John Swinney deleted evidence of another SNP Covid-19 breach on the campaign trail as the government minister responsible for setting the rules was “spoken to” by police over a separate incident.
Mr Swinney posted a picture on social media shortly after 3pm on Friday afternoon showing him meeting with four other party activists while out leafleting for May’s Scottish Parliament elections.
But the deputy first minister quietly deleted the image hours later after SNP bosses were approached for comment over a separate breach of legal restrictions involving the party’s parliamentary business minister Graeme Dey.
Candidates have been told 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 a candidate or election agent from home is permitted.
Mr Swinney’s social media post appears to show a direct breach of the rules but the Perthshire North candidate would not comment on why he deleted the image, which attracted more than 190 retweets and 1,300 likes before it was pulled down.
However, Mr Swinney did say: “A small number of my supporters were leafleting in the same town. We should not have gathered together at that time and I apologise for that.”
Rules breached ‘at first available opportunity’
Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Barrett, who is running against Mr Swinney in the Perthshire North constituency, said he was “disappointed” Mr Swinney chose to delete evidence of the breach rather than apologise immediately.
“Every candidate needs to set a good example, and that goes double for Cabinet ministers. Instead senior SNP figures have breached the rules at the first available opportunity,” Mr Barrett said.
“Perthshire North needs an MSP who will uphold high standards in public office.”
Murdo Fraser, who is the Scottish Conservative candidate in the constituency, said: “This is very embarrassing for John Swinney, who, as deputy first minister, should be very aware of the various Covid restrictions.
“What this does illustrate is just how complicated the many Covid restrictions are, and how many of them are difficult to understand.
“The success of the UK Government’s vaccination programme should mean that we should start to see some of the restrictions starting to be eased, and this should result in situations like this not arising.”
Mr Swinney’s apology comes after Angus South candidate Graeme Dey offered his own “unreserved apologies” for breaking the government’s election rules on the first official day of campaigning.
Mr Dey, who in his ministerial role was responsible for briefing MSPs on the rules around campaigning, asked at least eight people, some of whom appear to have travelled from other local authority areas, to gather near Carnoustie Beach on Thursday to help “mark the first day of the Scottish election campaign”.
He did not respond to a request for comment but an SNP spokesman said activists arranged a “small, outdoor, socially-distanced photograph” involving people from the nearby area but “unfortunately the ages and number of young people who came along exceeded the permitted numbers under current Covid guidance”.
We can reveal Mr Dey and several other individuals involved in the breach have now been spoken to by police, after officers were made aware of the incident on Friday.
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Officers have since spoken to those involved and will continue to engage with the public, explain the legislation and guidance, and encourage compliance, using enforcement as a last resort.
“There were no fixed penalty notices issued.”