Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of hiding behind “Scottish exceptionalism” instead of admitting she made even worse mistakes than Boris Johnson in the early stages of the pandemic.
Laying out a timeline of key decisions made by the governments in Edinburgh and London, Anas Sarwar argued that the actions of SNP ministers were “often more fatal” than those in the UK.
The Scottish Labour leader said that while the First Minister “has always been better at spinning her failures than Boris Johnson”, much of the “damning testimony” from Dominic Cummings on the UK’s Covid response is as true for Holyrood as it is for Westminster.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Mr Sarwar pointed towards a range of decisions made by SNP ministers around mass gatherings, herd immunity, care homes and Covid-19 testing that were in “lockstep” or slower than the UK Government.
While both governments sent untested and Covid positive hospital patients into care homes, the UK Government announced routine testing on April 15 – a decision not made by SNP ministers until six days later on April 21.
Other key decisions made in Scotland later than England include mandatory face masks on public transport, asymptomatic community testing and testing for incoming travellers at airports.
But Mr Sarwar has urged Nicola Sturgeon to establish a Scotland-specific inquiry into how her government responded.
The First Minister has come under repeated pressure to begin preparations for a judge-led Covid-19 inquiry that is Scotland specific, but SNP ministers say they will wait until a decision is made by the UK Government on the remit and scope of its equivalent inquiry.
“The Scottish people deserve more than just rhetoric, they deserve answers. They deserve more than being told that the government cares, they deserve answers because we can’t allow Scottish exceptionalism to stop us from learning critical lessons,” Mr Sarwar said, arguing that “we don’t need to wait for the UK Government” to do this.
“It’s always easier to focus on failures elsewhere but we must learn from mistakes here at home,” he added.
In response, Ms Sturgeon suggested the public could judge whether she has an “inability to face up to mistakes” but her focus was now on the vaccine rollout because Scotland could be “in the foothills of a third wave of this virus”.
“I think what they’re hearing from me is a candid admission that we would not – like many other governments across the world – have got everything right, and not just a willingness [but] a desire to face up to that and learn from that,” she added.