Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 15th December 2020.

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The First Minister:

I will say a couple things in response to that. The level 4 restrictions have reduced prevalence of the virus. Most of the areas that came out of level 4 last week are the areas where the declines in case numbers have been most significant. Obviously, as we ease restrictions, we give the virus more opportunity to spread, which is why, perhaps counterintuitively, we need to take greater care as restrictions ease, not less.

People have different views on what we should do over Christmas. I do not think that the decision was rash. I cannot speak for others but, from my point of view, it was not rash. It was carefully considered and agonised over—as I have said before, these decisions are always agonised over, because they are not straightforward. There is no easy answer and there is no black and white, absolute right or wrong. In our actions against the virus, it is important that we retain the ability and the willingness to be flexible on everything. That is hard for people who want certainty. It is a natural human instinct to want as much certainty as possible, but that is a very hard thing to give people right now.

This might not continue to be the case, but right now the rise in cases in Scotland is less severe than it is in parts of England and certainly less severe than it is in Wales. Nevertheless, we see signs, again, that the virus has not gone away. Yesterday we had the news about the new variant. As I said earlier, we should not overreact to that or get ahead of ourselves, but we should nevertheless consider whether it should lead us in the direction of any more precautions. For those reasons, it is sensible to have the four-nations call to consider what the options are. We requested the four-nations call yesterday, in the wake of the news about the new variant, and I am pleased that it is taking place later this afternoon.

I am not going into the call with a fixed view, because it is important that we have that discussion across the four nations, given family patterns across the United Kingdom, but there is a case for us looking at whether we tighten the flexibilities that were given, in terms of duration and numbers of people meeting. I will consider the views of the other nations. If we can come to a four-nations agreement, that would be preferable. If that is not possible, the Scottish Government will consider what we think is appropriate. Of course, I will update Parliament as soon as there is anything to update Parliament on.