Starmer demands Scottish and UK governments ‘get a grip’ on Covid-19

Katrine Bussey, PA Scotland Political Editor
·3-min read

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has demanded the Scottish and UK governments “get a grip” and work together to defeat coronavirus.

He said the Tories at Westminster and the SNP administration at Holyrood both need to “focus on the job at hand”, rather than prioritise policies such as Brexit and independence.

His plea came as he admitted his party has a “mountain to climb” in the next UK general election, and also in the Scottish Parliament elections, which are less then eight months away.

He is to make his first visit to Scotland since becoming Labour leader in April – with the trip coming after he had to self-isolate after his child was tested for Covid-19.

He said on Wednesday he was “very pleased and relieved” they had received a negative result.

But the visit comes as Scottish Labour is split by in-fighting, with several of the party’s MSPs having called for leader Richard Leonard to go.

Writing for the Scotsman newspaper ahead of his visit, Sir Keir stressed that Scotland is “deeply important to me and to the Labour Party”.

He said: “I am in no doubt that we have a mountain to climb, both at the next UK general election and next year’s Holyrood elections.

“But I am confident of the platform Labour will enter those elections on.

“Our priority will not be another divisive independence referendum – it will be properly funding our National Health Service, protecting jobs and investing in our children’s future.

“Those are the priorities of the Scottish people, and they are my priorities as leader of the Labour Party.”

He said Labour had established the devolved Scottish Parliament after Tony Blair’s general election victory in 1997 so that “decisions could be made closer to people”, but added that for devolution to work effectively, the Scottish and UK governments need to “work in partnership”.

He issued a plea to both administrations, calling on them to “get a grip, focus on the job in hand and work together to defeat this virus”.

With jobs at risk when the furlough scheme ends next month, Sir Keir argued that what people want to see is politicians from Westminster and Holyrood “getting around the table and working together – to defeat this virus and tackle the looming threat of mass unemployment”.

The Labour leader added: “I continue to believe that a four-nations approach is the best response to the health and economic crises we face.

“At this crucial time, we cannot have a situation where the four nations of the UK are pulling in different directions.”

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

But he claimed that “in the middle of a global pandemic, the Tories are still banging on about Brexit and the SNP, by their own admission, are still prioritising independence”.

Sir Keir said that while the pandemic had delayed his first trip to Scotland as Labour leader, he had travelled north “with a very clear message – Labour’s history and values run proudly through Scotland, and always will”.

But he said the virus had “lifted a curtain on many of the inequalities and fragilities which still exist within Scotland”.

He added: “When we emerge – which we will – we need to have learnt the lessons. There can be no going back to the status quo.”