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Former First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon giving evidence - A Scottish Covid inquiry update

Sturgeon giving evidence 

The hearing on 31 January was essential as Jamie Dawson KC, the lead counsel of the Covid Inquiry in Core UK decision-making and political governance, quizzed the former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. 


A tearful Sturgeon was spotted at the Covid Inquiry being quizzed, claiming her sense of being overwhelmed during the pandemic and that she did not "see an opportunity of any sort in Covid." Sturgeon further stressed her acknowledgment of the urgency of the situation during the pandemic despite being questioned in terms of her awareness of the seriousness of the Covid situation. According to the BBC insights, a tearful Sturgeon suggested that she did not intend to manipulate the pandemic for her career growth. Instead, she viewed it "as a threat, a risk, a catastrophe." 


Sturgeon was also asked about her decision to ban mass gatherings before alerting former Prime Minister Johnson. "My responsibility was to [the] Scottish people, not Boris Johnson", responded Sturgeon, emphasising the importance of guidance to the public. 


Did Sturgeon's Scottish independence agenda influence her Covid policy? 

Sturgeon is renowned for her lifelong campaign for Scottish independence. Nevertheless, she stressed that the decisions made during the pandemic were not based on political considerations. "I was motivated solely by trying to do the best we could to keep people as safe as possible," she said. Furthermore, Sturgeon told Dawson that the Scottish Independence work was suspended in 2020 and repeatedly denied any reinforcement of her political agenda as it would have been "a betrayal of the Scottish public." 


Despite Sturgeon's claim of good communication regarding Covid policy, she failed to convey her idea of risk. When it comes to Sturgeon's communication of the risk of Covid infection which came out as confusing to the public, the Chair clarified the difference between 'elimination' and 'eradication', saying that "people were playing fast and loose with language."


Today's Inquiry concluded that both the SNP and the Conservative Party have subsequently politicised the pandemic, aiming for easy implementation of Covid policies such as lockdown measures. An emotional Sturgeon saying that she did her best, apologised once again to those who had suffered and had lost during the pandemic. 

Week 2 update of the Inquiry 

This week, the Scottish government's decision-making process has been put on the table. On 30 January, the Inquiry proceeded with John Swinney, the former deputy first minister of Scotland, as well as Kate Forbes, the former finance secretary, being quizzed; questions arose concerning Sturgeon's cabinet during the pandemic, such as the exchange of private messages being deleted or the miscommunication within and outside the cabinet. 


Forbes highlighted that she "wasn't invited" to the Gold Command Covid meetings and that she was "surpris[ed]" that those meetings were not minuted. Forbes's statements suggest a non-transparent decision-making process within the cabinet. Forbes's statements also contradict Sturgeon's statement during her hearing, which denied any motivation for secrecy. 


Moreover, the Inquiry turned its attention to funding during the pandemic. When asked "whether the Scottish government should have done more to protect vulnerable groups during the pandemic, " Forbes responded with an apology for the ones being heavily impacted and said, "Every single penny of allocated money was spent on tackling Covid." Forbes later had the UK government take the blame for not sparing enough furlough funding towards the Scottish government and for the eventual funding being granted coming too late. 


John Swinney, the former deputy first minister of Nicola Sturgeon, was quizzed in the second half of the hearing.


Once again, the Inquiry hovers around the internal decision-making process and the exclusivity of the inner circle of elite politicians. Swinney was grilled concerning Sturgeon's cabinet. While Swinney denied the accusation, claimed that he had experienced otherwise during his term and that Sturgeon "encouraged an open discussion", he admitted that the notes from Gold command meetings "should have been circulated." 


According to the analysis of the BBC insights, evidence provided by Swinney still suggests that decisions in the Scottish government were made by a handful of ministers as the others delegated voting power to the First minister and her deputy. 


Later, Swinney admitted to deleting messages sent to Nicola Sturgeon during the pandemic as it aligned with the Scottish government's records policy. Swinney also conceded that the messages "might not be retained" as he followed the protocol of the ministerial code, for which he "unreservedly" apologised for the misunderstanding of the governmental records policy. 


The hearing ended with another blow to the decision-making process of the Scottish government. 

Edited By: Josh Reidelbach

Photo: Sky News 

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