Lucy Cowie

This week in the UK - 26th March 2021

Scottish Government

The Scottish government and First Minster Nicola Sturgeon have been under intense scrutiny this week, as the findings of the committee of MSPs and independent advisor on the Alex Salmond case were published.

At the end of last week, the judgment of MSPs on Sturgeon’s handling of the Alex Salmond sexual harassment case was leaked to the press. A majority voted that the First Minster had misled the committee, and that there were 'serious flaws' in the government's handling.

The cross-party group of MSPs are part of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints; comprised of four SNP MSPs, two Conservatives, one Labour, one Lib Dem and an independent MSP. Sturgeon accused the group of resorting to 'baseless assertion, supposition and smear' in their decision.

This week, a review by an independent advisor found she had not broken the ministerial code. A senior Irish lawyer, James Hamilton, found that although Sturgeon had provided an 'incomplete narrative of events' to MSPs, this was due to a 'genuine failure of recollection'.

Following the official release of the committee’s report on Tuesday, the Conservatives led a vote of no confidence against the First Minister, which was defeated 65 votes to 31, with 27 abstentions from Labour and most Lib Dems.

The Scottish Conservatives’ Holyrood group leader, Ruth Davidson, told MSPs that the 'honourable thing' would have been for the First Minister to resign. Sturgeon responded that she would not be 'bullied' from office.

Image: Scottish Parliament from Wikimedia Commons

The Scottish Parliament will break today for the lead up to the Scottish elections, hence the debate in Holyrood has been paused for now. Instead, the political consequences for the First Minster will be shown at the polls.

This also comes as the Scottish Government announced on Wednesday its intention to give NHS staff in Scotland a 4% pay rise, as opposed to the 1% offered by the UK Government in England and Wales. This amounts to a £1,200 increase a year on average for front-line NHS nurses, and will be backdated to December 2020.

The rest of the UK...

The anniversary of the first lockdown last year was marked on Tuesday by a moment of silence and placing lit candles on doorstops, including at Downing Street.

Image: Chirag K from Unsplash

At the daily Covid briefing, the Prime Minister said that a year ago, the government had been fighting in the dark against a 'callous and invisible enemy.'

He said that there were many things he would do differently if he could go back, but one of the biggest issues was the failure to conduct asymptomatic testing quickly enough.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty also highlighted the difficulties in accessing real-time data, given the lack of testing on the Continent too. This limited the Government’s ability to know the real levels in Europe and subsequent impact on the UK.

Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer called for a public inquiry at PMQs to 'find justice for those who’ve suffered so much'.

Fears of another covid surge from Europe were addressed by the UK government this week, as Chris Whitty stated that another covid surge was inevitable.

However, he did caveat this by noting that this is due to realigning the balance of harms from covid and lockdown. He said that rates will rise quickly as the country starts to unlock next month, which is why the lockdown route map is so gradual after the Winter’s second-wave.

Equally, the public was also warned at the weekend that foreign holidays are still not guaranteed, as a scientist from the government’s advisory body called it 'extremely unlikely'. This is because despite the success of the UK’s vaccine program, the roll-out has been far slower in Europe.

Going into next week, campaigning for the Scottish elections will fully begin, giving us the chance to see how a pandemic election period plays out.