What’s the script?

For the second week in a row, Nicola Sturgeon answered a question that hadn’t yet been asked.

After agonising over the medical and ethical rights and wrongs of vaccinating 12-to-15 year olds, Nicola Sturgeon has come down in favour.

That was the top line out of Tuesday’s Covid update and it was an announcement that meant Tory and Labour responses would be dialled back. The opposition has no appetite for a stramash over such a delicate subject.

The First Minister went through the government’s decision in exacting detail, from the four chief medical officers’ conclusion ‘that vaccination could reduce disruption to education’, to the JCVI’s stance on likely health benefits, to how health authorities would make sure teenagers taking the vaccine could give informed consent.

The plan was to roll out a single-doze Pfizer jab ‘as quickly as possible’, with information for parents and youngsters going online by the end of the week. The process would move at pace since there were ‘adequate’ supplies of Pfizer. Drop-in clinics would open from Monday for teens who had read the guidance and wanted to go ahead with vaccination and one week later letters would go out to everyone in the age group offering an appointment. To maximise opportunities to get the injection, the roll-out would later take in schools.

Douglas Ross, who managed not only to speak but to be heard this week, said jabs for 12-to-15 year olds had ‘the potential to be game-changing in halting the spread of Covid this winter’ but pressed Sturgeon on whether ‘mobile vaccination units’ would be made available at every school. She maintained that, to ensure parents were kept in the loop, jabs had to be distributed in the community first, but mobile clinics might come in down the line.

Sturgeon also swung behind booster shots, and from next week health and care workers, as well as care home residents, would be able to book appointments. Next up would be over-70s and adults at the most severe risk, while over-50s and those with underlying conditions would be eligible from October. The booster was, Sturgeon said, ‘intended to prolong the protection that vaccines provide against severe Covid illness’.

Russell Findlay has a devilish air to him and revels in locating the government’s weak spots and jabbing them mercilessly. That he is a former newspaper journalist almost goes without saying. He returned to the seemingly intractable question of what constitutes a nightclub for the purposes of vaccine passports. For some reason, the Scottish Government has forgone the generally accepted definition of any place where you dance off two pounds in four hours then put on four pounds in two minutes at the nearest all-night McDonalds.

The First Minister said her government was engaging with the sector to pin down the ‘granular detail’. If either the sector or the First Minister thinks the definition of ‘nightclub’ is a granular detail, they have no business running one and she has no business telling them how to do so.

SNP backbencher Stuart McMillan asked about the Covid inquiry and his boss outlined pandemic safety measures in place in schools. No one seemed to notice and the session groaned along. Only in its dying seconds did Tory MSP Stephen Kerr raise a point of order about the First Minister again giving an answer to a question she hadn’t been asked.

Again, because the same thing happened at last week’s update, when Sturgeon gave Stephanie Callaghan (SNP, Uddingston and Bellshill) the reply to a question from Evelyn Tweed (SNP, Stirling), a feat made all the more impressive by the fact Tweed had yet to ask the question.

‘This is the second time in two weeks the First Minister has read the wrong, pre-scripted answer,’ Kerr clyped to the Presiding Officer. Actually, he didn’t say ‘second’ but ‘siccunt’, because you can take the boy out of Forfar but not Forfar out of the boy. Alison Johnstone’s response could be best summarised as ‘yeah, not getting involved in this one’ and reminded members they could correct errors via the Official Report.

Everyone knows the questions from SNP backbenchers have more plants in them than Dobbies but to make the same gaffe two weeks in a row suggests either a distracted First Minister or a poorly briefed one.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail on September 15, 2021.

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