Party leaders clash over key issues in STV election debate

Coronavirus pandemic recovery, Scottish independence, education and economy among the key topics covered.

Kirsty Anderson via STV

Scotland’s leading political party leaders have clashed in a televised debate live on STV.

Patrick Harvie (co-leader of the Scottish Green Party), Willie Rennie (Scottish Liberal Democrats), Douglas Ross (Scottish Conservatives), Anas Sarwar (Scottish Labour) and Nicola Sturgeon (Scottish National Party) were pressed by STV political editor Colin Mackay on the big issues facing the country.

They put forward their visions for recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as their stance on the economy, the NHS, education, climate change and the prospects of a second independence referendum.

Here are some of the key exchanges from Tuesday evening’s debate across a range of issues:

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CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:

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Sarwar said Scotland’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t start or end with the lifting of lockdown or with the virus going away. He said: “It is going to take years for us to get back to pre-Covid levels – never mind better than it was pre-Covid.

He added that what people across the country are most worried about is keeping loved ones safe, getting access to the vaccine, their childrens’ mental health, jobs and cancelled operations – and not the date of a referendum.

Harvie said the country is going to face huge economic challenges and that’s why Scotland needs the economic powers to face those challenges – challenging the notion that even debating independence has to be “some sort of terribly hostile process”.

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Sturgeon said it was really important that people judge us on “what we do about Covid and not what we say”.

She said: “When the Covid pandemic struck just over a year ago, the first thing I did was put all planning for an independence referendum on pause, so that as First Minister I could focus 100% on steering the country through the crisis, and that’s what I will continue to focus on for as long as necessary.”

She also accused the Conservatives of being reckless through the pandemic with their approach to Brexit by “tearing Scotland out of a transition period against our will”.

Ross said Scots were facing the choice of two futures – either by coming together and getting the focus 100% on recovering from Covid, or the SNP getting a majority and “demand another divisive independence referendum and put Scotland’s recovery at risk”.

INDEPENDENCE:

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Ross said issues such as tackling drug deaths, improving mental health care and increasing the number of police officers should take priority over a second independence referendum.

He said: “We can recover from Covid using the strong foundations of the United Kingdom, we can tackle the looming economic crisis.

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“But we won’t manage any of that if the SNP get a majority and hold another divisive referendum.”

Rennie also disagreed that there should be another referendum in the next five years.

“We’re still in the wake of the most deadly pandemic,” he said. Over 10,000 people have lost their life, thousands more have lost their job, this is not the moment for another referendum.”

But Sturgeon said Scotland’s future was at stake, saying this election will ultimately determine who decides that future – those who live in Scotland or Westminster politicians.

She said: “By giving both votes to the SNP you will secure leadership through Covid, a plan for recovery and when the crisis is over the choice of a better future with independence.”

Rennie claimed Brexit was an example as to why breaking from the UK was not a good idea.

He added: “These were dangerous issues, they needed to be handled with care.

“That’s why we want to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes with independence.”

The Scottish Lib Dem leader said the focus should be on convincing people of the merits of being in the EU.

DRUGS:

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Nicola Sturgeon said the SNP “took its eye off the ball” over drugs deaths, adding that she had set a £250m investment programme to build up rehabilitation services.

Ross said drug deaths in Scotland had doubled during her time as First Minister.

Sturgeon said: “I take the view when politicians get things wrong, and we all get things wrong, it’s really important to face up to that, it’s important to recognise that and it’s important to set out what we do to fix that – that’s what I’ve done on drugs deaths, I’ve appointed a minister to lead forward that work and we are determined to turn that around.”

HEALTH:

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Sarwar questioned Sturgeon over problems at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow – which was commissioned when the SNP leader was still health secretary.

The Labour leader said the flagship building had been allowed to open despite a report saying “the water supply was not safe and at high risk of infection”.

He said this resulted in 40 infections in child cancer patients, and two deaths.

