The SNP’s parliamentary business minister, Graeme Dey, has offered “unreserved apologies” after breaching coronavirus election rules on the first official day of campaigning, we can exclusively reveal.
Mr Dey, who is standing for the party in Angus South, posted several images to social media of a gathering after asking a group of SNP supporters to help “mark the first day of the Scottish election campaign”.
The gathering, which according to the pictures included at least eight people, some of whom appear to have travelled from other local authority areas, breached restrictions because of the age and number of people that attended.
Mr Dey, in his role as parliamentary business minister, was responsible for briefing MSPs on the rules around campaigning earlier this month and told the Scottish Parliament “positive action” had been taken to ensure the election is safe.
‘A kick in the teeth’
However, we can reveal just hours after the official campaign period got under way on Thursday, the SNP minister had already broken his own government’s rules.
Candidates have been told that a maximum of four people from two households are able to meet up for leafleting, similar to existing rules on gatherings, and that any work that cannot be done by the candidate or their election agent from home is permitted.
Scottish Labour candidate Graeme McKenzie, who is running against Mr Dey in the Angus South constituency, called for SNP bosses to take action.
He said: “The total disregard for any Covid laws that are in place is sickening. It is truly a kick in the teeth to the people of Angus South, some of whom have not seen family members or friends for over a year.
“I would like to see Mr Dey look those people in the eye and say that he hasn’t done anything wrong.
“You can’t be a lawmaker and then break said laws without any consequences. It is not, and should not be, one rule for an SNP candidate and another for everyone else.”
Mr Dey did not respond to a request for comment but an SNP spokesman said the politician recognises that he broke the rules.
“Activists had arranged a small, outdoor, socially-distanced photograph involving young people drawn from the nearby area,” the party spokesman said.
“Unfortunately, the ages and number of young people who came along exceeded the permitted numbers under current Covid guidance.
“Mr Dey recognises there was a breach, however inadvertently, of what is allowed and he offers his unreserved apologies.”
‘This needs addressed’
Conservative candidate Maurice Golden said that in light of the pictures, urgent guidance is needed for all candidates to ensure they are keeping themselves and voters safe during the campaign period.
He said: “Urgent guidance is needed as we enter this hectic phase of campaigning. Volunteers across all parties are raring to go and want to get their message out there. But clearly there’s still some confusion about what is and isn’t permitted.
“This needs addressed now so everyone can work on the same basis, and keep themselves and the voters they’re communicating with safe.”