South of Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has warned of the serious dangers which could arise out of mixed cross-border Covid-19 messaging coming from the UK and Scottish Governments.
At the weekend, several news sources suggested some lockdown restrictions in England could be lifted in May, while First Minster Nicola Sturgeon refuted the claims there would be any change in Scotland in the foreseeable future.
Colin Smyth has warned that a co-ordinated approach between both Governments across the UK is vital, in particular for border communities.
People in Scotland often watch both Scottish and UK news bulletins, and the mixed messaging at the weekend could lead to serious confusion. While different policies north and south of the border are common in normal circumstances, during the Covid-19 pandemic there is no room for confusion.
The local MSP has also highlighted specific issues relating to Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders. In normal times, around 4,000 people in Dumfries and Galloway alone travel to Cumbria for work, education, health and leisure. If shops, colleges and workplaces south of the border were to re-open before those in Scotland, there is a chance those living in Dumfries and Galloway would end up breaking Scottish advice to stay at home.
Colin Smyth said: “When it comes to Covid-19, there is rightly criticism that the Scottish Government has followed the exact same strategy as the UK Government through this crisis, when that strategy hasn’t always been correct.
“But the solution is to make changes across the UK. When it comes to the lockdown strategy, if we have two separate timescales between Scotland and England, there is a real danger of confusion and any mixed messages would risk people’s lives.
“From looking at other countries, we know there is likely to be a staged approach to re-opening following the Covid-19 peak and it will inevitably be confusing when it happens. However, the last thing we need is an added layer of confusion depending on which side of the border you live.
“There are also serious practical issues for the thousands of people who live in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders but who travel to Cumbria and Northumberland on a regular basis for work, education, health and leisure.
“For example, if shops were opened in Carlisle before Dumfries, or Berwick before Eyemouth, would people be allowed to travel south to visit them? The same with colleges and workplaces.
“If schools in Scotland remained closed, which would be the right policy for the foreseeable future, but people who lived in Scotland had to go back to work in England because shops there re-opened- what would they do about childcare?
“There are so many questions, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. We must do all we can to avoid dangerous mixed messages and our governments must start working together to ensure that they are on the same page.
“No one expects either Government to set out a timescale yet for an exit strategy. But the public have a right to know what that strategy will look like and everything possible should be down to make sure the strategy is the right one on both side of the border.”