Sturgeon insisted: “It is not the case that reports that I personally saw that said the hospital was unsafe were ignored. That is simply not the case.”

She said “we don’t know all of the answers”, saying a public inquiry has been set up to provide “full scrutiny”.

Sarwar said: “If that was me, I would want to hunt down the answers.”

CLIMATE CHANGE:

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Sarwar has said there is a “generational shift” when it comes to transitioning away from fossil fuels as he was asked whether his party was “too close” to the industry.

Harvie praised the Scottish Labour leader for his party’s latest commitment to environmental issues.

He added: “Is your party just too close to the fossil fuel industry to be taken seriously?”

Sarwar said: “We have got to make sure it’s a truly just transition that doesn’t decimate jobs.”

Harvie said the Scottish Greens have the solutions to the climate crisis and the vision for a fairer, greener, independent Scotland in Europe.

EDUCATION:

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Harvie said the Scottish Qualifications Authority “punished” 75,000 mostly working-class young people, lowering their school grades for no reason other than their postcode.

He questioned Sturgeon about the situation facing school pupils this year.

He said: “This year, exams have been cancelled again and you said there is no requirement for pupils to sit an exam or prelim this year, but the SQA’s (Scottish Qualification Authority) own explanation to students says ‘the look and feel of these assessments may seem like an exam’; it really does and for young people who have just got back into the classroom it really does feel like an exam.”

He asked the SNP leader if she was letting the SQA preside over “another exams fiasco”.

Sturgeon replied by saying an alternative way of certifying young people’s achievements needed to be found because exams can’t take place again this year due to Covid.

She said: “We’ve put teacher judgment at the heart of that; the SQA have rightly issued guidance, there are lots and lots of different subjects and how that will be done in one subject is different to how it will be done in some other subjects.”

ECONOMY:

Andrew Mckenna / EyeEm via Getty Images

Rennie said it was important to persuade whoever is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to implement a universal basic income – giving the Scottish Parliament powers over taxation and social security.

He said: “Whoever is there over time, we persuade them of the merits of that because I think there was an ideal opportunity at the start of the pandemic to do exactly this, which is why we made the positive case for that happening because we think a universal basic income would be a good thing for the country.”

The Lib Dem leader said his party is running a positive campaign on jobs and climate.

Meanwhile, Sturgeon pressed the Scottish Tory leader on the impact of Brexit on Scotland’s fishing industry.

Ross accepted: “We haven’t done enough for the fishing industry, we need to do far more.”

He said he would “stand up for Scottish fishermen” but the SNP leader asked him: “Isn’t it the case that whatever the UK Government says, you just do it?

“First ministers need to stand up for Scotland, Douglas, not take orders from Westminster.”

Ross responded by saying: “First ministers need to work with governments around the United Kingdom.

“We will deliver most for the people of Scotland for our recovery, if our two governments work together, not always looking to pick fights.”

OPENING STATEMENTS:

Patrick Harvie:

Anas Sarwar:

Willie Rennie:

Nicola Sturgeon:

Douglas Ross:

How is STV covering the election?

Voters in Scotland will go to the polls to decide the make-up of the next Scottish Parliament on Thursday, May 6.

There will be no overnight count at this election due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a result instead expected over the weekend of May 7-9.

Here is how STV News is covering the 2021 election:

Scotland Tonight specials

Colin Mackay has been carrying out one-to-one leaders’ interviews, which are also available for catch-up on the STV Player. 

STV News election special

This show will air between 4-7pm and 8pm-8.30pm on Friday, May 7, bringing viewers the first results as they come in. 

The programme will be presented by John MacKay outside Holyrood, with STV special correspondent Bernard Ponsonby and Rona Dougall analysing the numbers at STV’s results studio in Glasgow – bringing viewers the story as it unfolds and key declarations as they happen live on air. 

STV reporters will be at voting counts across the country, feeding in live to the programme.

