Sturgeon: Scotland a nation ‘on the cusp of history’

First Minister will open her party's annual conference by telling activists she has 'never been so certain' the country will achieve independence.

Sturgeon: To speak at SNP conference. Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Sturgeon: To speak at SNP conference.

Nicola Sturgeon will declare Scotland is “now a nation on the cusp of making history” as she insists the SNP’s goal of independence is “in clear sight”.

Scotland’s First Minister will open her party’s annual conference by telling activists she has “never been so certain” the country will achieve independence.

Her comments will follow last December’s “landslide victory” in Scotland in the UK general election, in which the SNP won 48 of the 59 available seats.
Since then, several opinion polls have suggested a majority of Scots are in favour of leaving the UK.

While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he will not allow another referendum on Scottish independence to take place, Ms Sturgeon said a majority for her party in next year’s Holyrood election should enable such a vote to happen.

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On Thursday, she said a referendum could be held “in the earlier part” of the next parliamentary session.

She added while the country is still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, she is now “more hopeful” this will end soon.

Sturgeon will tell the conference, which is taking place virtually because of coronavirus: “Scotland is now a nation on the cusp of making history.

“Independence is in clear sight – and with unity of purpose, humility and hard work I have never been so certain that we will deliver it.

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“The people of Scotland have the right to choose their future. Let’s now focus all our efforts on making sure we bring about that better country they and future generations deserve.”

The SNP leader will say support for independence among Scots has now “risen to become the sustained and majority view in public opinion”.

She will tell delegates: “While our primary focus must remain on eliminating Covid-19 from our shores, for which we have renewed hope, Scotland must be ready for what comes next.

“And I know we will be.”

The First Minister will add: “Our country has so much talent and potential. We can build a resilient economy, with job creation and fairness at its heart.

“We can protect and invest in public services like our NHS. We can overcome poverty, inequality and we can make our contribution to tackling the climate emergency.

“The question for all of us as we look ahead to the election next May is this: Who should be taking the decisions that will shape our futures?
“We know that it is the people who live here, wherever they come from, who can best harness Scotland’s immense human and natural resources to the benefit of everyone.”

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She will urge her party to “reach out to all of Scotland like never before” and say the SNP must “demonstrate with cool heads and with patient persuasion that Scotland is ready to take its place in the global family of independent nations”.

Her opponents said Sturgeon should focus on the fight against Covid-19.
Scottish Labour constitution spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “This proves that Nicola Sturgeon only has one priority – dividing the people of Scotland.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, when people are losing their jobs and saying goodbye to loved ones, it is insulting that she wants to focus on independence.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of the pro-UK Scotland in Union group, said: “What people want is a unity of purpose, humility and hard work from the Scottish Government to get us through the coronavirus crisis.

“Issuing a rallying cry for independence when people across Scotland are struggling with the devastating impact of the pandemic is therefore deeply insulting.

“The next few years must be all about recovery from coronavirus, and that should be the entire focus for the Scottish Government.”


Cameron House fire started by ashes left in cupboard

Hotel owner admits charges over fire which killed two men in December 2017.

Crown Office via email

A fire at Cameron House hotel which killed two men was started after a night porter left ashes in a cupboard.

Simon Midgley and his partner Richard Dyson died after the blaze at the hotel, next to Loch Lomond, on December 18, 2017.

The fire ripped through the five-star resort at around 6.40am.

Crown Office via email
Hotel: A family-of-three had to be rescued from the fire.

Mr Midgley died at the scene. Mr Dyson was taken to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, where he was pronounced dead.

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More than 200 guests were evacuated from the building, including a family of two adults and a child who were rescued from the second-floor.

Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Ltd, the owner and operator of the hotel, pleaded guilty on Friday to two charges of safety failures under the Fire Scotland Act, while night porter Christopher O’Malley admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Dumbarton Sheriff Court heard he emptied ashes and embers from an open fire in the main reception into a plastic bag before putting them in a cupboard.

Crown Office via email
Damage: The hotel is currently closed for refurbishment.

Shortly before 6.40am an initial fire alarm sounded, to which staff noticed smoke coming from the cupboard. O’Malley opened the door, to which the flames took hold and spread into the hallway.

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O’Malley and another two members of staff tried to battle the blaze with extinguishers, however they were overcome by the flames.

