Covid Scotland: Anger mounts over Scotland's vaccine passport scheme amid claims it is 'riddled with holes'

Scotland's hospitality and night-time industries have reacted with anger and dismay after a controversial vaccine passport scheme was passed in Holyrood yesterday as a result of the deal struck by the SNP and Scottish Greens.

From October 1 coronavirus vaccination certificates will now be required to enter nightclubs, music festivals and some football grounds, after the plan was pushed through Holyrood by SNP and Green MSPs in the face of intense opposition.

Scottish Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats described it as "illiberal”, “riddled with holes” and less detailed than a cocktail bar menu, while the scheme was greeted with fury by affected businesses, who said they had not been consulted by the government, despite the plan being mooted by Nicola Sturgeon a fortnight ago.

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Covid Scotland: How do I get a Covid vaccine passport and how does it work?
Nicola Sturgeon, and Deputy First Minister John Swinney arrive at parliament on Thursday

Staff at the venues affected are now expected to download a "verifier app" to a smartphone to allow digital checks on people’s certification status – although under 18s and adults who are ineligible for vaccination will be exempt.

Yet the Scottish Licencing Trade Association’s managing director, Colin Wilkinson said his industry remained “unaware” of how the passports would be implemented and criticised the government for only issuing a paper outlining its plan a few hours ahead of the vote.

He added: "Where is the evidence that this action is needed and is proportionate, a word often used by the Deputy First Minister in the debate? 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.

“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.

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

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

The scheme will make a QR code available through a smart phone app – along with a paper alternative for those who need it – which will be scanned before entry is allowed to nightclubs or similar venues, adult entertainment, unseated indoor events with more than 500 people, outdoor unseated events with more than 4,000 people or any event with more than 10,000 in attendance.

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

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.”

Earlier the Night-time Industries Association Scotland Commission had written to the First Minister urging her not to implement the policy as it would “cripple” a sector which had found pandemic restrictions “devastating.”

Chair of the organisation Mike Grieve also said there had been a lack of meaningful consultation with the sector about the policy, and accused ministers of “putting their heads in the sand”.

“We are warning the First Minister that by going down the vaccine passports route she is making a serious error,” he said.

“With so many pubs and bars offering similar services to nightclubs, and with so many nightclubs offering an array of different services, it is almost impossible to identify with any sort of precision what a ‘nightclub’ is. Leaving out the rest of hospitality from the policy will only displace the transmission risk to other settings.

“Although Scottish Government officials have engaged with the sector following the policy announcement two weeks ago, it has become obvious that not one of the concerns we have raised is being seriously contemplated by ministers – despite the policy being implemented as early as next month.

“We have said repeatedly that, if it must happen, negative testing and natural immunity should be included for certification. But it feels like they have been burying their heads in the sand.”

Amendments to the government’s plan by Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs all fell and the scheme was passed by 68 votes to 55 sfter the new co-operation agreement ensured the Scottish Greens would vote to pass it –despite the party being previously opposed to the passports idea.

As a result, Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie was accused of “jettisoning his principles" in a heated debate. He had previously warned they would “deepen discrimination.”

During the debate 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.

Afterwards 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.”

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.

“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.”

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

She added: ”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.

“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.

"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.”

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