Labour MSP calls for Covid debate during day of tributes to Prince Philip at Holyrood

‘Duty and reponsibility’ of MSPs to hold Nicola Sturgeon to account for 10,000 deaths, says Neil Findlay

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
@andywoodcock
Saturday 10 April 2021 12:46
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A Labour MSP has broken with a cross-party agreement to put politics on hold during the period of mourning for the Duke of Edinburgh by calling for a debate on Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of coronavirus to be tacked on to tributes at Holyrood on Monday.

The Scottish Parliament has been recalled for one day next week to allow MSPs to make statements on Prince Philip’s death, before going back into recess until after the 6 May elections.

But Neil Findlay said that Monday’s recall offered the only opportunity before the election to hold the SNP-led government to account for an admission by health secretary Jeane Freeman that mistakes were made in releasing patients potentially infected with Covid-19 into care homes.

In an interview, Ms Freeman said that the Scottish government did not” take the right precautions” during the first wave of coronavirus from March last year.

Some 900 elderly people were transferred untested from hospitals to residential settings north of the border last year.

Speaking in a podcast earlier this week, Freeman said: “We didn’t take the right precautions to make sure that older people leaving hospital going into care homes were as safe as they could be and that was a mistake.”

In a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s presiding officer Ken Macintosh, Mr Findlay said: “These are matters of huge national importance.

“At no time in the last year have ministers accepted they made mistakes in their care home discharge policy. Now this has been admitted, then MSPs must be able to hold those in power to account.”

The backbench MSP denied that his request was disrespectful towards the Duke, insisting that holding ministers to account over their handling of the pandemic was “our duty and our responsibility to all those who have died”.

He is standing down at the election after 10 years as MSP for Lothian, making Monday’s session his last opportunity to direct questions at Ms Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament. 

His request is understood not to have the backing of Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, though the outgoing MSP is not expected to face any admonishment. Mr Sarwar is expected to go on the offensive over the care home admission in the election campaign, but is understood not to believe Monday is the appropriate time.

Mr Findlay told The Independent: “I am calling for parliament to have the agreed session to pay tribute to the life of the Duke of Edinburgh then a break and following that reconvene to give MSPs the opportunity to ask questions of ministers about the 10,000 Scottish Covid deaths and the cabinet secretary’s new admission of mistakes in the hospital discharge policy. 

“This would provide time for MSPs to show respect for Prince Phillip’s passing and to hold ministers to account over Covid - this is our duty and our responsibility to all those who have died.”

Responding to the admission from Freeman, Sturgeon said in an interview on Friday: “Jeane Freeman is doing what I’ve been trying to do all along which is not take that position that politicians traditionally take of refusing ever to accept that they might have go things wrong.

“We were faced, just over a year ago, with a global pandemic of a new virus that we knew very little about.

“We took decisions that we thought were best, in good faith and based on evidence we had.

“We have learned lessons along the way, the number of care home deaths in the second wave of the pandemic because of some of what we learned in the first wave were much lower.

“It’s really important, given the magnitude of what we face, that politicians don’t dig their heels in and refuse to accept that they might have got something wrong.”

The latest statistics from the National Records of Scotland, issued on Thursday, showed 9,997 fatalities registered by 4 April with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate.

Separate figures detailing the number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test yesterday put Scotland’s coronavirus toll at 7,626.

Unusually, rather than being dissolved ahead of the elections, the Scottish Parliament has gone into recess in order to allow for any urgent business relating to the pandemic, so MSPs retain their position until the eve of polling.

Scottish parties have agreed to suspend campaigning until after Monday’s Holyrood session, but activities are expected to resume that afternoon ahead of an STV leaders’ debate on Tuesday.

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