– in the Scottish Parliament on 24th March 2021.
Last week, the First Minister’s statement on Covid-19 restrictions left our island communities in limbo. While the rest of Scotland prepares for such restrictions to be eased from 26 April, islanders remain in the dark.
According to the First Minister’s statement yesterday, they will remain in the dark for a further “few weeks”. The Government has now launched a consultation process, but that has not included the local council or the local member of the Scottish Parliament. It sets out a binary choice for islanders of either staying in level 3, despite there having been no cases here for weeks, or of moving to level 2, with tighter restrictions on travel into and out of the islands. Why was the consultation not undertaken before last week’s announcement? Does the First Minister still believe that she is following the data and the science?
The data says that allowing people to come together and to travel means that the number of cases of the virus will rise. That is what we are trying to avoid. It feels as though Liam McArthur would have criticised us whatever we had done. Had we decided to impose a decision just on the islands, no doubt we would have been accused of being centralist and of not listening to islanders’ views. However, because we have decided to consult and take views before reaching a decision, we are being accused of leaving islands “in limbo”.
Neither of those things is correct. There is a really difficult decision for islands about going down a level, as the data at the moment would justify, and opening up their economies. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the virus and the threats that it poses, it is not possible immediately to do both of those things. Therefore, we want to come to an agreement with islands councils about which option is best for them. That is the right way to proceed, instead of simply taking a decision here in Edinburgh and trying to impose it on islands, from the centre. We will take that decision in partnership with the islands as quickly as possible.
The Presiding Officer:
Thank you. I apologise to the half dozen members whom I was not able to select.