Covid Scotland: SNP accused of 'shambles' amid confusion over 'vertical drinking' rules

The Scottish Government has been accused of making up Covid guidance as it goes along, amid confusion over “vertical drinking” rules around face masks in pubs and nightclubs.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney told BBC Good Morning Scotland on Wednesday that customers will not be allowed to stand and drink at a bar without wearing a face covering once Level 0 restrictions are eased.

But hospitality representatives slammed Mr Swinney’s comments as “misinformed” and “unhelpful”, saying they had been told by officials that this rule would be relaxed.

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The Scottish Government later confirmed the Deputy First Minister’s comments were not correct.

Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

A spokesperson said that while table service may be encouraged, face masks will not be required when drinking at a bar.

During an appearance on BBC Radio Scotland on Wednesday, Mr Swinney was asked: “If you are standing at a bar, for instance – vertical drinking as they call it – you are standing up having a drink at a bar, can you do that without wearing a face covering?”

He replied: “No, you can’t” – adding you can order at a bar wearing a face covering but not stand there and drink it.

Mr Swinney also said that face masks may not be required in nightclubs.

He said: “If people are sitting down at a table and having a drink you can say the hospitality rules apply there and people don’t have to wear a face covering.

“But if somebody is up dancing, which they are inevitably moving around, the existing rules say they should wear a face covering – but I accept that in a nightclub that is quite a challenge.

“That is why we are having the discussions and we will iron those issues out in consultation with the sector in the course of today.”

Mr Swinney’s statement was criticised by industry bodies.

The Campaign for Real Ale Scotland director, Joe Crawford, said: “Being allowed to order at the bar is all well and good but if, from August 9, pub goers can only have a drink whilst sitting at a table that means our smaller, community locals still won’t be able to operate at a normal capacity or trade at a level they need to make ends meet.

“This is huge blow for consumers, pubs and the breweries that serve them who were hoping to be joining England and Wales in moving towards normality.

“Our pubs need to be allowed to start to recover and rebuild from a devastating 18 months of closures and stifling restrictions so they can continue to play their part at the heart of communities and in tackling loneliness and social isolation."

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), said officials had confirmed in a meeting with the Scottish Government on Tuesday that “vertical drinking” at the bar would in fact be allowed.

He said: “It is absolutely crucial to have this clarified although we are still waiting for the finer detail on this and other questions.

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"However, we thank the Scottish Government for their time today and hope that further information is forthcoming before Monday.

"Mr Swinney’s comments were both unhelpful and misinformed.”

Paul Togneri, Policy Manager at the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, also said he had received confirmation that this will be allowed.

He said: “Following conversations with Scottish Government officials, it has been confirmed that vertical drinking will be allowed in Scotland’s hospitality premises from next Monday.

"The confusion earlier this morning caused unnecessary alarm for the many businesses who believed they may be forced to stay closed as a result.

"We’re glad that it’s now been clarified but we await the formal guidance, which we hope is published asap to give operators a chance to get ready for Monday.”

“There is absolutely no sense in ministers allowing large groups to congregate on dancefloors in nightclubs but not allowing two or three friends to stand and chat with a pint in their hand at their local pub.”

Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health Annie Wells called the confusion a “shambles”.

She said: “The SNP Government are tying themselves in knots trying to explain the inconsistencies in the latest Covid guidance.

“They seem to be making up rules as they go along. It now seems they’re preparing to allow a change of rules on face masks in nightclubs. The SNP should have held discussions about this before making an announcement, not afterwards."

She added: “Within just a few hours, the SNP Government have u-turned on what John Swinney emphatically told everyone earlier.

“He had to apologise for promoting fake news a few weeks ago and now his officials have been forced to slap down his latest gaffe in humiliating fashion.

“Mixed messaging like this is unacceptable. It makes life even harder for businesses who already have to adapt to new rules.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said Mr Swinney’s comments on Good Morning Scotland were encouraging the public to take precautions around Covid, including wearing face masks where appropriate.

They said: “We are encouraging the hospitality sector to consider retaining safety measures that are currently in place to help protect the public and staff.

"While wearing of face masks is not required while eating or drinking (whether seated or standing), in order to avoid crowding in hospitality venues it may be sensible to keep measures such as table service or operate a queuing system.

“We are currently engaging with the nightclub sector on guidance to ensure they can safely reopen on 9 August. It is due to be published in the coming days.”

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