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Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 9, 2021


Topical Question Time

Covid-19 Restrictions (Discussions with Police Scotland)

1. Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Police Scotland regarding the incidents at George Square and Glasgow city centre at the weekend, including what safeguards will be put in place to ensure that Covid-19 restrictions are followed and there is no repeat of such disgraceful behaviour. (S5T-02697)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

It is essential that people stick to the rules and stay at home if we are to continue to drive down infection numbers. Shameful scenes such as those that we witnessed over the weekend in Glasgow and beyond risk spreading the virus and delaying the removal and easing of restrictions, and they show no regard or respect at all for the millions of people across Scotland who have been sticking to the rules, who have not been able to meet up with friends and family, to fully celebrate birthdays or, in some cases, to attend funerals for their loved ones. The desecration of memorial benches in Glasgow’s George Square is a particularly sickening sight, and I hope that those who were involved are thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

I have spoken to the chief constable and senior officers in Police Scotland on a number of occasions over the weekend and over last week, and I will continue to have a dialogue with Police Scotland and Rangers Football Club to understand why the events in question took place, what actions are now being taken to identify the people who were responsible and what more can be done to avoid a reccurrence—as Sandra White rightly said we must—at upcoming events.

I note that the chief constable has asked the human rights lawyer John Scott QC, who is the independent chair of the independent advisory group, to look at the policing response at the weekend, and to help to inform lessons to be learned for upcoming events. I welcome that decisive action and the external review. In addition, the First Minister will meet the chief constable later today to discuss matters.

Sandra White

I heard from the chief constable about an hour ago. He said that he was passing on my request for a meeting to a sergeant. I am pleased that Police Scotland has taken on board what I and many others have been asking for. However, I would go further and ask for an investigation into the operations on Saturday and Sunday, in particular.

The Rev Gary Noonan just summed up all that was going on in local communities, set against the scenes that we witnessed in Glasgow on Sunday, which were truly shocking. Questions have to be asked. Although the review is to go ahead on 12 March—Friday—I still call for a full independent investigation. I pose to the cabinet secretary, Police Scotland and Rangers Football Club the questions that have been put to me. Why did the police escort through the streets of Glasgow thousands of people who were openly breaking all the Covid regulations, openly drinking in the street, urinating in the street and causing mayhem on the streets of Glasgow and in George Square? Why was that part of a so-called operation? Why were those people escorted down to George Square? How can that be a safe operation?

The police have put out a press release to say that the purpose of the operation was to protect the public, but I can assure everyone—including the police—that there was no protection of the public. The public could not even walk in the streets for people being drunk and knocking them over. There were nurses from Glasgow royal infirmary who had to get a taxi home because they could not go out on the streets or on public transport.

Although I welcome what is happening, I want more to be done, and I hope that that point is raised at the meeting on Friday. I also wonder whether Rangers Football Club could be involved in that process, or could open up to its responsibilities in that respect. Does the cabinet secretary agree with me, and the many others who share my belief, that football clubs should be part of an investigation into what their responsibilities are to the general public in such situations?

Humza Yousaf

First and foremost, I say that Sandra White, as the local constituency member of the Scottish Parliament for the area that was affected around George Square, has every right to ask those questions of Police Scotland, of the Government, of course, and of Rangers Football Club.

I have spoken to the chief constable, who has said that if any elected member wishes to have a debrief or briefing in relation to the weekend’s events, he will make sure that Police Scotland makes itself available to them.

If they wish to go directly to Police Scotland, they can do that. If they wish to come to me, I am happy to help to facilitate that conversation.

Sandra White asked a lot of questions—rightly so—about some of the operational decisions. She will know, of course, that those operational matters are for Police Scotland to address. It is the expert when it comes to operational decisions, crowd management, crowd control and the crowd dynamics that are involved, and it has put out statements to explain the decisions that it took. However, I say again that it is right for Sandra White to ask further questions if she wishes, and I am happy to make those arrangements if she wants. Otherwise, she can go directly to Police Scotland on those operational matters.

She also mentioned Rangers Football Club, and I think that her suggestion is a good one. Just as Police Scotland has asked John Scott QC, as a human rights lawyer and expert, to take an independent look at the events of the weekend, I think that the suggestion that Sandra White makes is not a bad idea at all, and I will raise it with Rangers. I am due to speak to the club again in the very near future about whether it would subject itself to independent scrutiny in that regard.

I say to Sandra White again that she has every right to raise those questions and expect answers. What I would also say is that the police are part of our local communities and they will also have been at risk. Of course, they have been on the front line throughout the pandemic, helping to keep us safe. They have often had to go into house parties, putting their own health at risk, to ensure that we are kept safe. The events that took place in George Square and at Ibrox put local communities at risk—I absolutely accept what Sandra White says—but we should also bear in mind the police officers, who were also put at risk because of the scenes.

There will be an independent examination of the weekend’s events by John Scott QC, and I look forward to hearing what he and his independent advisory group have to say about them. If further action is necessary in that respect, I am sure that Police Scotland will take that on board.

Sandra White

I completely understand what the cabinet secretary says about police officers. They are human beings as well, and they are a part of the community. However, what people cannot understand is the operational matter. I hope that the independent scrutiny will come up with some answers.

My other question is about a huge worry that I and others have. We have another huge football fixture coming up in Glasgow in two weeks’ time, and people are obviously concerned about that. I am sure that I will speak to Police Scotland to see whether we have answers after Friday’s meeting, but I ask the cabinet secretary whether the Scottish Government will liaise with Police Scotland and the football clubs that are involved to ensure that the scenes that we witnessed at the weekend do not happen again and are not replicated.

Humza Yousaf

My direct answer to Sandra White’s question is yes. My office is reaching out to the two clubs that are involved in that fixture, to Police Scotland and to Glasgow City Council, and I hope to have that dialogue in the coming days. Nobody but nobody wants to see those scenes repeated in two weeks’ time. In fact, it will be completely unacceptable if the scenes are replicated, and I will be making that very clear to the football clubs that are involved.

I have been dismayed by some social media posts that have been brought to my attention in which rival supporters groups have suggested that they will be coming out on 21 March, during that fixture. Frankly, if football clubs and supporters cannot get their act together, we will have to consider what our future options are. However, my answer to the question is yes: I will be taking that conversation forward in the coming days with Police Scotland, the two football clubs that are involved and Glasgow City Council.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I call James Dornan. [Interruption.] Mr Dornan is online, but it may be that we cannot bring him in. I am afraid that he has dropped off BlueJeans, so he will be unable to ask his question.

Before we move on to the next item of business, I will pause for a few moments to allow ministers to change seats.