An additional special will air on Saturday, May 8 from 4.30-6.30pm, covering the results being declared as the new parliament begins to take shape. 

STV News at Six

Coverage continues on STV’s nightly news programme, with Kathryn Samson travelling to communities across the country in her Covid-secure ‘bubble’, inviting viewers to share views on all the political developments of the day.

Online

The STV News website will offer comprehensive, up-to-the-minute coverage including leader interviews, expert insights from STV’s political team, rolling results coverage as the counts declare and detailed analysis once the outcome is known. 

Reporting will be available on the STV News website, apps and social media platforms.

FM slams Rangers fans as Glasgow could face longer lockdown

Professor Jason Leitch said the city may be under Level 3 restrictions for more than another week.

Pool/Pool via Getty Images / Euan Cherry via SNS Group

Nicola Sturgeon has said she is “utterly disgusted” by Rangers fans who “rampaged through the city” as Glasgow’s Level 3 restrictions could continue for more than an extra week.

The First Minister said that the violence, vandalism and anti-Catholic prejudice on display was “selfish beyond belief” amid rising coronavirus cases in the city.

Her statement came as Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, said that restrictions may continue in Glasgow beyond May 24.

An estimated 15,000 Rangers fans amassed outside Ibrox and then in George Square on Saturday. Five police officers were injured after supporters began throwing missiles at them. Police Scotland said that 28 people had been arrested so far for a variety of offences and that more arrests will follow.

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Sturgeon said she had been inundated with messages about the “disgraceful scenes” in Glasgow.

Euan Cherry via SNS Group
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – MAY 15: Rangers fans celebrate lifting the Scottish Premiership title at George Square, on May 15, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Euan Cherry / SNS Group)

She said: “Police still have a job to do, which restrains my comments to some extent – but to say I’m utterly disgusted by the Rangers fans who rampaged through the city would be an understatement.

“I’m also angry on behalf of every law abiding citizen. In normal times, the violence and vandalism, and the vile anti-Catholic prejudice that was on display, would have been utterly unacceptable. But mid-pandemic, in a city with cases on the rise, it was also selfish beyond belief.

“People across the country still living under the most difficult restrictions – not able to see family or attend weddings and funerals – are rightly furious at the irresponsible actions of a thuggish minority who seem to care little for the risks they pose to other people.”

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She said that there is a need for the government and police to reflect on what more can be done to prevent and tackle such scenes but said that Police Scotland officers had her admiration for the job they did in “difficult and dangerous circumstances”.

Five police officers were injured and more than 20 people arrested after massive crowds of Rangers fans had to be dispersed from George Square in Glasgow. Police Scotland’s assistant chief constable Gary Ritchie said: “Police Scotland, our partners and Rangers Football Club had all asked fans not to gather and to take personal responsibility for their actions.

“But 15,000 people chose to ignore that and took the selfish decision to gather at Ibrox and then George Square.”

General Secretary of the Scottish Police Federation Callum Steele hit out at the incident on Twitter with pictures showing the extent of two officers’ injuries.

He said: “No matter how lucky we are to have such courageous officers protecting our communities, none of them deserve this.”

The city remains Scotland’s virus hotspot with the latest seven-day rate of positive cases per 100,000 people at 89.4.

The rest of the country will have coronavirus restrictions eased on Monday, May 17, but Glasgow and Moray will remain under Level 3.

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Pollokshield and Battlefield remain the most affected neighbourhoods with residents urged to get tested and take up the opportunity to be vaccinated when offered.

Having taken a test herself, Sturgeon said: “If you live in – or have recently spent time in – the Southside of Glasgow, please help get this outbreak under control by taking a test.”

Speaking on BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show, Prof Leitch said “it may well be” Glasgow remains under Level 3 beyond the initial one week delay to easing restrictions.

He told the programme: “We’ll give the best advice we can on this – we’ve met all weekend, we’ll meet next week.

“Glasgow are doing an enormous amount of work. The leaders of the public health response in Glasgow are testing everywhere.

