Nicola Sturgeon pressed to avoid 'Scottish exceptionalism' and begin Covid-19 inquiry

Anas Sarwar has repeated calls for Nicola Sturgeon to set up a public inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of Covid-19 as soon as possible.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has called for a judge-led public inquiry into the handling of Covid-19 in Scotland.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, the Scottish Labour leader highlighted a timeline of decisions by the SNP which were made at the same time or later than the UK Government, and warned the Scottish Government should challenge “Scottish exceptionalism” around the Covid-19 response.

The First Minister has come under repeated pressure to begin preparations for a judge-led Covid-19 inquiry that is Scotland specific, but the Scottish Government has said it will wait until a decision is made by the UK Government on the remit and scope of its equivalent inquiry.

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Ms Sturgeon repeated her “strong” and “firm” commitment to an inquiry, but did not confirm when that would begin.

Speaking in Holyrood, Mr Sarwar said: “NHS and social care staff and the Scottish people deserve more than just rhetoric, they deserve answers.

"They deserve more than being told that their government cares, they deserve answers, because we can’t allow Scottish exceptionalism to stop us from learning critical lessons.

"It is always easier to focus on failure elsewhere, you must learn from mistakes here at home.

"We don’t need to wait for the UK Government, work can begin right now to establish a judge-led, Scottish specific public inquiry on the decisions made in Scotland.”

Responding to the demand for the public inquiry to start as soon as possible, the First Minister rejected accusations the Scottish Government was trying to dodge answering difficult questions around its handling of Covid-19.

Ms Sturgeon said she has made a “candid admission” she and her government got things wrong during the pandemic and criticised “bits of paper and timelines” produced by Scottish Labour.

She added: "People can make up their own minds whether they are hearing from me an inability to face up to mistakes or Scottish exceptionalism.

"I can paper the walls with bits of paper and timelines but actually my focus right now as First Minister is getting the vaccination programme delivered to keep people safe in the future, to make sure that we are taking the right decisions, criticised by many for being too cautious and too slow, to keep people safe as we could be in the foothills of a third wave of this virus.

"That’s my, not just my focus, that’s my responsibility as First Minister, but of course we have lessons to learn and I have never said otherwise.”

Responding directly to the question on the public inquiry, Ms Sturgeon said she wants to see it “up and running” by the end of the year.

She said: "The UK Government has announced plans for a public inquiry and has asked for four nations discussion about remit and where there might be overlaps and usually from the benches here and the Labour benches here I am being encouraged to take part in constructive four nations discussions so we have agreed to do that.

"But the commitment to a public inquiry is there, it is firm, and it is strong.”

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