Covid Scotland: MSPs question ‘power grab’ bill which could keep lockdown powers

These include the ability to impose national lockdowns and close schools without needing to first consult Parliament.

Ministers have said the changes would allow the Scottish Government to respond more quickly to a similar crisis in future.

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But some opposition politicians have labeled the proposals a “power grab.”

Handout photo issued by Scottish Government showing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at a coronavirus briefing at St Andrews House in Edinburgh.

Taking evidence at the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 recovery committee on Thursday, Labor MSP Alex Rowley asked experts whether the legislation was really needed, or if it was a “desperate power grab in order to shift the agenda from the major weaknesses in public services” .

Fiona de Londras, professor of global legal studies at Birmingham University’s Covid Review Observatory, said the Bill may form one of multiple strands of preparation for future emergencies, and could mean there was a legal framework available when needed.

“One of the benefits this Parliament now has is that it can make a set of legislation looking forward to potential future public health emergencies outside of the context of a public health emergency,” she said.

“In other words without the pressures of urgency and time and exigency that are experienced by parliaments when they have an emergency right before them.

“Of course, that was the context in which the Coronavirus Act itself was passed.”

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Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at Norwich Medical School, East Anglia University, said problems with the UK’s pandemic response were due to lack of preparedness, rather than lack of legislation.

“In 2019 the Gates Foundation ranked the UK as being the second best country in the world in terms of preparedness for pandemics, and actually, when it came to it, we weren’t,” he said.

“We weren’t because we hadn’t maintained the preparedness, and we hadn’t maintained the stocks of PPE that we should have done.

“To a large extent the legislation that we had in place would have been adequate in my view, but what had failed was our reduced preparedness because we hadn’t maintained stocks and we hadn’t acted on the results of the findings of the Cygnus [pandemic response planning] exercise.

“We hadn’t used the coronavirus pandemic plan, we had used the influenza pandemic plan in the UK despite the fact that we had a coronavirus plan written up and unavailable.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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