UK’s Covid-19 vaccine programme is the ‘envy of the world’, Alister Jack to claim

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

The UK’s coronavirus vaccine programme is a “truly astonishing achievement”, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack will insist, with work to protect the public from the virus taking place “on a scale that dwarfs anything since the war”.

The UK Government minister will use his speech to the Scottish Conservative conference to hail the UK’s vaccination programme as being the “envy of the world”.

He will tell the conference that Scotland is playing its part, as “millions of doses of Valneva’s vaccine are rolling off the production line at a high-tech plant in Livingston, ready for approval”.

As the country continues to vaccinate adults against Covid-19, Mr Jack will tell the conference that this work is “moving at such a pace that we hope every adult in the country will have received at least an initial dose of vaccine by late July”.

And he will insisted it is “fitting” that “our magnificent armed forces” at the fore of these efforts, “working alongside the dedicated staff of the NHS, who made huge efforts of their own amid the pandemic”.

Alister Jack
Alister Jack will address the Scottish Conservative conference (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Jack will praise the role the military have played in the vaccination programme, saying: “Our military personnel played a pivotal role in the planning and logistics to get vaccines where they were needed and they were literally at the sharp end, too – administering the life-saving vaccines.

“Along with thousands of key workers and volunteers, they truly are the best of British.”

With the UK Government having been focused on “saving lives and livelihoods”, Mr Jack will argue that the “time is now right to place increased emphasis on recovery from the pandemic”.

To help with this he will tell Tory supporters: “The latest Budget supports Scotland to the tune of an additional £1.2 billion – that’s £1.2 billion of certainty, a £1.2 billion demonstration of the fiscal firepower of the UK Treasury and this Government’s copper-bottomed defence of the Union.”

However he will claim that Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has described the cash coming from the UK Treasury to Holyrood as “dribs and drabs of finance”.

He will hit out at this, saying: “Miss Forbes is multi-lingual, but only in SNP-speak does one billion translate as anything other than serious money.”

The Scottish Conservative MP will use his speech to accuse the SNP, who have been in power in Scotland for 14 years, of having “told fairy stories while playing fast and loose with the rules, imperilling the very foundations of the devolution settlement”.

Mr Jack will state: “We have seen an arrogant Scottish Government, distracted by internal bickering, taking the public for fools.”

He will speak out against SNP plans to hold a second Scottish independence referendum, if Nicola Sturgeon’s party wins an overall majority at May’s Holyrood election.

The Tory will claim: “It is chilling, with the monumental task of recuperating from a pandemic still ahead, (that) supposedly serious politicians can spend even a moment contemplating the reckless folly of another referendum.”

He will contrast this approach with that of the Conservatives, saying: “We are driving a package of measures to raise opportunity across all parts of the UK.”

Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are also due to address the conference on Sunday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Delegates will hear speeches from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak (Leon Neal/PA)

Ahead of the Prime Minister’s speech, Scotland’s Constitution Secretary Mike Russell called on him to clarify his position on a future Scottish independence referendum.

Mr Russell said: “No-one is proposing holding an independence referendum now, but if the people back a post-pandemic referendum in the coming election then democracy must prevail.

“So today I’m challenging Boris Johnson to make his position crystal clear: does he accept that Scotland has the democratic right to choose independence in a post-pandemic referendum – or is his position that the people should never be allowed to choose their own future under any circumstances?”

He added: “If Scottish voters in May back the SNP’s plan to hold a post-pandemic referendum, then he has no right to block it.”