Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly used the live Covid-19 briefings to score party political points, analysis has revealed.
Pressure is mounting on the BBC to stop providing an almost-daily platform to the First Minister in relation to coronavirus updates amid criticism they are becoming increasingly partisan in their content.
Now research by the Scottish Conservatives has shown how Ms Sturgeon regularly uses the event, which until recently took place seven days a week, to make political criticism and promote SNP policy.
The evidence includes referring to the UK Government approach on airbridges as “shambolic”, criticising Boris Johnson for remarks on the Scotland-England border, and raising questions about immigration policy.
She even blasted the UK Government’s rebranded “stay alert” guidance, only to herself adopt an almost identical message weeks later.
Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said:
“It was quite right for the First Minister to embark on these daily briefings at the outset of this crisis, and for them to continue in the months that followed.
“But increasingly, as the statistics have improved and there’s inevitably less to say about them, the First Minister has turned to political point-scoring.
“This analysis shows how what starts with a daily data update soon descends into an SNP party political broadcast.
“She shouldn’t be doing that, and the BBC shouldn’t be indulging it.
“Either Nicola Sturgeon reverts to this being purely a factual event, or the corporation takes a stand and refuses to give her the airtime.”
Notes to editors:
Below are seven examples of how Nicola Sturgeon has used the daily briefing to make political points:
- Sturgeon used the COVID-19 briefings to spread further misinformation on the UK internal market. She said: ‘In short on the internal market, this is not about not working together, this is about not wanting to see the UK riding rough-shot over the powers of the Scottish Parliament, this would effectively let the UK Government to decide issues of food standards or consumer standards, or environmental standards that right now are decision for the Scottish Parliament. Retrospectively that could have meant, for example, that the Scottish Parliament couldn’t have legislated for minimum pricing for alcohol or not being able to stop GM crops. […] But we will have other opportunities to discuss that more fully and I think for the purposes of this briefing I will stick to issues of COVID.’ (BBC, Politics Scotland, 16 July 2020, 13:02, link)
- Sturgeon attacked the UK Government over the Russia report during the COVID-19 press briefing. She said: ‘I’m going to limit what I have to say on other issues, it’s really important that people get to watch this briefing and hear a focus on covid issues, if there is a more elaborate response that you want from me on the Intelligence and Security report later on I am happy to provide that. […] I don't think you can draw any conclusion from the three lines the report has on the Scottish independence referendum, but I would include that in my general remarks about not being complacent about Russian interference. Although I would say about the Scottish independence movement and the values I and my party stand for couldn’t be more removed from the values of Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime stand for. On the Brexit referendum, it appears that the committee concludes that there is no evidence of interference there because the UK Government hasn’t looked for it and that brings me to my last point which is the question you asked me at the end I do think that the main message from an initial reading of this report would be that I think could possibly be described as negligence on the part of the UK Government in the face of potential Russian interference and I hope that this report leads to a much more rigorous approach and the UK Government taking these threats to our democratic processes much more seriously than they appear to have been doing.’ (BBC, Politics Scotland, 21 July 2020, 23:15, link; BBC, 21 July 2020, link)
- Sturgeon insinuated the PM was trying to make the pandemic political. ‘On the PM’s visit today, this is a covid briefing, people of all political persuasion and none watch this briefing to get information and I want to make sure that it doesn’t get pulled into the political arena. Apart from that my focus isn’t on political campaigning […] [funding] that is coming to the Scottish Government from the UK Government is because they hold the borrowing powers that Scotland doesn’t hold. Scottish taxpayers will pay the cost of that borrowing in the same way that taxpayers across the rest of the UK will. It’s not some kind of favour being done for Scotland. […] My final point would be that I don’t think any of us, and I include myself in this, should be trying to use covid and the pandemic and the crisis situation we have been facing to as some kind of political campaigning tool. This is a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 50,000 people across the UK. We’ve all tried to do our best but I don’t think any of us have any grounds to crow or be satisfied about this. It’s not politics, it’s not constitutional politics, every leader of every country has a real duty to remain focussed on doing everything we can to tackle this and not use this as some form of political weapon. I will continue to focus as hard as I can on the job in front of me and I’m sure the Prime Minister is well able to speak for himself.’ (BBC, Politics Scotland, 23 July 2020, 27:00, link
- Nicola Sturgeon used the COVID-19 press briefings to attack the UK Government’s immigration policy. She said: ‘The immigration approach that they are taken, particularly around social care, in response to this question, risk doing huge practical damage to our economy and sectors of our society, like social care. But they also risk sending a message that I never want from Scotland that we somehow don’t want people to come […] Scotland is an open and welcoming country and I think the vast majority of people would always want it to be so and never want to see a message sent from the UK Government that contradicts that in anyway. (BBC, Politics Scotland, 14 July 2020, 36:52, link)
- Sturgeon called the UK Government’s approach to airbridges ‘shambolic’. ‘Just to illustrate the point, the shifting sands of the UK Government’s position – the list of countries that they were yesterday demanding that the Scottish Government sign up to, and suggesting we were a barrier to getting an agreement on, is not the same as the list they have shared with us today […] When so much is at stake as it is right now we can’t allow ourselves to be dragged along in the wake of another government’s – to be quite frank about it – shambolic decision making process.’ (BBC, Politics Scotland, 3 July 2020, 06:00, link)
- Sturgeon attacked the PM for stating there is no border between Scotland and England. ‘Frankly a Prime Minister or a Secretary of State, in a government, sense who is dealing with the same issues as I am right now who are trying to politicise these things is shameful and unacceptable […] anybody politicising this or trying to turn this into a proxy debate about independence or the constitution they are the ones who are being reckless and they are the ones who are failing public health test’. (BBC, Politics Scotland, 1 July 2020, 26:27, link)
- Sturgeon criticised the PM further for not wanting a border at Berwick. ‘If the Prime Minister is questioning that now, I’m not sure what he would say if I pitched up in Newcastle and started to try to implement Scottish Government policies in Newcastle’ (Press and Journal, 1 July 2020, link)
- Nicola Sturgeon said the ‘stay alert’ slogan was vague. She said: ‘I’m not prepared to do it [drop the stay at home message], and I am particularly not prepared to do it in favour of a message that is vague and imprecise.’ (Youtube, Guardian News, 10 May 2020, link)
- Sturgeon said she didn’t know what ‘stay alert’ meant. In her daily briefing she said: ‘I have a duty to be able to be clear to you about what my messages to you involve in terms of what you can do and what you can’t do. Stay at home apart from x,y and z is a clear message and is one that allows you to make the judgements on what you can do and not do. I don’t know what ‘stay alert’ means presumably we all live our lives, in normal times, staying alert to danger. But if my message to you now is to stay alert and you say to me but does that mean I stay at home or not I can’t give you a straight answer to that and therefore I am failing in my duty to be clear in terms of what I am asking you to do.’ (Youtube, Guardian News, 10 May 2020, link)