One of Nicola Sturgeon’s closest civil servants raised doubts about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s royal train visit to Scotland a few weeks before trip, Freedom of Information (FoI) documents reveal.
John Somers told William and Kate’s office the visit faced presentational issues if it went ahead while travel restrictions were in place, and his final opinion was it may have to be postponed.
The views of Mr Somers, principal private secretary to Scotland’s First Minister, were revealed in correspondence from November released under a FoI request made by The National newspaper.
The duke and duchess’ tour by royal train went ahead from December 6-8 – after cross-border travel restrictions were introduced – and saw the couple thank key and frontline workers in Scotland, England and Wales for their efforts during the pandemic.
The trip faced veiled criticisms from Ms Sturgeon and Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething, who both raised suggestions about the timing of the visits while Covid cases were still prevalent and many parts of the UK were subject to strict coronavirus rules.
The National reported Mr Somers told royal aides on November 12: “You’ll know that we are currently asking people living in Scotland to avoid unnecessary travel from local authority to local authority and to keep journeys within the area they live to an absolute minimum.
“We review our guidance regularly though as the First Minister regularly says in her daily briefings it (is) not possible to offer a definite position ahead of time given the variables and unknowns presented by the pandemic.
“From a personal point of view I think the (Royal train tour) is one which would will mean a lot to many people living throughout the country. My anxiety though is the practical aspects of it and how presentationally it may be difficult if travel restrictions are in place.”
He added: “I think my view is that at the moment the chances of the tour having to be postponed are potentially quite high.”
James Hynd, the Scottish Government’s head of cabinet, parliament and governance, later told the Cambridges’ office about imminent cross-border travel restrictions.
In correspondence released to The National under the FoI request and dated November 19, Mr Hynd, said: “The Scottish Government is likely to bring forward statutory restrictions on non-essential travel both within Scotland and also into and out of Scotland.
“These rules will come into force from 6pm tomorrow (Friday, November 20). They will have no set termination point but will be reviewed regularly.
“This is obviously likely to have a major impact on the plans you are working on I am afraid.”
Royal sources said at the time the visits were planned in consultation with the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments and stressed they were working trips, which permitted travel across the border.
All relevant coronavirus rules were also followed and steps taken to avoid crowds congregating.
During the royal tour, Scotland’s First Minister was asked during her daily coronavirus briefing about claims the duke and duchess’ visit to Edinburgh was in breach of cross-border travel restrictions.
She replied: “The Scottish Government was advised about the intention to visit, and we made sure that the royal household were aware, as you would expect, of all of the restrictions in place in Scotland, so that could inform both the decision and the planning of the visit.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson believed the duke and duchess’ tour, which covered 1,250 miles, was a “welcome morale boost”, No 10 said at the time.