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FMQs at Christmas: Contrite Sturgeon avoids naughty list for mask breach

Sturgeon breach
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

‘Twas the final first minister’s questions before Christmas, when all through the chamber, MSPs were stirring, to get their names in the paper.

It might have been the final session of 2020 but anyone tuning in to watch a Holyrood Christmas cracker, following revelations of a coronavirus rule breach by Nicola Sturgeon, was to be disappointed.

Ms Sturgeon admitted she is her own harshest critic and, in a way, she was right – no one else even mentioned the SNP leader being photographed last Friday speaking to a table of women without a face mask, an apparent breach of her own guidance.

To kick off an unusually restrained performance, the first minister began her coronavirus update with an apology and a vow never to let her guard drop again.

“I want to be clear today that, regardless of the circumstances, I was in the wrong,” she said. “There are no excuses. These rules do apply to me, just as they do to everyone else, and the rules really matter.”

The public’s response to Ms Sturgeon’s error has been muted, and in some cases sympathetic, and perhaps that is why no opposition party seized on the opportunity to grill her on the issue. Or perhaps it is a sign there are far more pressing issues at hand.

Both Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard chose instead to raise the plight of individuals suffering at the harsh end of the pandemic.

Sturgeon breach
Leader of the Conservative Party in the Scottish Parliament Ruth Davidson.

Ms Davidson mentioned Ryan, a business owner in Linwood, who like many others has been left wondering when vital support already announced by the Scottish Government will be made available.

Mr Leonard highlighted the experience of Angela, whose parents are living in the same Livingston care home but have been isolated in their own rooms alone since March, “imprisoned for being old”, as the Scottish Labour leader put it.

Sturgeon breach
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard.

The exchanges were largely free of the usual fireworks and perhaps the “enormous dose of humility” with which Ms Sturgeon reminded the public – and herself – of the government’s guidance lingered on her mind.

It was left to Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie to play the role of pantomime villain, at least for jeering SNP MSPs, as he drew parallels between chaos at Dover and SNP plans to pursue a second independence referendum as early as next year.

Ms Sturgeon took the opportunity to wish everyone a “peaceful and healthy Christmas” and a “brighter and better new year”. After the week she’s had and the year we have all endured, the first minister will hope more than ever it’s a Christmas wish that comes true.

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