Holyrood’s new presiding officer has made clear she expects all “substantial announcements” about coronavirus to be made to MSPs – and not to the media.
Alison Johnston stressed her “expectation” on this as opposition politicians blasted the First Minister for conducting a briefing for journalists last Friday.
She used this to warn that Scotland is at a “critical juncture” in the coronavirus pandemic, with cases having more than tripled in the past month.
But Scottish Conservatives chief whip, Stephen Kerr, insisted: “It is not in order for the First Minister to ignore this parliament and make statements instead in front of TV cameras and journalists.”
He raised the issue with the presiding officer ahead of Sturgeon making a statement on Covid-19 to MSPs in Holyrood on Tuesday.
Labour’s Neil Bibby also voiced his concerns about the televised briefing, saying: “These are extraordinary times and governments around the world are taking extraordinary measures, that makes accountability and parliamentary scrutiny more important than ever before.”
Johnstone told them: “It is my expectation that all substantial announcements in relation to Covid-19 are made to the parliament.”
Her comments came after Kerr told MSPs: “This is only the latest occasion when the First Minister has chosen to speak to TV cameras rather than come to this chamber to make a statement and take questions from members of this parliament.”
The Tory insisted: “This parliament should be where these statements are made first, we are elected to hear statements first, and the First Minister should give the parliament the respect it deserves.”
He said the First Minister could either have made a statement to MSPs last Thursday, when Holyrood was sitting, or alternatively that arrangements could have been made for MSPs to sit on Friday, so the statement could be made to the chamber.
That was echoed by Bibby, who noted: “We recently met for four hours on a Friday to elect our deputy presiding officers, we could easily meet on a Friday to consider urgent matters of national importance.”
A spokesman for the First Minister said: “Significant announcements on Covid are made to parliament – and last Friday’s press briefing did not involve a substantive update in terms of restrictions.
“The First Minister is happy to appear in parliament whenever required, but she cannot, in a pandemic, be prevented from giving public health advice when parliament is not sitting – that would not be in the public interest.”