Firefighters arrived at the hotel by 6.51am, however they later had to withdraw from the building as it was showing signs of structural instability.

The fire was not brought under control until the early hours of December 19.

Tragedy: The couple died because of the fire.

Mr Dyson, 38, from Wetherby in West Yorkshire, was a TV producer, while Mr Midgley, 32, of Worksop, Nottinghamshire, was a freelance journalist for the London Evening Standard while also running his own PR firm.

Peter Gray QC, representing Cameron House, said the failings were not deliberate breaches, but occurred “as a result of genuine errors”.

He said an absence of formal procedures for dealing with ashes and embers meant staff had to improvise.

Mr Gray said: “I am instructed to extend my deepest sympathies from the accused to the families of Mr Midgley and Mr Dyson.

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“Cameron House Hotel is one of the leading hotels in Scotland, it takes pride in its reputation and sets itself the highest standards in relation to all that it does and endeavours to ensure the safety of its guests.

“It takes its duties to ensure the safety of its guests extremely seriously.”

Crown Office via email
Fire safety: The hotel’s ash bins were full.

The court heard the hotel operator had been warned of the risks of keeping combustibles in the cupboard during a fire safety audit, and the general manager had then highlighted the issue to staff.

Storage bins for the ash collected from open fires were kept in the rear yard of the hotel, however they had not been emptied since the October and were found to be rusty and not fit for purpose.

The court heard a plastic bag was used to dispose of ashes on December 15 and again on December 18, the latter with tragic consequences.

Cameron House was said to have cooperated fully with the investigation and all safety procedures were reviewed.

The hotel remains closed for refurbishment and is expected to open in the second part of this year.

Jackie Baillie, the MSP for Dumbarton, previously called for a quick and thorough investigation into the cause of the fire and has worked closely with Jane Midgley, Mr Midgley’s mother, in her campaign to be given answers as to why her son passed away.

Baillie said: “This is completely heartbreaking for all involved – not least for the families of Simon and Richard.

“After three long, painful years these families finally have the answers that they need as to why their beloved sons and brothers died in this fire.

“It is deeply concerning to learn that this fire could have been avoided, had the staff involved been given the proper training needed, and more importantly, had the hotel owners heeded the prior warnings given to them about their safety standards.

“The length of time that it has taken for this case to be concluded has caused the families involved undue stress and pain, during what is already an unimaginably difficult time for them.

“Going forward, steps must be taken by Cameron House to ensure that failings of this magnitude never happen again. We now know that these deaths were avoidable.

“My sympathies continue to be with families and loved ones of Simon and Richard.”

Sentencing will take place next week.


Fast-spreading coronavirus variant ‘may be more deadly’

Prime Minister says there's evidence the UK variant of Covid-19 is causing more deaths.

Erlon Silva - TRI Digital via Getty Images

There is “some evidence” that the new UK variant of coronavirus may be more deadly than the original strain, the Prime Minister has said.

Mathematicians have produced early findings by comparing death rates in people infected with either the new or the old versions of the virus.

However, Boris Johnson said evidence showed vaccines being rolled out across the UK were working against the variant, which first emerged in the south of England.

Its fast-spreading nature significantly contributed to the decisions to put Scotland and the other UK nations back into lockdown.

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More than 600 coronavirus-linked deaths have been registered in Scotland over the past ten days, while 1480 new cases of Covid-19 were reported on Friday, with 2053 people currently in hospital with the virus.

In England, there are currently more than 38,000 people in hospital, with 1401 deaths recorded on Friday.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: “We’ve been informed today that, in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the south-east, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.”

But he insisted the vaccines being rolled out across the UK still appeared to work on the variant.

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Johnson said: “All current evidence continues to show that both the vaccines we’re currently using remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant.”

Scientists are concerned the mutant coronavirus strain which emerged in south east England may be more deadly than the original.

The UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the coronavirus variant which emerged in Kent is “a common variant comprising a significant number of cases” and transmits between 30% and 70% more easily than the original virus.

He told a Downing Street press conference on Friday that among people who have tested positive for Covid-19, there is “evidence that there is an increased risk” of death for those who have the new variant compared with the old virus.

