Nicola Sturgeon has said she hopes May’s Holyrood vote will be able to go ahead – but she stressed it will not be “an election as normal”.
She said that in a time of “crisis”, it is right Scots should be able to have their say over who is in charge of the country.
But accepting there could be issues with the campaign, the casting of votes and the counting of them during a pandemic, the First Minister said “nothing happens right now without careful consideration of the safety issues”.
The Scottish Parliament has already passed contingency legislation which could see the election run over more than one day if necessary, or even postponed.
But speaking about the issue at her coronavirus briefing on Thursday, the First Minister said: “My view on this, and it has been my view all along, is that if it is at all possible, the election should go ahead, because we live in a democracy and it is right that people – perhaps even more so in a crisis – get the chance to cast their verdict on the government that is running the country.
“I think it is important that democracy happens.”
She added that even if the ballot goes ahead as planned on May 6, “it is not going to be an election as normal”.
Sturgeon said: “We’re not all going to be campaigning in the way we normally do, chapping on people’s doors.
“Maybe in the later stages more of that will be possible, but right now that is not possible.
“There will be arrangements that have to be made for the safe conduct of voting and counting.”
She noted that local council by-elections are still taking place in Scotland, and “something like 70 countries have had elections over the course of this pandemic”.
Travel restrictions within Scotland are to be eased this week as the country’s route map out of lockdown continues.
From Friday, Scots will be able to leave their local authority area for the purposes of socialising, recreation or exercise.
However, travel between the mainland and some islands will not be permitted.
Nicola Sturgeon also confirmed that six adults from up to six households will be able to meet up outdoors.
The First Minister announced the changes at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Tuesday.
She said a reduction in prevalence of the virus meant some acceleration of planned lockdown easing was possible to support mental health and wellbeing.
It comes a day after beer gardens and outdoor dining areas in England were allowed to reopen in line with the latest easing of the UK Government’s Covid-19 restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the nation to “behave responsibly” as indoor gyms, swimming pools, nail salons and zoos also welcomed customers back.
Scotland is on schedule to ease restrictions further with cafes, restaurants, beer gardens, museums, libraries and gyms expected to open from April 26.
Hospitality will need to close their doors at 8pm indoors and 10pm outdoors, with alcohol only allowed to be served outside.
Travel will also be allowed on this date to other parts of Britain, with reviews planned on journeys to Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Sturgeon said: “We are now extremely confident that those parts of the country currently in level four will move to level three on April 26, that’s now less that two weeks away.
“That means, amongst other things, that on that day shops will fully reopen, pubs, cafes and restaurants will also be able to fully open outdoors on April 26 and will be able to open indoors on that date, but on a restricted basis.”
The First Minister also announced that, while Scotland’s islands would be able to move to level two, a decision has been made to align them with the rest of the country to stop the need for travel restrictions to the islands.
From May 17, pubs are set to open indoors until 10.30pm and contact sports, cinemas, and some small scale events can take place.
Up to four people from two households will also be able to meet up indoors.
It was also confirmed at the briefing that a further three people have died in Scotland after being diagnosed with Covid-19.
An additional 221 new cases of Covid-19 were also recorded overnight.
The daily test positivity rate is 1.6%, down from the 2.4% reported on Monday when 199 cases were recorded.
According to NHS boards across Scotland, 133 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19.
The Scottish Government also confirmed that 2,682,706 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, an increase of 13,983 from the day before.
A total of 605,126 people have received their second dose, a rise of 14,952.
The FM said figures are now at their lowest since September, and have fallen by 40% in the past two weeks.
But she warned against complacency, adding: “We’ve got to be careful not to do too much all at once, because we don’t want the virus quickly gaining ground again, particularly because this new variant is we know more infectious and setting us all back.”
Scotland’s leading political party leaders will go head-to-head in a televised debate live on STV on Tuesday night.
