Calls for clarity over Scotland Covid-19 inquiry

Clarification around the terms and timing of a potential public inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of Covid-19 is needed as soon as possible, the Scottish Liberal Democrats leader has said.

In a letter sent to Nicola Sturgeon, Willie Rennie demands clarity around the potential “pandemic inquiry” following the evidence given by former No.10 adviser Dominic Cummings in the House of Commons last week.

Concerns around the SNP’s commitment to a full, Scotland-only inquiry were raised after Boris Johnson announced plans for a four nations inquiry two weeks ago.

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The Scottish Government appeared to move away from a Scotland-only inquiry in response to the announcement from the Prime Minister when it stated it would “determine if a Scottish inquiry is required” if the UK Government inquiry isn’t taken forward “swiftly”.

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks through Glasgow city centre. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

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In his letter, Mr Rennie said: “In the autumn you committed to an independent inquiry into the Scottish Government's handling of this unprecedented crisis. During the election you told the public that it would be a priority.

“Yet your statement to Parliament on Wednesday offered no timeline, and no indication as to whether this inquiry would be Scotland-specific or UK-wide. These basic clarifications cut to the core of this.

“While the chicanery of political advisors like Dominic Cummings may create headlines, I hope that you will agree that it is important that the detail of Scotland specific decisions are not lost.

"The longer we wait for an inquiry to begin, the greater the risk is that the truth strays, lessons won’t be learned and service improvements will be left waiting.

“You will know better than anyone the volume of distinct decisions taken by the Scottish Government. That means there are distinct lessons for us to learn.”

He added: “Between the first and second waves of the virus I called for a rapid inquiry to ensure the Scottish Government learned lessons and head off further outbreaks.

"Instead students were sent back to university without protection, a tier system was replaced just as quickly as it had been developed, contact tracing saw long delays and travel and quarantine failures contributed to the virus being re-seeded. The result was a deadly second wave.

“While the vaccine programme now appears to offer us a route back to normality, we don’t know how long we will be living with the remnants of this virus.

"We must prepare for others. The key lessons we must take away must not be lost amid fading memories or squabbling advisors.”

In her statement on the priorities of her government, Ms Sturgeon told Holyrood she has “committed” to a “comprehensive” public inquiry around Covid-19.

She said: “We have committed already to a comprehensive public inquiry and, within our first one hundred days, we will establish a standing committee on pandemics."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Following the UK Government’s decision to join us in committing to take forward a four-nations full public inquiry, detailed work will be done on the terms of reference and the timescale.

"When we have a greater sense of that remit, we will make a judgment as to whether the UK-wide inquiry covers all of the issues that need to be covered for Scotland or whether there is a need to have a part of the process that looks at other issues.”

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