Vallance said: “(For the original version of the virus), if you took a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for a thousand people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die … with the new variant, for a thousand people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die.

“That’s the sort of change for that sort of age group.”

His comments come after Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, told Robert Peston: “It is a realistic possibility that the new UK variant increases the risk of death, but there is considerable remaining uncertainty.

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“Four groups – Imperial, LSHTM (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), PHE (Public Health England), and Exeter – have looked at the relationship between people testing positive for the variant vs old strains and the risk of death.

“That suggests a 1.3-fold increased risk of death.

“So for 60-year-olds, 13 in 1,000 might die compared with 10 in 1,000 for old strains.

“The big caveat is that we only know which strain people were infected with for about 8% of deaths.”


Another 71 deaths from coronavirus registered in Scotland

The First Minister said the total number of coronavirus deaths in Scotland now stands at 5628.

Justin Paget via Getty Images

Scotland has recorded a further 71 deaths from coronavirus, the First Minister has said.

At Friday’s daily briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said the total number of deaths after confirmed coronavirus in Scotland now stands at 5628.

There were 1480 new cases of Covid-19 reported, with 2053 people currently in hospital with the virus.

Of that number, 161 people were in intensive care.

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She added that 169,699 people have now tested positive in Scotland, up from 168,219 the previous day.

The daily test positivity rate is 6.9%, down from 7% on the previous 24 hours.

Sturgeon added that 358,454 people have now received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

During the briefing, the First Minister announced extra funding to support health and social care workers.

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Nicola Sturgeon said £500,000 would be given to health boards and health and social care partnerships to implement requests from staff, such as free hot drinks or snacks during breaks.

The First Minister said it “could be the little things that help quite a lot”.

She added: “I’m flagging this up today just as a way of underlining how much we owe our health and care workers, but also as an example of what we’re trying to do to support them in practical ways while they continue to perform such an incredible service for all of us.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to repay those on the front line of health and social care for everything they have done and everything they have suffered over the duration of this pandemic.

“But in every way we can, it’s important to support them and to show our gratitude.”


GP says sorry to grieving family after diagnosis blunder

Widowed partner complained about care and treatment after spouse died.

ADAM GAULT/SPL via Getty Images
The GP surgery has apologised to a bereaved family.

A medical practice has apologised to a widowed partner for an “unreasonable failure” after a patient’s death.

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) asked an NHS Ayrshire and Arran GP surgery to apologise to a family after their loved one died following a botched diagnosis.

The deceased’s spouse, referred to as C in the SPSO report, complained about their care and treatment from the practice.

C had arranged an appointment for their partner, known as A, after they took ill over the weekend but A became too sick to attend.

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C asked the practice for a house visit but a triage phone call took place instead, with A’s symptoms being noted and advice and medication prescribed.

But A’s condition deteriorated the next day, C said, and they asked if a doctor could come out. Arrangements were made but A became increasingly unwell.

The GP practice arranged an emergency ambulance to take A to hospital, where they died shortly after.

The primary cause of death was found to be diabetic ketoacidosis (a complication of diabetes mellitus) and respiratory tract infection.

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SPSO took independent advice from a GP and found that “at the time of the triage phone call, there was an unreasonable failure to take an adequate history and further assess A” by visiting them or by hospital admission.

SPSO’s report said the practice provided “some evidence of reflection and learning” since the incident.

C also complained about how the GP surgery dealt with their complaint, but SPSO did not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Vicki Campbell, NHS Ayrshire and Arran head of primary and urgent care services, said: “In addition to a formal apology to the family of A, I can advise that the practice concerned has fully accepted the recommendation in the SPSO report.

“The practice has addressed the issue highlighted and made the appropriate changes, ensuring clinical staff have received further training and guidance on the care of patients presenting with diabetic emergencies in primary care.

“In order to ensure learning across the organisation, the practice concerned completed an analysis of the incident which was shared with other clinical primary care colleagues.”

Cancer sufferer’s concerns over Covid impact on treatment

Liz McAinish contracted coronavirus while undergoing breast cancer treatment in 2020.

STV News

A woman living with cancer who contracted coronavirus, needed a hip replacement and suffered a neck fracture in just five months is concerned the pandemic is impacting cancer services. 

Liz McAinish has been treated for primary and secondary breast cancer for the last five years.

