THE First Minister told her political opponents not to “undermine” the Scottish Government’s public health messaging with claims the Covid-19 briefings are like “party political broadcasts”.

Speaking at the daily briefing today, Nicola Sturgeon was asked for her take on recent Tory and Labour calls for the BBC to stop broadcasting the conferences.

At the briefings the First Minister provides an update on the coronavirus situation in Scotland. She is typically joined by one or two other key figures, either from the medical world, the police or the Cabinet.

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It had been reported that the UK Government – which is planning for its own non-Covid-19, Trump-style daily briefings to begin in the autumn – had “fears” over the First Minister’s briefings, but this weekend the Scottish Tories began demanding they come to an end.

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw told the BBC to refuse “to give her airtime” and claimed that based on the party’s own research, the First Minister uses the broadcasts "to make political criticism and promote SNP policy".

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie also got involved, writing to the BBC Scotland director Donalda MacKinnon to complain about the conferences.

The briefings have been scaled back temporarily but will move to being held daily again next month as schools prepare to reopen.

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Sturgeon flatly rejected claims her briefings are politicised this afternoon, and insisted on the importance of giving out public health information frequently as we are not out of the pandemic by any means.

She was asked for her view on whether the speeches were political, with the reporter giving the example of Finance Secretary Kate Forbes discussing the need for more borrowing powers for Holyrood during today’s session.

Here’s what the First Minister had to say in full:


"I’m a reasonable person, as you know. I always try to see things reasonably even though I don’t always agree with points that are being made.

"I think people watching can make their own judgements about whether I have in any way tried to use these briefings as a political platform. I’ve on occasion actually refused to answer questions which I judged were taking us into political territory.

"One person’s political issue is another person’s very legitimate issue, part and parcel of dealing with Covid. The fiscal flexibility of the Government to deal with the overall consequences of Covid, I would put into the latter category. I accept that others with a different view of that will see that as political. But the idea that our ability financially to deal with the economic impact of Covid is not a part of the handling of this I think doesn’t bear much scrutiny.

"I think these briefings are important. We are not out of this pandemic yet. This pandemic, to use the language of the World Health Organisation, is still accelerating globally. We’re in a very good position relatively speaking in Scotland right now but we cannot take it for granted. We are still living with some lockdown restrictions, we are going into a period over the next couple of weeks where we hope to get schools back, and part of … my biggest concern right now is that there are things all of us can do to keep this under control that we’re all maybe getting a bit lax at doing.

"So for that reason, as well as the ongoing issues we’re dealing with, I’ve indicated today that there may be a cluster of cases in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, our biggest health board area, the provision of updates and information – but also the ability to stand and look down this camera and give people the advice that we all need to follow to keep this pandemic under control – I think is really important.

"And it continues to be important because we are not out of this. Risk hasn’t gone away. It’s clearly not my decision what broadcasters do, but I do think there’s a real public interest in all of this and I will continue to do … I’m trying to strike a balance here between, I don’t want to talk about politics here, I’ve refused to do that on more occasions than I can remember right now, but I’m also trying to strike a balance between not doing that but doing the courtesy that I owe to journalists of answering the questions you pose to me.

"So I might not get that right at every occasion, I’m not perfect. But I would say to the opposition, in the middle of a pandemic, a really crucial stage of this, when the difference between continuing to go in the good direction we’re going on, or going backwards, is so finely balanced.

"Criticise me and find other ways to criticise me. That is fine. I don’t mind that. Well sometimes I mind it but that’s part of my job. Don’t try to undermine the public health messaging that we really need to still get across to people. And I make that a genuine honest plea to my political opponents."