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The last two years have been incredibly challenging for everyone. The pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives, with families and communities across Scotland having to make countless sacrifices to stay safe and support our NHS. Throughout the pandemic, Scottish Labour have sought to support the Scottish Government wherever possible in their efforts to keep the people of Scotland safe from Covid-19.
Emergency powers were granted to both the UK and Scottish government to respond swiftly and flexibly to protect the population but these powers were only ever intended to be used in emergency circumstances and were always temporary. It is not justifiable outside times of national crisis for Ministers and Government to have the authority to impose lockdowns and close schools.
The Scottish Government’s Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill amounts to little more than a shameless ministerial power-grab. This bill would give ministers sweeping powers to respond to public health emergencies without the right and proper, democratic oversight of Holyrood. There is simply no excuse or justification for bypassing Parliament when time and time again it has been shown that Holyrood can respond with the urgency needed so please be assured that Scottish Labour will strongly oppose any attempts to indefinitely extend the emergency powers available to Ministers throughout the crisis.
The SNP are pursuing these changes despite strong opposition expressed throughout the consultation process. Rather than trying to sidestep our democratic institutions and elected representatives, the Scottish Government should be focusing on urgently driving up vaccinations across the country and fixing the problems with Test and Protect.
The Scottish Government’s attempted power-grab is excessive and unnecessary. In future public health regulations and rules should not be introduced arbitrarily or without clear Parliamentary consent. The situation we face is very different to March 2020 and so we need a new approach going forward.
That is why Scottish Labour have published our Living Well with Covid report – which can be found here. Two years into the pandemic we should have built more resilience into our response systems and public services but SNP Ministers seem content to act like we are living in perpetual crisis. Instead Scottish Labour have set out ten actions we believe the government need to take to lay the foundations for recovery and a return to normality. This includes establishing an agreed pandemic risk framework to set clear rules on managing restrictions and crucially to deliver transparency over decision making.
It is important that we learn from the experience of the past two years and while that means embedding innovations that can improve services, it is not an excuse for Ministers to hoard powers. The Scottish Government’s blatant opportunism cannot be permitted to succeed.