“If you haven’t had a test and you’re in Glasgow, you should do it.”

Coronavirus: 292 new cases recorded in last 24 hours

Scottish Government figures showed there had been no further deaths of those who had tested positive recently.

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Covid-19: 292 new cases in Scotland.

Scotland has recorded 292 positive coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours.

That number represents 2% of all the tests that reported results, meaning the positivity rate increased from 1.6% on Saturday.

Latest figures released on Sunday showed that there were no further deaths of people who had recent tested positive for the virus.

However, three people remain in intensive care with recently confirmed Covid-19.

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Since the start of the pandemic more than 10,000 deaths have been registered in Scotland where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

Over three million people, around two thirds of adults in Scotland, have received their first dose of the vaccination.

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Caution urged as Covid-19 restrictions set to ease

Professor Leitch indicated that Glasgow may have to stay in level 3 restrictions for longer than a week.

STV News
Leitch: Urging caution as restrictions set to ease.

Scots should be “cautious and careful” when Covid restrictions ease across most of the country on Monday, national clinical director Jason Leitch has said.

Professor Leitch said the decision to keep Glasgow in Level 3 restrictions went “down to the wire” and indicated the city may have to stay at the current level for longer than a week.

With the exception of Glasgow and Moray, which are dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks, all mainland areas will move from Level 3 to Level 2 restrictions.

Changes to the rules include the ability to hug loved ones again and indoor socialising in homes.

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Many island communities will move to Level 1.

Nicola Sturgeon announced on Friday that Glasgow and Moray would have to stay at Level 3, with the situation being reviewed at the end of next week.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Show, Prof Leitch said initial signs suggested the Indian variant was “part of the challenge” in Glasgow.

Discussing the decisions to keep Scotland’s largest city in Level 3, he said: “Certainly the toughest we’ve had to give advice about for months and months.

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“It was really down to the wire on what was the right thing to do, but we’ve learned in Scotland and around the world that acting fast and hard always works.

“Delay rarely works and that is why we gave the advice we did.”

Asked if the outbreaks were likely to spread to other areas, he said: “I think we should watch and be cautious and careful.

“We have decided, with advice, that on Monday the rest of the country is safe to move to the next stage.

“But we all said the hugging, the increased hospitality, that should all be done very cautiously.

“So don’t go crazy but we think it can be kept under control.”

Prof Leitch said it “may well be” the case that Glasgow stays in Level 3 for longer than a week, as he urged people in the city to take tests for the virus.

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On Monday in the Level 2 areas, up to six people from three households can socialise indoors in a private home or garden without physical distancing.

Physical contact such as hugs with loved ones will be allowed again, though the government says people should use their judgment around how often this takes place.

Pubs can open and sell alcohol indoors until 10.30pm in two-hour booked slots. Local licensing laws will apply outdoors.

On Sunday, a total of 292 cases of coronavirus and no new deaths were recorded in the Scottish Government’s daily figures.

A total of 3,020,335 people have received the first dose of a Covid vaccination and 1,621,031 have received their second dose.

Hundreds join Glasgow rally in solidarity with Palestinians

It comes after similar rallies in other major cities across the UK and Ireland this weekend.

George Square Cam via Glasgow City Council
Pro-Palestine supporters have gathered in Glasgow’s George Square.

Several hundred demonstrators have gathered in Glasgow’s George Square for a rally in solidarity with Palestinians.

Protesters shouted “free Palestine” and waved Palestinian flags and placards in the sunshine early on Sunday afternoon, just hours after the area was cleared of a sea of broken glass and debris left by Rangers fans celebrating the club’s league title.

Ahead of Sunday’s rally, civil liberties lawyer Aamer Anwar tweeted that “1000s will gather peacefully with families & no alcohol, to protest the genocide of #Palestinians”.

He added: “We demand total respect by [Police Scotland] and a facilitation of the democratic right to protest, we will not tolerate any double standards or excuses”.

