Sturgeon accused of ‘opportunistic politicking at taxpayer’s expense’ over pandemic thank you letters

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NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of “opportunistic politicking” after sending out a letter to every household in Scotland thanking them for “sticking with it” during the pandemic.

The Scottish Government have spent more than £700,000 sending out healthcare information leaflets across Scotland, accompanied by a personal letter from the First Minister.

Opponents have questioned the motives for the thank you note months before the Holyrood election, and argue it would have a better effect on public compliance and confidence if it were sent from NHS chiefs or the Chief Medical Officer.

The Scottish Conservatives say it strays “close to political campaigning” at the taxpayer’s expense.

A study by Survation, published last week, showed that trust in the NHS remains high across the country when it comes to providing public information about coronavirus, however trust in politicians and governments across the UK has significantly dropped.

Compared to April 2020, the percentage of people with a high level of trust in the Scottish Government’s information about the virus has fallen by 18 per cent, with 52 per cent of people saying they trusted the Government to a high degree. In comparison, those who said they trusted the NHS to a high level was 79 per cent this year – a fall of just two per cent compared to nine months ago.

High levels of trust in the UK Government’s information was reported by 40 per cent of the 1033 people asked, while Northern Ireland’s government was only trusted highly by 28 per cent of people. Welsh Government information was trusted highly by 47 per cent of respondents.

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The letter sent by the First Minister has started arriving through letterboxes in the past week, and states: “I will never be able to thank you, your family and your loved ones enough for what you have sacrificed to help Scotland through this pandemic so far. I know it’s hard but taking these difficult steps is our main weapon against the virus…”

It also urged people to continue to abide by the rules, advises on the vaccination strategy and ends: “ Thank you for sticking with it, Scotland”.

It comes after the the SNP complained to the BBC that it was not being given enough coverage in their post-Coronavirus briefing discussion.

The party’s deputy leader Keith Brown said inviting opposition politicians to discuss the latest updates was “deeply unfair”.

The BBC’s coverage cuts away from media questions to allow Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green politicians to have their say.

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In a letter to the BBC, Mr Brown said this section “is now overtly political with a stark bias against the largest party”.

Jackie Baillie, the interim leader of Scottish Labour, said: “Polling shows that people have considerably more trust in the NHS as a source of information on Covid-19 than they do in the Scottish and UK Governments.

“Of course it is vital that the public is kept informed of Scotland’s efforts to tackle Covid-19, but it seems both opportunistic and irresponsible for the First Minister to be signing taxpayer-funded letters to every household in Scotland just four months before the Scottish Parliament elections.

“If the intention is to maximise compliance with the Covid-19 restrictions and stop the spread of the virus, surely it would be more appropriate for this letter to have been signed by medical chiefs rather than by a politician?”

Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP, said “All evidence suggests that people want real health professionals giving them advice rather than politicians.

“The First Minister has to know that putting her name on a piece of communications makes it political in a way that a letter from the Chief Medical Officer would not be. This is particularly true of vaccines, where the First Minister has been embroiled in her own political disputes about the misuse of statistics just this week.

“As we come up to elections in just a few months vital medical information must be kept at arms’ length from politics and personalities.

“Blurring the line between the Scottish Government and the SNP has happened systematically in recent years and this is just the latest symptom. A reverse course is needed.”

A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “We welcome more information for people about NHS services but this accompanying letter, from Nicola Sturgeon directly, appears to stray close to political campaigning using public money when an election is only a few months away.”

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The Scottish Government did not explain the decision for the First Minister to pen the letter instead of the Chief medical officer when asked by The , but said “regionalising” the letter, by sending it from local NHS boards for example, would have increased the cost.

A spokeswoman said: “Regionalising the letter would have increased the costs and there are no pre-election restrictions currently in place.

“The doordrop to every household in Scotland sets out how the vaccine programme will progress and emphasises that health services are still in place to support people when needed for non-COVID reasons as part of the Right Care Right Place campaign.

“The letter from the First Minister thanked people for abiding by the restrictions in place, recognising how difficult it has been for everyone and how important it is in preventing the spread of the virus and avoiding the health service becoming overwhelmed.”

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