Nicola Sturgeon’s emergency Covid-19 legislation could be made permanent after it was backed by a Holyrood committee.
Three SNP members on the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 Recovery Committee all voted to back the general principles of the Bill.
Both Scottish Conservatives, who had branded the legislation a “blatant and unnecessary power grab”, voted against it along with Labour MSP Alex Rowley.
The Committee only agreed to give its backing to the bill when convener Siobhian Brown – an SNP member – used her casting vote.
Nicola Sturgeon Peter Summers
The legislation, which was introduced by the Scottish Government in January 2020, set out to make changes in 30 specific legislative areas which emergency coronavirus powers had already been applied to.
While the Committee narrowly agreed to back the bill, MSPs called on the Scottish Government to change the legislation to “ensure that Parliament’s ability to hold Scottish Ministers to account in a public health emergency is sufficiently robust”.
But Scottish Conservative MSP and committee member Murdo Fraser insisted the Government should scrap the legislation altogether.
People wearing Covid-19 masks in Scotland Jane Barlow
Mr Fraser said: “The SNP’s plans for this power-grab Bill have already faced condemnation from all sides – and have only been pushed through the Covid Recovery Committee on the SNP convener’s casting vote.
“Over 80 percent of respondents to the Government’s survey opposed keeping powers to enforce lockdowns, bring in travel restrictions and close schools.
“But SNP MSPs have ignored the overwhelming opposition of the public to press ahead with bringing these extreme powers into law.”
He added: “This is a blatant and unnecessary power grab – and anyone who wants a fair, accountable and democratic government should have grave concerns over these proposals.
“The SNP Government have said they’ll consider the Committee’s concerns. I urge them to scrap these plans altogether and row back on this shocking overreach.”
But conveyer Ms Brown insisted if the legislation can be improved in key areas it could help provide for a “more resilient future”.
She said: “The pandemic offered us first hand an opportunity to stress test our preparedness for and resilience against public health threats.
"We’ve seen the challenges Scottish Ministers faced in responding to the emerging and evolving situation – and also Parliament’s challenges in holding ministers to account. Now we have the time to take stock.”
She insisted it was “imperative that we learn lessons” from the Covid-19 crisis, and “have legislation in place that is suitably flexible and proportionate to support an effective response to future threats.
“By strengthening the provisions within this Bill and ensuring that improvements are made to key areas, we set ourselves up for a more resilient future.”