Opposition claims 'interfering with vaccine delivery', says Mike Russell

Opposition politicians in Scotland have been accused of "interfering with the delivery" of the Covid-19 vaccine over claims about shortcomings in the roll-out of the programme.

Constitution Secretary Michael Russell hit out at the "desperate politicisation" of the number of jabs being rolled out in Scotland amid claims the country is behind England.

But the claims were branded a “diatribe” and “not worthy” of the office by opponents in the Scottish Parliament.

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It came as the Scottish Government faced calls to ditch plans for a new independence referendum and focus on the recovery from Covid-19 during a debate at Holyrood on Wednesday.

Mr Russell told MSPs that a doctor’s surgery in his own constituency had completed the vaccination of all over-80s, ahead of the Scottish Government target, and was about about to start on over-70s

But he said: "They have another problem – the difficulty of doing all that given the constant phone calls from often vulnerable people who have heard some in this chamber creating doubt about whether they will get what they so keenly want – a vaccination that starts them back on the road to normality."

Mr Russell hit out at Tory MSP Donald Cameron, who had criticised the slow roll-out of the vaccine programme in Scotland .

"He and his less reputable colleagues are, whether they know it or not, causing the distress and in so doing not producing a better vaccination programme, but actually interfering with the delivery of the existing one," he said.

There have been 462,092 people vaccinated in Scotland so far, but this is proportionately behind the rate of inoculation UK-wide where about 6.8 million have received the jab.

Mr Russell accepted that a "programme of this complexity" could be improved and accepted there should be "scrutiny from this chamber”.

But he added: "There should not be a desperate politicisation of such a crucial matter."

However, the claims of the SNP minister, who is stepping down from Holyrood in May, came under fire from Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.

"I was going to compliment Mike Russell and say he would be missed from this Parliament, but then I heard that diatribe earlier on,” he said. “I afraid to say I cannot compliment that.

"To say that somehow the problems of the vaccine roll-out were either the manufacturers, the care homes because it takes longer or the opposition for daring to ask any questions, I think is not worthy of Mike Russell and his contribution to this Parliament over the year."

Mr Rennie accused the Government of being "evasive and secretive" over its vaccine roll-out plan.

"Trust in the SNP on the vaccine programme is rock bottom and it’s not me who is generating it,” Mr Rennie went on.

"I can tell you from my inbox that it is not me. People are genuinely concerned because they see the numbers – 140,000 vaccines behind England. England is speeding up, we are slowing down.

"For a Government who frequently points how useless Boris Johnson is, this is a terrible record.”

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