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It comes after similar rallies in other major cities across the UK and Ireland in solidarity with the people of Palestine this weekend.

In London on Saturday, nine police officers were injured and missiles were thrown amid efforts to disperse crowds outside the Israeli Embassy.

Thousands of people had earlier marched through the capital to the gates of the embassy in Kensington.

Nine people were arrested on suspicion of violent disorder in London, the Metropolitan Police said.

Adel Hana via AP
Gaza City was targeted by in a fresh Israeli air strike on Sunday (Adel Hana/AP)
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Scotland Yard said small pockets of disorder had followed a largely peaceful demonstration.

Thousands of Palestinians have been forced to flee their homes after a week of sustained conflict.

Since last Monday night, Palestinian militant group Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, whose military responded by barraging the Gaza Strip with tank fire and air strikes.

At least 145 people in Gaza and eight in Israel have been killed since the fighting erupted.

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Woman severely injured after two assaulted by teen at station

Two women were assaulted by a teenager wearing a Rangers flag around her neck on Saturday.

British Transport Police via BTP
British Transport Police are appealing for witnesses.

A young woman has been left severely injured after being assaulted by a teenager at a busy North Lanarkshire railway station.

The victim’s friend was also assaulted by the same woman at Coatbridge Sunnyside station on Saturday night.

British Transport Police are now looking to trace the suspect who is described as being around 18 or 19-years-old, with a heavy build and dark hair.

At the time of the attack she was wearing a Rangers flag around her neck.

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Emergency services attended and the first woman assaulted is currently being treated for severe leg injuries in hospital.

Officers are now appealing for witnesses to the incident that took place at around 7.30pm.

A spokesperson from BTP said: “Several people are believed to have been at the station at the time of the assault and detectives are urging them to come forward with any information.

“Witnesses or anyone with information can contact BTP by texting 61016 or calling 0800 40 50 40.”


Five police injured and 28 arrested after Rangers title party

Scenes of celebration became 'ugly' after officers tried to disperse the crowds.

Euan Cherry via SNS Group

Five police officers have been injured and almost 30 people arrested after massive crowds of Rangers fans had to be dispersed from George Square in Glasgow.

The thousands of football supporters were celebrating their team’s Scottish Premiership triumph with many gathering outside Ibrox and then marching through the city on Saturday before scenes turned “ugly”.

The First Minister said she was “utterly disgusted” and hopes that Rangers FC will reflect on what must be done to counteract behaviour of fans as there is concern that Glasgow will have to remain in Level 3 for even longer amid increasing cases of coronavirus.

There was a large police presence throughout the day, with increasing numbers deployed to George Square as the singing, dancing, and lighting of pyrotechnics continued for hours.

George Square was littered with broken glass, alcohol containers, spent flares and other rubbish.
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But police said some fans became “increasingly disorderly” with property damaged and people being assaulted in “ugly scenes”. Officers were targeted by the crowd, with missiles and flares thrown at them.

Glasgow’s police chief condemned the “disgraceful behaviour” and thanked the officers who put themselves in harm’s way to bring the “violent and disorderly gathering to an end”.

Although most of the crowd dispersed, a number remained and confronted the police with “violence and aggression” with officers coming under direct attack.

Nicola Sturgeon said that she had been inundated with messages about the “disgraceful scenes” in Glasgow.

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She said: “Police still have a job to do, which restrains my comments to some extent – but to say I’m utterly disgusted by the Rangers fans who rampaged through the city would be an understatement.

“I’m also angry on behalf of every law abiding citizen. In normal times, the violence and vandalism, and the vile anti-Catholic prejudice that was on display, would have been utterly unacceptable. But mid-pandemic, in a city with cases on the rise, it was also selfish beyond belief.

“People across the country still living under the most difficult restrictions – not able to see family or attend weddings and funerals – are rightly furious at the irresponsible actions of a thuggish minority who seem to care little for the risks they pose to other people.”

