30 attack on Friday, May 8 (Police Scotland)
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A Police Scotland spokesperson told STV News: “We are exploring various possibilities as part of the ongoing investigation.”

The April 30 attack happened between 11pm and 11.20pm when a 20-year-old woman was walking on the north canal path between Hillhead Road and Canal Street.

She spotted a man walking towards her who briefly spoke to her before grabbing her and sexually assaulting her. The attacker is described as white with a Glaswegian accent, short brown or dark hair, 5ft 9ins to 6ft tall, aged in his 20s or 30s and of slim build. He was wearing a dark-coloured hoodie with the hood up and joggers.

A spokesperson for the force said: “An investigation is under way after a report that a 14-year-old girl was sexually assaulted at Merkland Nature Reserve on the evening of Saturday, May 8, 2021.

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“We are currently gathering as much information as we can about this incident and are pursuing a number of lines of enquiry as part of this.

“We want to thank the community for their assistance so far. Anyone who may be able to help us is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101, quoting incident 1343 of May 9, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”


Hibs and St Johnstone allowed fans at Scottish Cup final

Hampden showpiece will no longer be played without fans after UEFA and Scottish FA agree deal.

Ross MacDonald via SNS Group
Hibs and St Johnstone played in front of an empty Hampden during their League Cup semi-final in January.

The Scottish FA is hopeful up to 2000 supporters will be allowed into Hampden Park for the Scottish Cup Final.

It’s after a change of heart from UEFA who’ve confirmed a ‘limited number’ of Hibs and St Johnstone fans can go to the big game.

The final was expected to be played behind closed doors, but changes to lockdown rules mean up to 500 supporters can gather in Scottish stadiums from Monday.

The exact number who can attend the final on May 22 has not yet been confirmed.

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A spokesperson for the SFA said: “We have now made a submission to the Scottish Government for permission to increase the number of spectators from the maximum 500 permitted under Level 2 restrictions.  

“We are grateful to UEFA for removing the condition that required the final to be played behind closed doors, after the postponement of the tie from May 8 to 22 due to the suspension of football during the second wave of the pandemic.”

A relaxation of Scottish Government rules will allow crowds of at least 500 at outdoor events from next Monday but events organisers can apply to the local authority to host bigger attendances.

UEFA said in a statement: “We are in a position to announce that UEFA has been able to find a solution with the Scottish FA to allow a limited number of spectators for the Scottish Cup final.”

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Aberdeen had offered to stage the final when it appeared that fans would be locked out of Hampden but the game is heavily associated with the national stadium, although Saints won their only Scottish Cup at Celtic Park.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Restricted numbers of supporters will be permitted from 17 May in areas that are in level two or below, and the levels that are permissible without seeking special permission are set out in publicly available guidance.

“It will be for the Scottish FA to take decisions about supporter attendance at the cup final, and the stadium in which it takes place.

“The football authorities and individual clubs will be able to apply for special permission for increased numbers, with two metres physical distancing, for individual events and these would then be carefully considered.”

Hibs welcomed the news but urged supporters not to contact the ticket office until precise numbers have been confirmed.

A spokesman for Hibernian FC said: “It is positive news to hear UEFA have given approval to the Scottish FA to have limited fans at The Scottish Cup Final. We are in regular conversation with the Scottish FA and the precise number of supporters is still to be determined and will depend upon gaining approval from the Scottish Government.

“Once we know what the final number is, we will let fans know how we plan to distribute the small number of tickets available. Meantime we would urge supporters not to contact the ticket office on this matter. We will update fans as soon as we possibly can on how we plan to distribute tickets.”

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Speaking before the confirmation but after the SFA’s request, St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson said: “It’s great news. It’s a real positive outlook. It’s great from the SFA, obviously they are working really hard to get supporters in.

“Obviously we would like to play at Hampden and get fans in the stadium. It’s great news, although our record has been pretty good with no fans at the stadium.

“The sooner we can get it done and make sure the fans stay safe, the players will really appreciate that.

“It’s something our fans don’t really see very often. We have been there once already in a final with nobody there. It would be fantastic for any number.

“Players for me have performed really well with no fans but it helps when there are supporters in the stadium. So get them through the door as soon as we can do it safely.”

Men used Scottish flat as international drug trafficking hub

A major operation was launched after parcels containing 8.2kg of ecstasy sent to an Aberdeen flat were intercepted.

Police Scotland
Scott Roddie (left) and Connor Holmes (right) were jailed for their roles in the supply and importation of controlled drugs.

Two men have been jailed after using the postal system, the dark web and cryptocurrencies to move illegal substances across the world from an Aberdeen flat.

Connor Holmes, 24, and Scott Roddie, 29, were snared after packages from the Netherlands containing 8.2kg of MDMA, also known as ecstasy, were intercepted by the Border Force in December 2018.

Officers raided Holmes’ address on Thomson Street, where the parcels were destined for, and recovered more than 73,000 MDMA tablets worth at least £733,660.

A day later another package addressed to Holmes was found containing heroin, cocaine and more MDMA.

CO via COPFS
A photo of the top shelf of the wardrobe in the flat (Copfs)
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Police said the pair used the dark web and cryptocurrencies to support an international criminal marketplace trafficking drugs with a street value of around £1.3m.

At the High Court in Edinburgh on Tuesday, Holmes was sentenced to two years and three months and Roddie to six years and three months for being involved in the supply and importation of controlled drugs.

Gerry McLean, regional head of investigations at the National Crime Agency (NCA), said: “These two men were responsible for the global distribution of class A drugs on an industrial scale, and it is only right that they spend time behind bars.

