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by Kirsteen Paterson
01 February 2024
Nicola Sturgeon: My chief regret is not starting Covid lockdown sooner

Nicola Sturgeon leaves the UK Covid-19 Inquiry | Alamy

Nicola Sturgeon: My chief regret is not starting Covid lockdown sooner

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has apologised to the Covid bereaved and said not locking down earlier is her biggest regret.

In a seven-hour day of questioning, Sturgeon denied trying to use the pandemic to further her goal of Scottish independence.

And she said she had not tried to "irritate" the UK Government.

She said: "Of the many regrets I have, probably chief of those is that we didn't lock down a week, two weeks, earlier than we did."

The ex-SNP leader said the number of Covid deaths was "far too high" and "the other impacts were far too high", telling the inquiry: "Every death is a tragedy that I regret."

She said: "We didn't do as well as I wish we were able to."

Asked if she had used the pandemic to further the argument for Scottish independence, she said: "I have been in politics for 30 years; I've been a life-long campaigner for independence. I don't think in my entire life have I ever thought less about politics generally and independence in particular than I did in the course of the pandemic."

She went on: "People will judge, for better or worse, the decisions my government took. I want to say to people and give this inquiry an assurance that none of those decisions were influenced in any way by political considerations or by trying to gain an advantage for the cause of independence."

The inquiry had previously heard from Michael Gove MP that Sturgeon had 'irritated' the government by making announcements before Boris Johnson on restrictions.

Sturgeon said she "wasn't setting out to irritate anybody" and though she was aware of this opinion, she "didn't think then and I don't think now that it was fair or rational".

UK Government papers state that four-nations agreement had been reached to wait before making an announcement about restrictions on mass gatherings.

Sturgeon said she was "clear" in that meeting that she intended to make that announcement for Scotland and it was her "duty" to communicate decisions "to stem the spread of the virus".

She said Downing Street had opted for 5pm briefings, taking place after hers which were regularly scheduled for lunchtime. She said: "If they had wanted to speak before me during the day, they had the choice of doing that."

And she said that in order for her "not to irritate Boris Johnson" she would have "had to adopt a position of doing whatever Boris Johnson wanted", regardless of whether her government agreed. She said: "I would have been negligent in my responsibilities just to go along with that."

The inquiry was shown an email from the email address of Sturgeon's deputy John Swinney, signed by another individual, that shared concerns about travel restrictions to Spain.

It raised fears that the Spanish government would see restrictions as being "political" and "there is a real possibility they will never approve EU membership for an independent Scotland as a result".

Sturgeon said she had no discussions around the possibility and decisions were taken for public health reasons.

The inquiry continues.

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