Patrick Harvie (co-leader of the Scottish Green Party), Willie Rennie (Scottish Liberal Democrats), Douglas Ross (Scottish Conservatives), Anas Sarwar (Scottish Labour) and Nicola Sturgeon (Scottish National Party) will be pressed on the big issues between 7.30pm and 9pm.
Hosted by STV political editor Colin Mackay, the debate will begin with opening statements from each party leader, followed by initial discussion, cross-examination between the leaders and closing statements.
The show – which will also air on the STV Player – will then be followed by reaction and analysis on Scotland Tonight at 10.40pm.
Voters in Scotland will go to the polls to decide the make-up of the next Scottish Parliament on Thursday, May 6.
There will be no overnight count at this election due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a result instead expected over the weekend May 7-9.
How is STV covering the election?
Scotland Tonight specials
Colin Mackay has been carrying out one-to-one leaders’ interviews, which are also available for catch-up on the STV Player.
STV News election special
This showwill air between 4-7pm and 8pm-8.30pm on Friday, May 7, bringing viewers the first results as they come in.
The programme will be presented by John MacKay outside Holyrood, with STV special correspondent Bernard Ponsonby and Rona Dougall analysing the numbers at STV’s results studio in Glasgow – bringing viewers the story as it unfolds and key declarations as they happen live on air.
STV reporters will be at voting counts across the country, feeding in live to the programme.
An additional special will air on Saturday, May 8 from 4.30-6.30pm, covering the results being declared as the new parliament begins to take shape.
STV News at Six
Coverage continues on STV’s nightly news programme, with Kathryn Samson travelling to communities across the country in her Covid-secure ‘bubble’, inviting viewers to share views on all the political developments of the day.
The STV News website will offer comprehensive, up-to-the-minute coverage including leader interviews, expert insights from STV’s political team, rolling results coverage as the counts declare and detailed analysis once the outcome is known.
Reporting will be available on the STV News website, apps and social media platforms.
Edinburgh International Festival – the world’s leading performing arts festival – will return this year, organisers have announced.
The much-loved event will be ‘reimagined’ due to the coronavirus pandemic, but is set to take place in the capital from August 7-29.
Festival director Fergus Linehan told STV News: “It may not look like the usual festival and obviously there’s still an awful lot to be looked and decided upon, both for ourselves and for our sister festivals such as the Fringe and various others, but we’re feeling confident at the moment that we will be able to have a meaningful live offering this August.”
The plan is to hold live, staged concerts at outdoor pavilions at Edinburgh Park and at the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad.
Mr Linehan said: “We’ve been working very closely with the Scottish Government and the City of Edinburgh Council and the message is that outdoors is obviously preferable to indoors at the moment.
“We’re looking at outdoor, mostly concerts but not exclusively, but also with a covering – so sort of pavilions if you will, at a number of city locations but also then a number of outdoor events. Sort of special events as well.”
While this is great news for fans of the festival and a return to some sense of normality for Edinburgh’s globally-renowned festival season, the party atmosphere won’t quite be in full swing just yet.
“These are not sites that you go to and hang around all day. These are very much you will arrive, go to a concert and depart,” the director stressed.
Still, they will be a welcome return for many, not least the artists who felt both a void creatively and financially last year, when lockdown put paid to planned performances.
“It’s an opportunity for the public to get back to live performances, but also an incredible opportunity for artists and freelance workers, for who the festivals are such an important part, to begin to get the wheels moving again,” Mr Linehan added.
Full details of the 2021 programme will be announced on Wednesday, June 2.
All adult residents on Fair Isle have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus.
The tiny island, situated between Shetland and Orkney, has had no Covid cases since the pandemic began a year ago.
With a population of just under 50, NHS Shetland decided to fully vaccinate islanders in one go, in a process dubbed ‘bundling’.
A plane carrying a small box of AstraZeneca was enough to give the entire population of Fair Isle their second dose.
Brian Chittick, of NHS Shetland, told Good Morning Scotland: “Fair Isle was one of those areas in the UK where there were no confirmed Covid cases, so we felt it was really important to maintain that as a statistic moving forward, so we were very keen that we went in and we undertook the vaccination programme to all those who were entitled in one go.”
