RICHARD Leonard is facing criticism after claiming that Scotland’s closure of licensed premises during the coronavirus pandemic is like the US prohibition of the 1920s.

Writing in a Scotsman column the Scottish Labour leader said the ban on alcohol sales has “an air of puritanism” and “smacks of an authoritarian streak at the heart of the SNP’s nationalism”.

The Scottish Government described the claims in the article as “totally unfounded”.

With the new, more transmissible Covid-19 variant strain scientific experts are calling for even stricter UK-wide measures to stop the NHS from becoming overwhelmed and to save lives.

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At present in England there are more people in hospital with Covid-19 than during the peak of the first wave of the virus – 20,426 patients compared to 18,974 in April.

In his column, published yesterday afternoon, Leonard complains that “Draconian restrictions for the hospitality sector must remain in place” despite local conditions.

He writes: “Over these last few months, bars, restaurants and cafes have been demonised as an easy target to blame for the spread of Covid.

“It does feel as though they have been treated like Sodom and Gomorrah by the SNP Government.”

He says closing hospitality premises at their busiest time has been “economically devastating” for the sector, which had understood they would be shut for a limited “circuit breaker” earlier this winter.

“But we are nearly three months on,” he says. “People could be forgiven for beginning to think Nicola Sturgeon had effectively imposed a version of 1920s US prohibition on their communities.

The National:

“An insistence that licensed venues, allowed to open under hyper-strict and extremely time-limited conditions, do not serve alcohol, has at best an air of puritanism about it, at worst it smacks of an authoritarian streak at the heart of the SNP’s nationalism.”

The Scottish Government responded, defending its record supporting the sector through the Covid-19 pandemic and insisting restrictions are needed.

“These claims are totally unfounded,” a spokesperson told The National. “Pubs and restaurants are at the heart of our communities and are vital to the economy – which is why we are so determined that the current restrictions will not stay in place a day longer than necessary to stem the virus.

READ MORE: Covid-19 in England: Number of patients in hospital passes peak of first wave

“And it is why we are doing everything possible to support the sector through the current crisis – including a further £104.3 million package of help for tourism and hospitality businesses in Scotland which we announced recently.”

They said that failing to control the spread of Covid-19 would worsen the impact on the economy and lead to longer lasting damage.

“We will of course be undertaking further work on what additional support is needed by businesses, including for the longer term,” the spokesperson added.