She said that there is a need for the government and police to reflect on what more can be done to prevent and tackle such scenes but said that Police Scotland officers had her admiration for the job they did in “difficult and dangerous circumstances”.

The mass of fans left George Square littered with smashed glass, alcohol containers, plastic bags, and spent flare and firework casings.

Scaffolding around the Walter Scott Monument in the centre of the square had been scaled during the celebrations.

There was a large police presence throughout the day.

A major clean-up operation took place overnight with the area intended to host an organised demonstration on Sunday.

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Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “My full support to police officers who put in an incredible shift [yesterday] in very difficult circumstances. Absolutely disgraceful that they were subjected to the kind of thuggery we saw last night. Incidents of violence, disorder, anti-Catholic and any other hatred will be followed up.”

Fans had been urged to celebrate in accordance with coronavirus restrictions and avoid gathering in numbers. Glasgow is currently the nation’s coronavirus hotspot, with the highest prevalence of the virus per head of population. The city will remain in Level 3 lockdown, along with Moray, while the rest of the country enjoys the easing of restrictions.

Figures published on Friday showed Glasgow recorded 80.4 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to May 11.

Chief superintendent Mark Sutherland, Police Scotland’s divisional commander for Greater Glasgow, said: “As celebrations continued sections of the crowd became increasingly disorderly, property was damaged and people were assaulted. Our officers became the focus of the crowd’s attention with missiles and flares being thrown at them. Our policing response has been proportionate. We have responded appropriately and consistently to the behaviour of those gathered.

“I strongly condemn the behaviour of these supporters who have not only placed our officers at risk but have sought to damage the image and reputation of this great city, especially during this critical period of the pandemic.

“I would like to place on record my thanks to the police and partners who manged this incident, especially those officers who put themselves in danger to bring this violent and disorderly gathering to an end.

“So far we know that three officers have been injured and more than 20 people have been arrested.

“We will be continuing our enquiries and my message is clear that if you have been involved in these ugly scenes then we you will be identified and arrested.”

Scottish cinemas set to reopen after months of dark screens

Vue boss says there is ‘huge pent-up demand’ for the big-screen experience.

Vue Cinemas via Handout/PA
Vue have revamped their cinemas in readiness for reopening on Monday, putting in new Covid-safe features.

There is a “huge amount of pent-up demand” for cinemas and confidence in the industry is “unshaken”, the general manager of Vue in the UK and Ireland has said, as thousands of multiplexes reopen their doors.

The cinema chain will open its venues in Scotland and the rest of the UK on Monday with new releases including Peter Rabbit 2, featuring the voice of James Corden, and Spiral: From The Book Of Saw, starring Chris Rock, and classic films such as The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, Taxi Driver and Grease.

Odeon cinemas will also reopen as will Curzon chains. Cineworld, which announced the closure of 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse sites last October, will begin reopening from Wednesday, May 19.

Cinemas will not be able to reopen in Glasgow or Moray which remain in Level 3 lockdown amid higher prevalence of the virus, meaning Scotland’s only Everyman venue will be closed until restrictions are eased.

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Toby Bradon, general manager of Vue entertainment in the UK and Ireland, said: “There’s a huge amount of pent-up demand out there, and we want to get that out there and meet that pent-up demand.

“We know that our customers are really keen to get back into the cinemas and we’ve got a great line-up of films.

“We do know from the customer research we’ve done that people believe you can’t recreate that big-screen experience at home. It’s a point of differentiation.

“People want the big screen, they want the sound, the seats, the whole experience, the popcorn that goes with it, and they recognise you can’t get that from your sofa.

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“We’re in some unprecedented times, so it’s quite difficult to judge exactly what it’s going to look like but our confidence in the industry is unshaken.”

Discussing the rise of streaming over the past year, and the move by some film studios to make films available at home on the same day as in theatres, Mr Bradon said he believed audiences still need cinemas for blockbuster experiences.