Nurses Margaret Cooper and Kirsten Robson managed to give all residents their second jab in one session.
With the population now fully vaccinated, it is hoped that Fair Isle can soon return to normal life.
Kirsten Robson told GMS: “It’s been great because we’ve had ten days without a boat, so the boat managed to come in yesterday so we then had a boat and a full shop and now we have had the second vaccinations today, the sun is out and the lambs are coming.”
Shepherd’s hut craftsman sees boom in interest during pandemic
Some customers have been keen to tranform the huts into wedding venues or build them near beauty spots for staycations.
A craftsman who builds shepherd’s huts has seen a boom in interest due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dad-of-one Jack Roots, 61, worked as a cabinet maker before he decided to branch into making shepherd’s huts, which are sold for around £20,000 each.
Based on ancient agricultural traditions, Jack was one of the first people in Scotland to make them and has transported huts to customers down south and in the Highlands.
He only makes four a year, and works by himself.
Customers have bought the shepherd’s huts for uses as diverse as therapy rooms, home offices or somewhere to relax in the garden.
Made from cedar wood, the huts take three months to build – and Jack has no intention of scaling up his business which he started in 2018.
The pandemic has seen a boom in interest, including the possibility of using huts as wedding venues – or putting them on his smallholding in Bo’ness, West Lothian, and renting them out for staycations.
Talented Jack builds furniture for some customers who request it, and has fulfilled design requests including brightly painted interiors and underfloor heating.
Jack said: “I’m all about quality, not quantity, I only sell a few a year.
“I’m a one-man-band, they take three months to build so the most I can knock out is four – and I am happy with that.
“The company is going to stay personal and small because I enjoy the craft.
“When you employ people it changes what you do.
“Working out what the person needs is the key thing.
“They’re for everyone to enjoy.
“They can be a garden room, a studio, a home office, or therapy space.
“It’s one of those things people look at and think ‘wow that’s brilliant’.
“It’s all about pleasure and enjoyment in the garden – it’s basically a beautiful room to relax outdoors.
“I’m one of the first in Scotland to do it.”
The huts can vary in size depending upon requests, but the standard size is two meters by four meters across and 15 feet in length.
The huts are built and sold at Blackness Castle, Linlithgow, West Lothian, a location where Outlander is filmed.
Jack described building a hut as like making a box.
He added: “I came across images of shepherd’s huts and as soon as I saw them I thought, I’m giving that a try.
“I make them by hand.
“I have a workshop, table saws, jointers the full kit.
“It’s the same as making a small box, it’s just scaled up.
“What I like about making them is it’s a mix of joiner and cabinet making.”
A recent inquiry about using one of the huts as a wedding venue has made Jack reconsider selling the huts as holiday destinations.
He said: “There was a boom in interest due to Covid.
“The number of enquiries went up.
“I’m talking to someone now about using one as a wedding venue, to take their vows under.
“There’s a certain romance in them, a mystical quality, so I can see why people would like to exchange nuptials in them.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people about renting the huts out as Airbnb’s – it’s a strong possibility that’s the route I’ll go down.”
Reward of up to £5000 offered over suspected murder bid
Police are still appealing for witnesses to the incident, which happened in Edinburgh in March.
A reward of up to £5000 is being offered for information about a suspected attempted murder in Edinburgh.
A 33-year-old man was found seriously injured in Wester Drylaw Drive at around 7.15pm on Friday, March 12, said Police Scotland.
Detectives are investigating a black vehicle which was found burnt-out near Craigleith Road, around a mile away, and is believed to have been used in the attack.
The force is continuing to appeal for witnesses.
Crimestoppers Scotland said it is offering up to £5000 for information which leads to a conviction.
Scotland national manager Angela Parker said in a statement: “This incident has, understandably, caused great distress in the local area, which is why we are appealing for people who may not feel comfortable speaking to the police directly to contact Crimestoppers anonymously.
