Lockdown restrictions in Scotland could be eased to match those in England “within a couple of days”, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has claimed.
The Cabinet minister said he was confident Scotland would “catch up” with the measures taken in England in the days and weeks ahead.
The comment came as Mr Jack, who is a close confidant of Boris Johnson, admitted to MPs that the UK Government’s weekend message shift from “stay home” to “stay alert” had “caused some confusion”.
“The First Minister said she hadn’t been consulted on the message and that’s correct, many government departments weren’t consulted on the message because the message was for the communications experts to bring forward”, he told the Scottish Affairs Committee.
The SNP’s shadow Scottish secretary, Mhairi Black, welcomed the admission and said: “Tackling the coronavirus crisis is difficult for all governments, and mistakes will be made – but it is vital that the devolved governments are properly consulted on future changes, and that the UK Government makes it crystal clear when its announcements only apply to England.”
Asked why the message was changed, Mr Jack said the decision had been taken “to get people thinking about going back to work”.
He said: “Staying alert was the message that was brought forward, it was to change the nuance and the psyche of people as they face moving into different environments”.
The comment came as it was announced a further 428 people had died with Covid-19 in the UK in last 24 hours, bringing the total to 33,614.
It’s very possible that within Scotland the First Minister may take a different approach to the pace of coming out of lockdown in the Highlands or south of Scotland to, say, Glasgow or Dundee.”
Mr Jack insisted that he wanted to see the UK move forward together as one through the crisis, adding: “Scotland is only a few days behind, I’ve seen the (infection rate) numbers across the whole of the UK by nation and by region, I would say certainly within less than a few weeks Scotland can catch up and we can hopefully all move forward with the same messaging and the same guidelines across the UK.
“That’s what keeps people on the straight and narrow, when they can see consistency.”
Mr Jack suggested that Nicola Sturgeon could look at relaxing the lockdown at different paces depending on the area, he said: “It’s very possible that within Scotland the First Minister may take a different approach to the pace of coming out of lockdown in the Highlands or south of Scotland to, say, Glasgow or Dundee.
“It may be even more local than that and very specific on flare ups.”
The First Minister has not ruled out regional variations in relaxing measures, but has said it wasn’t an approach she was currently looking to take.
Mr Jack, who was appearing before MPs via video-link, went on to dismiss suggestions made by Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil that police should man the England-Scotland border to stop “people in England (who) think they can go everywhere”.
“That is not going to happen, there is no intention to to put up the barricades at the border”, he said.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, speaking on a call to Welsh party members yesterday, said the break in messaging between the four nations had been a “mistake”.
He said: “I don’t think having different messages is helpful and it would be far better if the prime minister had been able to get all four nations to agree to a plan instead of doing what he did, which was to do a speech on Sunday and try to put the plan together afterwards. I think that was the fundamental mistake here.
“There’s obviously differences in policy now as well, in terms of what people can do outdoors. And the sooner the four-nation consensus can be brought back together, the better as far as I’m concerned.”