Vaccine passports in Scotland from October 1 as MSPs approve move

The new SNP-Green government clinched its first major parliamentary victory when a controversial scheme to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and large scale events was passed by its coalition majority.

Amendments by Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs all fell after the new co-operation agreement ensured the Scottish Greens would vote to pass the government’s plan – despite the party being opposed to the idea before striking a deal to enter government.

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie was accused of “jettisoning his principles" in a heated debate, which also saw the government accused of failing to produce evidence for the move. He had previously warned they would “deepen discrimination.”

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The scheme was passed by 68 votes to 55, and will now come into operation on October 1, despite much anger by the industries affected.

The measures come in from October 1

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Deputy First Minister John Swinney said vaccines passports were a “proportional response” to rising Covid cases and would reduce risk while avoiding further restrictions for events, and should also encourage uptake of the vaccine among younger people.

Coronavirus vaccination certificates will now be required to enter events such as nightclubs, music festivals and some football grounds, with staff at the venues able to download a "verifier app" to a smartphone to allow digital checks on people’s certification status.

Guidance will be provided for venues on how to use the app to check for certification – although under 18s and adults who are ineligible for vaccination will be exempt.

Vaccine passports are being debated in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday

Health secretary Humza Yousaf said: “We must do all we can to stem the rise in cases and vaccine certification will form part of a range measures which can help us to do this.

“It will only be used in certain higher risk settings and we hope this will allow businesses to remain open and prevent any further restrictions as we head into autumn and winter.

“We do not want to re-impose any of the restrictions that have been in place for much of this year as we all know how much harm they have caused to businesses, to education and to people’s general well-being. But we must stem the rise in cases.

"We want to ensure that as many people get vaccinated as possible and particularly to increase uptake in the younger age cohort, so anything that helps to incentivise that is helpful.”

Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie during a debate concerning vaccine certification at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood

However Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton condemned the decision and confirmed that his party will continue to campaign for the abolition of the passports.

In his speech he warned the government that given the potential for those who have been vaccinated to still transmit the virus, vaccine passports would give people a false sense of security.

“We are fundamentally opposed to the introduction of mandatory vaccine certification on grounds both of ideology and of practicality,” he said.

“In particular I am dismayed that on such a fundamental recalibration of our civil liberties, the government has failed to produce any substantive detail for the introduction of these measures.

“Practical problems seem to be endless and will affect virtually everyone.

"Business owners are left in the dark and will have to wait until the very last minute to discover whether they will have to ask for a Covid ID to their patrons. The system does not specify how it will handle those who received one or both doses outside Scotland, nor how it will handle the booster programme. It only leaves questions and confusion.”

On the Greens backing the introduction of the vaccine passports, he added: “I’m saddened by the Scottish Greens abandoning their previous principled opposition to this illiberal policy.

“Despite just days’ notice, no proposed end date to the use of these passports and an open door to their expansion, the Greens will act as midwives to a policy that sets our country on a disturbing and illiberal course.”

Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said there was a “real danger” that the passports would entrench vaccine hesitancy.

"Almost 60,000 people were consulted by the UK Government,” she said, referencing a consultation south of the border on vaccine certfication. “How many have the Scottish Government consulted? Have they even spoken to the businesses that will be responsible for implementing this?”There seems to have been little meaningful engagement, according to the nighttime industry, and the hospitality industry. And by the government's own admission, in the document published yesterday, they haven't even based this on evidence."

She added: “The problems with the current system are fast becoming legend, those on clinical trials not getting certificates, those getting a dose elsewhere not being recorded, those whose data does not match and is wrong.

"So there is a practical question of the government's ability to even implement this. Now, we all know that Covid positive case numbers are very high, frighteningly so, but we need to understand what works and not simply reach for anything, just to be seen to take action and end up making matters worse.”

And Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the plan was “riddled with holes.”

"The flaws are considerable and the lack of detail is astounding,” he said. “The SNP government has failed to bring opposition parties or the public onboard with these plans. They didn’t even bother to make the effort. At the last minute, all we got was a subpar pamphlet that can be summed up in three words – ask again later.

“Businesses are being chucked under the bus by these plans. There seems to be no financial support or assistance available to help them administer and enforce this policy. It will hit them with considerable costs – but the SNP don’t even know how much.

“Once again, the people who create jobs in Scotland are treated disgracefully by the SNP government. There are still no answers and no detail on so many key questions.

“Nicola Sturgeon is asking that we ignore serious concerns and nod this policy through like her spineless new coalition partners - but we cannot support such weak proposals.”

The move was greeted with anger and dismay by the hospitality industry.

The Scottish Licencing Trade Association’s managing director, Colin Wilkinson said: “The Scottish Government issued a paper on the scheme only this morning, just a few hours ahead of the vote, yet we remain unaware of how it will be implemented.

"Where is the evidence that this action is needed and is proportionate, a word often used by the Deputy First Minister in the debate this afternoon? There has been no assessment of the costs to businesses, nor the impact on the sector.“The sector is labelled as being a high-risk setting, but the hospitality industry is not the only sector where people congregate.”

He added: “We fully support moves to reduce the rate and impact of transmission of coronavirus but these must be proportionate and directed to the sectors or settings responsible for spreading transmission the most.

“The finer details of how this scheme will work should have been discussed with the hospitality industry prior to today’s debate and vote.”

Mr Wilkinson said that the definition of what constitutes a “nightclub or an analogous venue” must be provided as soon as possible in order to allow premises to put procedures in place for the implementation of the scheme.

UKHospitality Scotland Executive Director Leon Thompson said the result was “extremely disappointing.”

"The Scottish Government has not listened and now our businesses face just three weeks in which to prepare for a policy that will put further economic and resourcing pressures on them.

"The Scottish Government has not consulted with hospitality, it has not produced any credible plans for the introduction of passports and it has not even defined what a nightclub is. This leaves many businesses fearful that they will fall within scope of this legislation and concerned about the open-ended costs they might now face.

“UKHospitality Scotland will continue to push for solutions to ensure the worst effects of this policy are mitigated, so our members can continue to work towards recovery.”

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