Warner Bros has announced its entire slate of 2021 films, including anticipated blockbuster Dune, will arrive on the HBO Max streaming service at the same time as in cinemas in the US.

Disney will also launch a number of films on its streaming service Disney+ on the same day as cinema releases, including Marvel film Black Widow, villain origin story Cruella and Dwayne Johnson’s new movie Jungle Cruise.

However, the release of likely box office hits such as Bond film No Time To Die, Top Gun: Maverick and Fast And Furious 9 have all been delayed so they can be shown only in cinemas.

Mr Bradon said: “If you look at what the studios have done with the big films, they’ve delayed them, they pushed them back, they haven’t pushed them to the home and streaming, which tells you that cinema exhibition is an economic powerhouse for them.

“Of course other films have gone to streaming and but generally they’re not the big ones. So No Time To Die, Fast And Furious 9, the big tentpole stuff, has just been delayed and I think that’s a sign of confidence from the studios as well that the customers will return.”

Nurses map road to recovery for those living with addiction

The Parish Nurses have created the Dundee Recovery Roadmap to bring support services together.

STV News

The road to recovery for people affected by drugs in Dundee is being mapped out by a group of nurses.

The Parish Nurses run drop in services to support those experiencing addiction and homelessness.

Now, they have created the Dundee Recovery Roadmap mobile phone app, bringing together a raft of services that have sprung up in the city to help halt record drug deaths.

“Over the last few years the services that have sprung up have been quite encouraging and we see that in the app,” explained Kirsty Nelson, one of the Parish Nurses.

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“It’s full of these amazing services that are there to support, encourage and help people get into the recovery stage of their life.”

Demand for addiction support has never been greater. 72 people died from drugs in Dundee in 2019, earning the city the unenviable title of Europe’s drug death capital per head of population.

Stefan Ward knows only too well the importance of support services. He arrived in Dundee eight years ago addicted to drugs and credits his recovery to the grassroots groups that helped him.

“I was really broken, hitting rock bottom, at that stage of giving up,” said Mr Ward.

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“Finding out that Dundee had this unfortunate name for itself as the drug death capital, I thought this was my dead end, this was it and it didn’t look good as that’s where I struggled also.

“But it actually turned out to be the place where I found hope, I found recovery.”

Mr Ward now volunteers at the drop-in centre run by the Parish Nurses at the city’s Steeple Church, helping others find the support he says saved his life.

“I discovered these services, the church, they’ve just played a huge part in my recovery and I really am here by the grace of god,” said Mr Ward.

He has helped develop the app – highlighting all the services in the city offering support. One of the services featured is the Safe Zone Bus.

Before coronavirus came along, the bus helped vulnerable people or those leaving pubs and clubs worse for wear.

At the start of the pandemic it was repurposed to help those struggling to access help.

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It parks up in the Stobswell and Lochee areas on a Friday and Saturday night, when other services are closed.

Kathryn Baker, Tayside Council on Alcohol chief executive said: “We’ve had people over the winter who have come onto the bus and they’ve had no food, no warm clothing, they’ve had no money for electricity, they’ve had no heating so we’ve been able to provide that crisis help.”

Volunteers on the bus have discovered the power of the pot noodle is a surprising ice breaker.

Neil Sneddon, of Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “It takes four minutes to make so it gives us four minutes to engage with people.” 

“People come here for a pot noodle but they have multiple issues, potentially that we can support them with and if we can’t support them on the bus we know multiple agencies that can and that’s what the cup of tea, the pot noodle allows.”

Denise Fitzsimmons volunteers on the bus and uses her own experience of addiction to help others.

“In June, that’s me six years sober. When I was a kid I never thought I would be a drop-out alcoholic, but I did. But I got better and everybody can get better but only they can do it,” she said.

“Family members are tortured by this. Everybody is affected. It’s heartbreaking. We need to listen to the people and find out what’s going on because we’re getting polluted by drugs. It’s taking over this town.”

