A Scottish Government minister has warned that relaxing lockdown rules on the islands before the mainland could cause “confusion”.
Constitution Secretary Michael Russell said there needed to be a debate about easing restrictions earlier in areas that had not been severely impacted by coronavirus, but he sounded a note of caution about introducing “too much complexity” into the rules.
Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, previously suggested that the Western Isles and Orkney could be “obvious candidates to be the test beds for an exit strategy for the country”, because of the low number of local cases and the potential to control the spread of the virus through local contact tracing.
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil and northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael have both suggested they would welcome a pilot scheme locally if increased testing was involved.
However, concerns have been expressed about such a move, and also about the prospect of Scotland having a different strategy to the rest of the UK when it comes to easing the lockdown.
One of the elements you would consider there would be whether there would be a danger of confusing messages.”
Mr Russell was asked about the idea of easing restrictions earlier on the islands and whether it would confuse messaging to the public, as he gave evidence to the first virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s new Covid-19 committee on Friday.
The minister said decisions would be based on scientific advice and what was in the best interests of the people Scotland, but “an element within that was trying to avoid confusion”.
He said: “One of the elements you would consider there would be whether there would be a danger of confusing messages.
“In some places, perhaps not.
“I represent a large number of island communities, 23 inhabited islands within the constituency of Argyll and Bute.
“There are some islands where it would be comparatively simple to say ‘we do not have a case’ or ‘we may have had a case but now that has passed us by, can we do something different here?”
Mr Russell added: “However, there would be issues.
“For example, although the first minister might be happy with that, she might have to say: ‘My message applies to everybody, except for viewers on such and such an island, who should look away now’. That would not be sensible.
“This will take a bit of time and a bit of getting used to, but the core of the issue is very simple – what is the best thing for the people of Scotland, and how do we implement that?
“It is not surprising that that would be the first minister’s primary thought, because that is her primary duty.”
Mr MacNeil said he believed “different measures” could have been introduced in different UK nations, and in the Scottish islands as well, because of lower infection rates.
However, he added that it would require having “proper testing in place”.