Nicola Sturgeon is under pressure to condemn “disgraceful” border protests where nationalists in hazmat suits urged English visitors to stay away from Scotland.
Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Conservative leader, said he was concerned that the scenes on Saturday would deter people from coming to Scotland and cause further damage to the country’s tourism sector, which has been devastated by coronavirus.
A handful of nationalists turned up at the border over the weekend, urging motorists to “stay out”. Waving saltires and SNP flags, they displayed a banner stating ‘keep Scotland Covid free’.
The protest came after Ms Sturgeon refused to rule out the prospect of imposing quarantine restrictions on people who had travelled to England, where cases of Covid-19 are higher than in Scotland, and did not sign up to UK Government plans for travel corridors.
Mr Carlaw told the BBC that the border scenes were an “absolute disgrace”. While several senior SNP politicians have condemned the protests, Ms Sturgeon has so far remained silent.
He said: “I really do hope even belatedly, she will come out and stop that kind of rhetoric and language. We need people to come safely to Scotland to visit and to stay here on holiday and we should be encouraging that, not trying to put people off.
“These [images] send a message out, and we need to do everything we can to support our industry as best we can.”
Mr Carlaw said that Ms Sturgeon had taken the time to tweet about watching a film on Saturday night, while on Sunday morning she drew attention to a new poll showing support for independence at 54 per cent.
Not much can take me away from a good book whenever I get a bit of time off on a Saturday night, but tonight this has. Saw it in London a couple of years ago...@Lin_Manuel is a genius. Happy Independence Day, USA #4thofJuly pic.twitter.com/yZGzWQvjoa
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) July 4, 2020
“The First Minister is one of the fastest people I know with her fingers to get onto Twitter,” Mr Carlaw said. “She was tweeting last night about watching Hamilton on the Disney Channel. Frankly I think as someone who leads the country, I would have expected her to condemn it. Even if it’s belated, I’d like her to do it now.”
The protest took place at Lamberton, Berwickshire, near a ‘welcome to Scotland’ road sign. In a video they filmed at a scene, a protestor said: “We are really laying it on thick so basically what we are saying is ‘stay the f*** out.”
Thousands of Scottish residents have signed a petition calling for the border to be shut to all but essential traffic. On Friday, Ms Sturgeon said that prevalence of the virus in Scotland was five times lower than it was in England.
Responding to the protest, Humza Yousaf, the Scottish justice secretary, said: “If you are a racist you are no friend of mine and no part of the movement I belong to. Horrible, reprehensible and vile. Luckily these morons don't represent the Scotland I know and love.”
If you are a racist you are no friend of mine and no part of the movement I belong to. Horrible, reprehensible and vile.
Luckily these morons don't represent the Scotland I know and love. https://t.co/PKt1XoF41D
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) July 4, 2020
Johanna Cherry, the SNP MP, described the scenes as “abhorrent”. A Scottish Government spokesman condemned the protest “in the strongest possible terms”.
He added: “This is an isolated incident and not indicative of the vast majority of people’s views.”
On Sunday morning, Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminister leader, maintained that travel between England and Scotland may have to be restricted to maintain the lower rate of coronavirus infections north of the border.
He told Sky News: “The fact is, you can see the prevalence rate here is much lower so we need to look at those coming in here and the kind of risks that are there but any decisions that will be taken by the Scottish government will be based on the scientific advice that we get and keeping people safe.
“The simple fact of the matter is, we have had a reasonable success in driving down the incidence of the virus over the course of the last few months, it’s been hard won and of course we have to take the appropriate measures to make sure that we can continue to see that.”