The Reconnection Project is also included on the app. Through a series of gardening, woodwork and art workshops they try to get to the root of people’s problems.

“Over 50 people I knew have died, young, younger than me,” said volunteer John ‘Taffy’ Barrington, who never used drugs but witnessed the devastation they caused when he was homeless ten years ago. 

“I try to encourage a lot of people that there are things for them, there wasn’t so much when I was on the streets. There’s so [many] positives, I try to encourage people that if I can do it anyone can do it.”

The Reconnection Project’s manager Dave Dyson, a former drug user himself, wants to set up a rehab centre on the outskirts of the city.

“We would run it the way we see it would run better without any medication, without methadone. It would be what you would call cold turkey,” he explained.

“We’re lacking in Scotland with people being able to go into rehab, so that’s important. People need to feel they’re not going to be judged. People need to feel loved. There is so much hurt out there and we’re seeing it all the time. Until you find the root cause the problem is always going to be there. There is so much trauma,” said Mr Dyson.

There are plans to roll the roadmap out to other parts of Scotland in the hope more people can find the help they need where they live and less lives will be lost.


City planners set for ‘more relaxed approach’ to festivals

Edinburgh City Council has previously faced heavy criticism for its planning enforcement of the city’s festivals.

georgeclerk via IStock
If the proposals are approved, festival organisers will not need permission for the use of a new space for up to 28 days.

Edinburgh City Council is set to take a “more relaxed approach” to planning enforcement of the capital’s festivals.

Councillors are being asked to approve plans which will allow planning officers to be more lenient during the summer festivals.

Edinburgh City Council has previously faced heavy criticism for its planning enforcement of the city’s festivals, particularly the Christmas Markets in 2019, which went ahead despite not having planning permission, and which caused £150,000 of damage to Princes Street Gardens.

If the proposals are approved, festival organisers will not need permission for the use of a new space for up to 28 days, excluding the erection and removal of any structures, and where that use is not similar to an existing, nearby business.

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Edinburgh International Festival is planning two tents.
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The same rule will apply to the city’s public green spaces. Similarly, individual structures smaller than 3,500m-squared will not be subject to planning enforcement.

A report, set to go before councillors at the council’s planning committee on May 19, reads: “The Edinburgh Festivals are key to the city’s international reputation, its economy and its recovery.

“Festivals were not held during 2020 as a result of the coronavirus emergency.

“In 2018, festivals contributed £280m to the local economy.

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“The Scottish Government’s chief planner has written to planning authorities in Scotland to encourage a relaxation of planning control, through not taking enforcement action, in a range of circumstances to help businesses and services diversify and continue to operate within our communities during the pandemic.

“Operators have been exploring options for how the summer festivals could be held in 2021 on a limited basis and subject to Scottish Government public health guidelines.

“The timescales for preparing and determining applications, coupled with the uncertainties over what public health requirements will be in place when the festivals will be held mean that it is difficult for the festivals to plan.

“If planning applications are required, the timescales are such that it could stop the reintroduction of core elements of the summer festivals this year, for example the Edinburgh International Festival.”

Edinburgh’s festivals have previously brought high numbers and concentrations of people to the city. In 2018 attendance at major festivals was 4,604,520.

According to council officers, the summer festivals create thousands of seasonal jobs during July and August as well as supporting hundreds of full-time roles.

The report further states that the festivals’ attendees have contributed £280m to the local economy and the 11 Edinburgh Festivals have together delivered £313m to the Scottish economy.

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There are currently three proposals for the summer festivals, which under the council’s current planning guidelines would need planning permission, but would now be free to go councillors approve the relaxation of planning enforcement.

Edinburgh International Festival is planning two tents, a 100m by 30m structure in Edinburgh Park, and a 55m by 20m structure in the Old College Quadrangle, while the Edinburgh Tattoo is planning on constructing small stands.

Story by local democracy reporter Joseph Anderson

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