Stop ‘dodging questions’ over lockdown, Tory leader tells SNP

Douglas Ross - Jeff J Mitchell/AFP
Douglas Ross - Jeff J Mitchell/AFP

SNP ministers must stop "dodging questions" about the easing of lockdown in Scotland and what the new normal will look like, the Tories have said, after Boris Johnson unveiled details of his plan for England.

Douglas Ross said Kate Forbes, the Scottish Finance Secretary, had refused during an interview to provide a "concrete guarantee" that the entire country would move to the lowest tier of restrictions on July 19.

The Scottish Tory leader also said that she had failed to make clear when directly challenged what restrictions would continue and when they would be removed.

Although she told a BBC interviewer she expected the wearing of face masks to continue beyond the planned "Freedom Day" of August 9, she refused to provide any timescale for this ending.

Neither did she say whether licensed premises would be permitted to operate normally, without table service, or if nightclubs could reopen.

Instead, she said Scots would have to wait until July 13 for Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, to set out her immediate plans.

Demand for clarity

The demand for clarity came the day after the Prime Minister suggested that Britain might not return to normality if it did not seize the opportunity now.

He argued "the virus will have an extra advantage in the colder months" that would mean postponing the unlocking until next year. Laws enforcing masks and social distancing are to be scrapped in England on July 19.

On the same date Ms Sturgeon has said she wants to ease lockdown and abolish social distancing outdoors, with all remaining major restrictions and distancing indoors to be axed on August 9.

However, there have been growing fears over the past week that the First Minister will again postpone her timetable after Covid case rates rose to a record high and it emerged that Scotland is Europe's virus hotspot.

Official figures showed Scotland's case rate was almost twice that of England and four times that of Wales, with the Test and Protect contact tracing system struggling to keep up with the surge.

A further 2,363 cases were recorded on Tuesday, a drop from the record high of 4,234 last Thursday.

However, the number of Scots in hospital continued to rise, increasing by eight to 346, while the total in intensive cases rose by two to 32 and six more deaths were registered.

'Muddying the waters'

Ms Sturgeon tweeted that "daily fluctuations (are) still likely" but Mr Ross said "SNP Ministers must understand that individuals and businesses are desperate to know if Scotland is going to move to Level 0 on July 19".

He said: "Kate Forbes this morning fell short of giving them a concrete guarantee that there won’t be a further delay in easing restrictions.

"Ministers must avoid muddying the waters ahead of any future announcements on current restrictions easing.

"The Scottish Government are also saying that we will face longer term restrictions after August 9 like continued mandatory facemask wearing, but have so far failed to say exactly what they are. The public deserve to know what longer term measures are going to be in place."

Ms Forbes told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland there were "two fundamental differences" between the Scottish Government's plan and Mr Johnson's, the first on the timetable and the second on the continuing use of face masks.

The Prime Minister said government guidance would be put in place suggesting that masks be worn in crowded places, such as public transport, but legal enforcement would end.

Ms Forbes said the Scottish Government "expect there to be some baseline measures" that will be in force beyond August 9, such as the wearing of face masks, but did not stipulate whether this would be a legal requirement.

She said case numbers were stabilising and if that continued "then our hope would be to reopen on the descending path of this third wave, rather than the ascending path".