CO via COPFS
A photo of the wardrobe floor in the flat (Copfs)

“Holmes and Roddie thought that they could evade law enforcement by using the dark web and cryptocurrencies, hiding behind computer screens, and tricking our postal service into facilitating their dirty work.

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“Drugs, money and violence all go hand-in-hand. The NCA and Police Scotland will continue to work together to stop organised criminals profiting from the importation and supply of drugs with the aim of reducing violence and exploitation across Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

Following a major investigation by the Organised Crime Partnership (Scotland), a team of officers from the NCA and Police Scotland, Holmes and Roddie were arrested and then pled guilty when they appeared at Edinburgh High Court on March 30.

CO via COPFS
Tubs with pills found in the Aberdeen flat (Copfs)

Detective inspector Tom Gillan, of the Organised Crime Partnership (Scotland), said: “From the address in Aberdeen, Holmes and Roddie were able to receive and distribute illicit drugs, with a street value of around £1.3m on an international scale.

“The men made use of the dark web and cryptocurrencies to support their criminal market place and used the UK postal system to distribute the drugs. This was a blatant attempt to protect their criminal enterprise and frustrate international law enforcement, which ultimately failed.

“This is an example of a targeted investigation which disrupted a developed and sophisticated criminal model, based in the north-east of Scotland and I am happy to acknowledge the hard work of the officers involved in a complex and challenging investigation.”

David Green, procurator fiscal for homicide and major crime, said: “This was a concentrated effort to bring significant quantities of illegal and harmful drugs through Scotland, which was foiled thanks to co-operation between law enforcement agencies and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (Copfs).

“Drugs cause harm and feed addiction in Scotland’s communities and these men sought to profit from that misery.

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“Copfs is committed to working with partners to reduce that harm and ensure we continue to pursue and prosecute those who seek to profit from drugs.”


Man, 24, bailed over ‘Oli McBurnie confrontation video’

North Yorkshire Police say man was questioned in connection with assault in Knaresborough on Saturday.

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Police are appealing for witnesses following circulation of video on social media.

A 24-year-old man who was arrested following the circulation of a video on social media purporting to show footballer Oli McBurnie in an altercation with a man in the street has been released on bail.

North Yorkshire Police said the man had been questioned in connection with an assault in Knaresborough on Saturday which left a 21-year-old man with facial injuries.

Footage of the incident, which has been viewed more than a million times, shows a short confrontation and shouting, during which a mobile phone appears to be knocked out of someone’s hand before it is stamped on.

Detectives said they were appealing for witnesses to come forward.

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A police spokeswoman said: “Officers are appealing for witnesses after a 21-year-old man was assaulted in Knaresborough at the weekend.

“The incident happened around 8.20pm on High Street in Knaresborough, towards Bond End.

“Detectives investigating this case would like anyone who saw the incident to get in touch.

“It is believed that two cars passed the incident, and there was also a woman pedestrian on the other side of the road who saw what happened.

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“Officers are appealing to the driver of those cars and also to the woman to please get in touch.

“In addition, anyone in the area at the time who might have dashcam footage, is asked to contact police.”

He said a 24-year-old man from Knaresborough who was arrested in connection with the incident has been released on bail pending further inquiries.

Sheffield United, who signed 24-year-old Scotland striker McBurnie for £17.5m in 2019, said the club would help police with their inquiries and continue its own investigation.

The relegated Premier League club said in a statement: “Officials at Sheffield United are aware that police are now involved following the emergence of a video circulating on social media over the weekend and as a club we will do all we can to assist inquiries, as well as continue our own investigation.”

Police are asking anyone who witnessed the incident to contact them on 101, quoting reference number 12210115038.


New coronavirus variant detected in Highlands cluster

Contact tracing has been carried out with all positive cases of the strain in Grantown-on-Spey.

Grafissimo via IStock
New strain: Locals urged to get tested after cluster of cases.

A new variant of coronavirus has been detected in a town in the Highlands following a cluster of cases. 

Contact tracing has been carried out with all positive cases of the strain in Grantown-on-Spey, with close contacts advised to isolate immediately. 

The variant is under investigation and is not one of the main strains currently circulating in the UK.

NHS Grampian said that while no further cases have been identified to date and the confirmed cases are small in number, enhanced contact tracing and additional PCR testing is being carried out to check it has not spread within the wider community. 

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A mobile testing unit will open from Wednesday in Burnfield Avenue car park in the town, and locals are urged to make appointments even if they have no symptoms. 

Testing can also be booked at the Grantown-on-Spey fire station by calling 01463 706015.

Dr Jenny Wares from NHS Highland, said: “We are offering testing for those without symptoms to check that there has been no wider spread within the community. 

“Many people who have coronavirus have no symptoms, or mild symptoms, and will be spreading it without realising it.

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“Asymptomatic testing, testing for those without symptoms, will allow us to identify those who are positive but are not displaying symptoms. We can then advise them to self-isolate and therefore prevent spread.

“We also all need to remain vigilant to the symptoms of Covid-19. The typical symptoms are a new continuous cough, a high temperature or fever and a loss of, or change in, normal taste or smell. 

“However, people with Covid-19 may not always experience these symptoms and can present with a wide range of symptoms including headache, sore muscles and joints, tiredness, sore throat, cold-like symptoms and diarrhoea and vomiting. 

“In light of this cluster, we would advise that anyone that becomes unwell with these symptoms should isolate immediately and seek a test via NHS Inform.”


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