However 2020 brought a whole host of new problems for the former police officer, after she contracted coronavirus in early March when little was definitively known about the virus. 

In May, a scan revealed a hip fracture which required hip replacement surgery.

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And then in July she received radiotherapy for a neck fracture.

“It’s just like getting hit with a tsunami, you just don’t know what to think,” she said.

“Surprisingly my symptoms in terms of Covid were quite insignificant. I just had a slight cough, not a significant cough at all and my temperature never went too high either. It was only about 37.5C.

“But I became more tired, really tired and I started getting really breathless. I actually thought it was the new cancer treatment that I was on. So I phoned up the cancer treatment helpline and they said well you better go to the hospital. 

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“So they assessed me for Covid and I said ‘I’ve not got Covid, it’s just my cancer treatment’. I expected to go to the cancer ward but I had a positive Covid test and spent some time feeling really unwell.”

With the help of friends and family, Liz has battled through and is now rebuilding her strength.

But she is concerned about what the pandemic means for cancer sufferers.

“I’ll never know what impact Covid had, because I had to stop my cancer treatment when I was in hospital. That was really worrying,” she said.

“I’m slightly concerned about the fact that the number of trials that used to be going ahead, it’s not the same number. So they certainly have reduced.

“So as somebody who has secondary breast cancer, where the trials are really important, that certainly worries me.”

On Friday, Macmillan Cancer Support revealed 15% of cancer patients in Scotland are worried disruption due to the pandemic could reduce the likelihood of their treatment being successful.

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Janice Preston, Macmillan’s head of services in Scotland, said: “This is a time of almost unprecedented challenge for people with cancer.

“For many, the pandemic feels like the worst possible Groundhog Day, but we want everyone with cancer to know that they aren’t alone.

“We will keep doing whatever it takes to ensure people with cancer do not feel forgotten in this crisis and we want everyone to know that we’re here for them.”

Shoppers warned over essential trips to supermarket

The First Minister stressed the importance of wearing a face covering properly.

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Shopping: Sturgeon stressed importance of mask wearing.

Nicola Sturgeon has told supermarket customers to wear a face mask over both their mouth and nose, shop alone and limit visits to once a week as she highlighted the Covid-19 risk in retail.

The First Minister stressed the importance of wearing a face covering properly, as she announced a further 71 deaths and 1480 positive coronavirus tests had been recorded in the past day.

She told the daily coronavirus briefing that shopping for food is now “one of the few reasons why we should be leaving our homes” – as she stressed it is not risk-free.

“The new variant is spreading faster and more easily so it is all the more important that when we do go to a shop… we take the necessary precautions,” she said.

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“Remember, your face covering should be over your mouth and your nose.

“That’s really vital to make sure it’s giving you the protection that it’s designed to do but also that it’s giving the people around you maximum protection as well.”

She asked people to order their groceries online for delivery if possible, to otherwise limit visits to shops to once a week, and not to go into a shop if it is busy.

“Shop alone if you can, ” she said. “Don’t go with other people.”
The First Minister also announced extra funding to support health and social care workers.

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She said £500,000 will be given to health boards and health and social care partnerships to implement requests from staff, such as for free hot drinks or snacks during breaks.

Sturgeon said: “I’m flagging this up today just as a way of underlining how much we owe our health and care workers, but also as an example of what we’re trying to do to support them in practical ways while they continue to perform such an incredible service for all of us.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to repay those on the front line of health and social care for everything they have done and everything they have suffered over the duration of this pandemic.

“But in every way we can, it’s important to support them and to show our gratitude.”


Scotland would match Westminster’s £500 Covid-19 payments

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would welcome the introduction of the payment.

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Sturgeon: Would 'welcome' the move.

The Scottish Government would replicate a £500 payment to everyone confirmed with Covid-19 if Westminster introduces the move south of the border, the First Minister has confirmed.

Nicola Sturgeon said she would welcome the introduction of the payment, as the additional cash it would generate for Scotland could allow for a similar scheme to be set up.

Reports had suggested the UK Government was considering the move, but Downing Street said on Friday there are currently “no plans” to introduce it.

The prospect of a payment for everyone testing positive for the disease comes amid concern the rate of compliance among those required to self-isolate is too low.

