Nicola Sturgeon caves to mounting pressure as she fears backlash for ‘abusing’ power

Nicola Sturgeon questioned on Covid daily briefings

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The Scottish Government have been holding the daily COVID-19 briefing sessions since March 2020 and they are shown on BBC Scotland. The First Minister is joined by cabinet members and clinical directors/scientists up to four days a week.

But speaking during Holyrood’s COVID-19 committee today, Ms Sturgeon said she didn’t want to “abuse” her power as First Minister – with the upcoming election in May.

Responding to Central Scotland MSP Monica Lennon, Ms Sturgeon said: “I fully understand the importance of the election and democratic process and it is not in my interest in any way to be seen as abusing the position of First Minister and I will absolutely not do that.”

Ms Sturgeon continued: “I understand the importance of a level playing field in elections, and I will act appropriately.

“So you will undoubtedly not have me doing daily briefings every day the way I have been doing them previously.

“But if there are big decisions that we are having to make during the election period then I have a duty to communicate to the public what they are.

“It is open to Parliament to say that I should do that in Parliament rather than a daily briefing.”

The First Minister said Scots should expect to see more public health officials on the briefings referring to Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch and Chief Medical Officer Gregor Smith.

She added: “I suspect you will be seeing more, even more than you have over the last year, of Gregor and Jason in terms of a day to day basis.

“But if there are big decisions that we are having to make during the election period then I have a duty to communicate to the public what they are.

“It is open to Parliament to say that I should do that in Parliament rather than a daily briefing.” 

The First Minister said Scots should expect to see more public health officials on the briefings referring to Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch and Chief Medical Officer Gregor Smith. 

She added: “I suspect you will be seeing more, even more than you have over the last year, of Gregor and Jason in terms of a day to day basis.

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“It will not be business as normal during the election campaign but we will still be in a crisis and therefore we need to make sure we are serving the public appropriately.”

However, she made clear: “Going into the election I remain First Minister, and ministers remain ministers, so we have to remain accountable during a health crisis.”

She made clear that no “final, detailed decision” had yet been made on whether the briefings would be fronted by public health officials.

When asked about whether he would front the briefings, Professor Jason Leitch said: “Of course during the pre-election period, public health advice would be crucial.

 

“From my part, we [me and Gregor] will be available for public health advice, not for the politics but for the straight science during that pre-election period.”

The Scottish Parliament is set to be dissolved on March 25, ahead of the elections on May 6, which leaves a six-week campaign period.

The Scottish Conservatives had argued Nicola Sturgeon should be replaced by a medical or science expert in the Scottish Government daily briefings, over fears the platform could give her an unfair election advantage.

Scottish Conservative Chief Whip Miles Briggs MSP, said: “Our position has always been that the First Minister would have to step down from fronting the briefings during the election.

“It would have been grossly unfair to all other political parties for her to continue in the role. 

“As Scotland chooses its next parliament, public health officials should be the only ones giving us updates on the pandemic.

“The BBC must set out their plans for broadcasting the daily briefing as soon as possible.”

 

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Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, said: “Too often Nicola Sturgeon has strayed away from public health and into attacking political opponents and the press.

“I’m pleased that the First Minister has recognised that there are capable public health advisers who can lead the way while an election campaign is ongoing. She should resist the temptation to take to the podium and trust the experts to navigate us safely to election day.”

It comes after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack branded the briefings the “Nicola Sturgeon show” and claimed the COVID-19 pandemic had given the First Minister an unfair platform. 

A BBC spokesperson, added: “Our coverage of coronavirus and public health issues in Scotland incorporates a range of voices and perspectives.

“This allows us to bring news and views from around Scotland and beyond, involving politicians from across the political spectrum, as well as commentators, analysts and other experts.

“We remain committed to having this broad coverage of voices and perspectives across all our news outlets on television, radio and online.”

The corporation stressed they were also “committed to delivering on our obligations around impartiality and we, therefore, hear from a range of other voices.”

BBC Scotland said it still finalising its election coverage and will be announced in due course.

 

 

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