Andy Burnham has accused Nicola Sturgeon of trampling on his constituents’ civil liberties as he raised the prospect of mounting a legal challenge to force her to compensate people hit by her travel ban.
In a rapidly escalating row between the two devolved leaders, the Mayor of Greater Manchester accused the First Minister leader of “insulting” people in the North West of England after she suggested he had only started a row over restrictions as part of a plan to become UK Labour leader.
A ban on non-essential travel between Scotland and Manchester and Salford came into force on Monday, while restrictions remain in force for Bolton, meaning around one million people in Mr Burham’s area cannot legally cross the border.
John Swinney, Ms Sturgeon’s deputy, dismissed Mr Burnham’s demand that the SNP Government pay compensation to businesses hit by the policy, or to residents who have been forced to cancel holidays in Scotland.
However, the former Labour Health Secretary said that some of his constituents had lost thousands of pounds as a result of having to cancel holiday bookings and that legal action would be considered if it was the best way to secure fairness.
He said on Monday night that he believed the Scottish Government was on “shaky ground” over the policy, particularly as Dundee has higher coronavirus rates than Bolton, but no similar travel ban has been put in place.
“It raises the question of discriminatory action against people living in some areas,” he said. “I’ve actually had a lawyer getting in touch to offer to help.
“We’ll have to gather more and more cases of people and we’ll have to see the extent to which people have been affected, but it’s not a small number of people, and it’s not a small amount of money.
“What does the Deputy First Minister say to a couple from Bolton who’ve been in touch with me today, who are over £1,000 out of pocket because their holiday cottage in the Borders has been cancelled this week with no ability to get a refund.They might think that’s fine but I don’t.”
He added: “Threatening legal action is something that only should be done if appropriate. However, I am going to find out this week how many people are affected.
“I couldn’t rule out, if there’s hundreds of people that are out of pocket by hundreds of pounds, I will represent them in the best way. If there is a legal redress route for them, then I think that should be considered.”
Ms Sturgeon has cited the high number of coronavirus cases in the affected areas as justification for the ban. Hitting back at Mr Burnham, she suggested he was playing politics by attacking her policy.
She said he was welcome to “pick up the phone” but added: “If, as I suspect might be the case, this is more about generating a spat with me as part of some positioning in a Labour leadership contest in future, then I’m not interested.”
Mr Burnham, however, insisted he was merely standing up for his constituents and repeated his accusation that Ms Sturgeon was a hypocrite, claiming she would have reacted furiously if a travel ban was imposed on Scotland without her being consulted.
He claimed Ms Sturgeon’s policy was an “infringement on the civil liberties” of his constituents, particularly those who had received both vaccinations, and that he did not understand the justification for it.
He added that Greater Manchester Police had told him they were unable to enforce the ban for Scots flouting the ban by travelling to Manchester, Bolton or Salford.
“Their view is that they cannot enforce Scottish regulations, even if they wanted to, and I don’t think they want to by the way,” he said.
Mr Swinney claimed the policy was “justified” by the city region’s spiking Covid-19 case rate and claimed Mr Burnham’s call for compensation is not “a relevant point” as business support is already available in England.
Simply shameless: Nicola Sturgeon accuses someone of ‘playing politics’ with a deadly pandemic
By Alan Cochrane
For Nicola Sturgeon to accuse anyone of "playing politics" on any subject, especially one as sensitive as a deadly pandemic, is just about the most shameless utterance this observer’s ever heard in a lifetime of covering the subject.
Justifiably berated for blatant hypocrisy by Andy Burnham for failing to inform him of her plan to try and ban all travel between Scotland and Manchester, the First Minister resorted to her normal, but increasingly disreputable, tactic of hurling personal insults at those who oppose her.
And for someone for whom every low blow, every cheap trick in the book, is totally justified if it serves her purpose, not of winning an argument (she’s already lost this one) but of blackening the character of a rival, nothing is off-limits.
She even went as far as to claim Mr Burnham’s complaint had been designed to further his ambitions as leader of the Labour Party. I’m bound to say I don’t think he needs a barney with a Scottish politician to do that. After all, it’s she who looks the more battle-scarred from this skirmish.
Furthermore, as someone with so little self-awareness as this lady, the UK’s most obstructive operator, to suggest that anyone else might have a political motive in challenging her is just too risible for words.
Her very action in seeking to ban all non-essential Scotland to Manchester travel was billed as purely a measure to reduce the level of Covid-19 north of the border. Why, then, was it shrouded in some of La Sturgeon’s special political tricks. Her staff instructed a tame SNP backbencher (there are scores of them) to table a ‘planted’ written parliamentary question for answer last Thursday.
It was duly answered by her office.
But at the First Minister’s Question session on Thursday afternoon she gave no details of the Manchester ban, preferring to save up that little goodie for her Friday press conference in front of the BBC Scotland cameras.
It is clear now that the idea of making it illegal for all travel between Scotland and Manchester had been on the cards for several days but, as Mr Burnham has complained, at no time was he informed of the plan. The first he knew of was when he read Saturday morning’s newspapers.
Several questions immediately arise: Why didn’t she tell MSPs in the Scottish Parliament at Question Time last Thursday (the proper place for such an announcement) that she was outlawing travel between Scotland and Manchester? She had made up her mind to do it. Why the delay until Friday? Was it simply to capture the headlines by announcing it on live television?
Why, if the plan had been on the cards for several days did she not pick up the phone and tell Mr Burnham?
Why, when the Covid-19 infection rate in parts of Scotland, Dundee for instance, is at least as high or higher than in Manchester, are there no travel restrictions for them?
However, just to show that the First Minister is no slouch herself at the game of politics she announced the long overdue scrapping of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, as well as radical reform of the equally-much-maligned quango, Education Scotland, removing its responsibility for schools inspections.
Both moves are aimed at, finally, getting to grips with the SNP Government’s poor record of improving both the education and the exam results of Scotland’s children.
It was interesting that these dramatic changes were announced on the very same day as they published the sometimes critical OECD report on Scotland’s education system. They had been accused of "sitting" on these findings for more than six months.
Pure coincidence or Nicola Sturgeon playing politics? You choose.