Ross: Spain email shows SNP was thinking about independence during Covid

The Scottish Tory leader pointed to an email which he said showed the Scottish Government was 'thinking about independence instead of focusing purely on public health'.

An email in which a Scottish Government official discussed the threat of retaliation from Spain for an independent Scotland during Covid showed SNP leaders were putting politics over health, Douglas Ross has suggested.

The Scottish Tory leader pointed to a message released by the UK Covid Inquiry this week where a civil servant was discussing banning travel to Spain during the pandemic.

He suggested that if Scotland were to not exempt Spain from a travel ban it could block a future independent Scotland from joining the EU.

The message appears to have been sent from the email address of then-deputy first minister John Swinney, but was signed by someone named Scott.

The Scottish Government has contacted the inquiry about the email and said in an advisory statement that it was written by “a civil servant and not the deputy first minister himself, or anyone in his office or communicating on his behalf”.

It stated: “I’m extremely concerned about this. Spain is now being held to a much higher level of scrutiny and performance than other countries.

“If it is not added to the exemptions list, ministers will have to explain why not when it has an estimated point prevalence rate of 0.015 compared to 0.33 when the decision not include (sic) was originally taken – 0.015 is verging on green.

“There is visible action from the Spanish authorities to do whatever it takes to suppress outbreaks (compare and contrast with outbreaks in England).

“It won’t matter how much ministers might justify it on health grounds, the Spanish government will conclude it is entirely political; they won’t forget; there is a real possibility they will never approve EU membership for an independent Scotland as a result.”

During First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, the Scottish Tory leader said it proved “senior SNP government figures” were “thinking about independence instead of focusing purely on public health”.

First Minister Humza Yousaf described the suggestion as “absolute fantasy” and said it was sent by a civil servant, not an SNP official.

“To suggest the decision around Spain was made for any other reason than epidemiology is an absolute fantasy,” he said.

Yousaf said independence wasn’t taken into account as the Scottish Government did not place Spain on the exempt list.

Ross described that response as “bizarre” and said the Scottish Government briefly opened a travel corridor with Spain at the time before closing it five days later.

Discussing the email at the inquiry on Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon – who was FM at the time – said: “These are decisions that were taken for public health reasons that were difficult decisions.”

She said: “I hoped that the decisions my government would take would keep Covid at the lowest possible level, so that it took the lives of fewer people, minimised the disruption to people’s livelihoods and the education of children.

“I accept that there will be genuine and serious scrutiny of the content of decisions that were taken, and some of those decisions I wish I had taken, my government, had taken differently, some – I think – were right.

“My motives in this were only ever about trying to do the right thing to minimise the overall harm that the virus was doing.

“The toll it took, in Scotland, as in other parts of the UK, was far too high, so I didn’t do that as successfully as I wish I was able to, but perhaps in some ways the measures we took had some impact.”

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