“Everyone who contacts our charity stays 100% anonymous.
“We’ve been supporting people to speak up anonymously since we began in 1988 and have always kept our anonymity guarantee to everyone who trusts us with their crime information.”
Anyone with information can call anonymously on 0800 555 111 or go online at crimestoppers-uk.org.
Union leaders have started to ballot council workers to see if they would be prepared to take industrial action over a pay offer they branded “simply not good enough”.
The trade union Unison has already recommended its members vote against the current pay offer, and in favour of action up to and including possible strikes.
It comes after a pay deal offered all council workers earning less than £25,000 an £800 rise, while those earning £25,000 to £40,000 would get a 2% increase, with those making more than this awarded 1%.
However, bosses at Unison insisted the offer “does not address the issue of endemic low pay” for some council staff.
The pay offer to council workers is below the 4% offered to many NHS staff by the Scottish Government.
And speaking as a consultative ballot began, Johanna Baxter, Unison Scotland’s head of local government, said more than half of all council workers earn less than £25,000 a year – with more than 100,000 on a salary that is “significantly below the average wage of £32,000 per year”.
Ms Baxter stated: “The current offer does not address the issue of endemic low pay for these workers.
“Without these workers going above and beyond to keep services running over the past year, their colleagues in the NHS would have been left without childcare, our mortuaries would have been overwhelmed, our children would have been left without an education and our elderly would have been left without care.
“Yet, to date, they have received no reward or recognition of their efforts at all. It’s simply not good enough.”
Mark Ferguson, chair of Unison Scotland’s local government committee, said: “Local government and its workforce are no longer the poor relation of the public services – we have become the distant relative which is never discussed and has long been forgotten.
“The current offer was simply lifted from the Scottish Government’s announced public sector pay policy – a pay policy that the Scottish Government has itself breached in offering higher pay rises to other public sector workers. Our members deserve better.”
A spokesman for the local government body, Cosla, said: “We have made an offer to our trade union colleagues. This offer remains on the table whilst we continue with on-going constructive negotiations.”
A body representing doctors has urged parties to consider offering free gym memberships to young people in the most deprived areas to improve health and wellbeing.
In its manifesto ahead of May’s Holyrood elections, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh called for political parties to consider the policy, which it says could cost £26.4m per year.
However, the cost could be reduced if agreements are struck with local councils to reduce membership fees.
The college says people between the age of 16 and 24 in the most deprived areas of Scotland have been hit hard by the pandemic and may struggle to pay for a membership, which could impact on their health.
Acting president, professor Angela Thomas, said: “As we begin to think about the post-Covid recovery of health services, we must consider new ways to improve the health of the nation.
“One of the ways to improve health is through exercise, with an awareness of the economic barriers that people often experience.
“We know that exercise can improve not only physical health, but mental health too.”
She added: “While it is of course vital that we encourage appropriate forms of exercise among all age groups, we note that the 16-24 year old demographic is least likely to be able to afford a gym membership – particularly those living in the poorest communities and who are unemployed or on low pay.
“Our analysis estimates that providing 16-24-year-olds in the poorest communities with a free gym membership could cost up to £26.4m – and that’s assuming that everyone takes up the offer.
“The reality is that the cost could be less, particularly if the next Scottish Government resolved to working with local authorities to provide free gym access.
“We believe that for political parties to include this in their manifestos, ahead of the Scottish Parliament election in May, would present a new way of establishing a healthier lifestyle for young people.”
Ross County manager John Hughes and Hamilton head coach Brian Rice have both been hit with Scottish Football Association disciplinary charges over comments made in the media.
Hughes faces charges relating to recent games against St Mirren and Hibernian, while Rice has received a notice of complaint over his comments after a Scottish Cup defeat against the Paisley side.
The pair have both been accused of breaching the same disciplinary rules: firstly relating to criticising match officials in such a way that implies bias, incompetence or impinges on their character, and secondly not acting in the best interests of football.
The former Falkirk team-mates and coaching colleagues both face hearings on April 29.