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Currently, only those on a low income are eligible for a £500 support payment if they are required to quarantine – with Sturgeon saying the Scottish Government would struggle to resource any expansion to more people without additional funding.

The First Minister said: “In a financial sense we are doing everything we can, though we continue to look at how we can do more, how we can stretch our resources.

“But we are pretty much doing what we can within the resources available to us.”

If additional money is made available to Scotland because such a scheme is set up by Westminster, she said “we would seek to match that”.

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Sturgeon, speaking at her regular coronavirus briefing, added: “We will see whether that transpires or not, but any extra resources for self-isolation we would use to support self-isolation.”

Her comments came as a leading lawyer said “greater support” for those needing to self-isolate is more important than stricter enforcement of lockdown measures.

John Scott QC, who has been charged with scrutinising Police Scotland’s use of new powers to deal with coronavirus, said: “Enforcement alone can’t address something like the situation we are in.

“Short of perhaps a country that isn’t a democracy, it requires public buy-in, it requires public confidence, the public have shown that they are perhaps better equipped to understand things than some of the politicians.”

Speaking at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority, he added: “Higher levels of support remain more important than higher levels of fine.”

He highlighted issues raised by Professor Stephen Reicher of St Andrews University, who is a member of the advisory body Sage.

Prof Reicher pointed to places like New York, where comprehensive support for people to be tested and to self-isolate has been put in place.

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Scott said: “Just as this meeting has been going on, I’ve seen that Professor Reicher has tweeted about New York and the support that people get for isolation and that includes, for example, walking your dog, so there’s about 80% compliance there.

“Whereas here, we’re struggling with people who don’t want to get tested because they’re frightened of the financial implications of a positive test and they don’t want to put themselves in that position.

“Greater support is more important than greater enforcement, and more politicians should be honest about that and the media should be more honest about that as well.”


Crown investigating 474 care homes in Scotland over Covid deaths

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s dedicated Covid-19 Death Investigation Team was set up in May.

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Scotland: Cases of Covid-linked deaths are being investigated at more than 450 care homes in Scotland.

Cases of Covid-linked deaths are being investigated at more than 450 care homes in Scotland, it has been reported.

According to the BBC, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s dedicated Covid-19 Death Investigation Team (CDIT) is probing the circumstances of coronavirus-related deaths in 474 care homes across the country.

The CDIT was set up in May after Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said all confirmed or suspected coronavirus deaths in care homes should be reported to the Crown Office, as well as deaths of people who may have contracted the virus at work.

The team had reportedly received 3385 death reports as of Thursday, with a majority of those believed to be linked to people who lived in care homes.

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Scottish Care chief executive Donald Macaskill told the broadcaster the investigations were “wholly disproportionate”.

He said: “Frontline staff and managers are spending huge amounts of time providing data and information for these investigations.

“This would be challenging at the best of times but in the middle of a pandemic and with dozens of care homes fighting active outbreaks this has added to a real sense of exhaustion, dismay and disappointment.

“We believe these investigations are wholly disproportionate and are causing irreparable damage to the professional integrity of nurses and carers who are exhausted beyond measure in fighting the virus.”

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A Crown Office spokesman said: “CDIT receives and deals with those reports and will work with the relevant agencies to ensure that all necessary and appropriate investigations are undertaken and that each investigation progresses as expediently as it can.”


Police name pedestrian who was knocked down and killed

Police revealed Margaret Smith's identity as they asked the public for information.

Police Scotland
Margaret Smith from Oban.

A 69-year-old woman who died after being hit by a van has been named by police.

Margaret Smith, from Oban, was knocked down by a Citroen Berlingo in the town at around 6.30pm on Thursday.

She was taken to Lorn and Islands Hospital, but was pronounced dead a short time later.

The man driving the van was uninjured.

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Officers have launched an investigation into the incident and have appealed to the public for help.

Sergeant Alister Johnson, of Road Policing in Glasgow, said: “Our thoughts are with this woman’s family and friends.

“We are carrying out enquiries to establish the full circumstances which led to this incident and would urge anyone who may be able to help to get in touch.

“In particular we would be keen to speak to anyone who may have dashcam footage from the area yesterday evening.

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“Anyone with information can call 101, quoting incident 2724 of 21 January, 2021.”

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