SNP ministers insisted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic that official advice on the emerging threat should be “branded” as Scottish.
Official minutes from one of the Scottish Government’s emergency operation meetings show ministers wanted people to know the advice was coming out of Edinburgh as well as London.
Opposition parties said the public would be “baffled” by the sense of priorities, and said ministers should have been solely focused on tackling the developing outbreak not “scoring political points”.
The disclosure come just days after the SNP was accused of being out of touch for launching an ‘independence taskforce’ against the backdrop of the pandemic and associated economic crisis.
SNP branded out of touch after launching ‘independence taskforce’
The high-level discussion is revealed in a series of records grudgingly released by the Scottish Government under freedom of information law.
The material covers meetings of Scottish Government Resilience Room (SGoRR) – which bring togethers ministers, medial experts, scientists, the police, councils, and logistics experts – for February and March last year, when the pandemic first arrived in the UK.
The Scottish Government initially refused to release the notes and minutes, arguing ministers’ private discussions had to be protected.
However it backed down after an appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner.
The material shows that as the pandemic struck, the Scottish Government was keen to work in close collaboration with the UK Government.
But SNP ministers were also anxious for official guidance to be “branded” to underline the role of the Scottish Government (SG) as well as the UK Government (UKG).
The minutes of the SGoRR meeting of March 2, chaired by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, state: “On marketing, the UKG will be issuing new material this week.
“Ministers would like to ensure that we can issue our own SG branded versions as it was important that the Scottish public understood that the advice was from SG as well as UKG.”
Tory health spokesman Donald Cameron MSP said: “This shows from the very start of the pandemic the SNP Government was trying to score political points over branding when they should have been focussing on how to get to grips with Covid-19.
“Nothing has changed in nearly a year. The number of vaccines delivered dropped by around 3,000 per day on the weekend, compared to earlier in the week, whilst at the same time the SNP were singing and dancing about creating a new ‘Independence Taskforce.’
“Never mind if the SNP like it or not, this pandemic has shown how important it is for us be part of a strong United Kingdom.
“Over £8.6bn has been received by Scotland to tame the effects of the virus leading to the protection of almost a million jobs through the furlough scheme.”
Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton added: “In the midst of a global pandemic, the public will be baffled that SNP ministers’ immediate concern was whether the advice needed a Saltire slapped on the side.”
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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “These claims are unfounded.
“Health is devolved and it is therefore entirely appropriate for public information in Scotland to be led by the Scottish Government to ensure maximum reach and relevance for essential public health messaging.
“Our most-recently published survey data continues show high levels of trust in Scottish Government information, with 69 per cent saying that the Scottish Government is doing a good or very good job of helping Scotland deal with recovering from the pandemic.”