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Cole-Hamilton’s claims over the meeting during Covid are “simply inaccurate.”

Publication: The Edinburgh Reporter

Alex Cole Hamilton
Alex Cole Hamilton Photo by Martin P McAdam | Licensed for use on Scottish Beacon | All rights reserved

An outdoor event organised by Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP broke Covid-19 regulations – and now claims that he had special approval have been totally debunked.

The Edinburgh Western MSP said he was: “allowed to breach Covid rules for the function of democracy” when he convened a public meeting in the city’s Gyle Park in August 2020. 

Now The Scottish Government has rejected his claims, while Police Scotland has confirmed the event, which attracted around 1,000 people, breached lockdown rules in place at the time.

An investigation by The Edinburgh Reporter, using Freedom of Information, established that there is no evidence of the supposed dispensation.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:

“No special dispensation whatsoever was given by the Scottish Government to Mr Cole-Hamilton; to suggest otherwise is simply inaccurate.”

Rule Breach

 And Edinburgh’s top police officer confirmed that he raised his concerns with council officials over the breach of regulations at the time.

Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, Divisional Commander for Edinburgh, said:

“Police Scotland was aware of the planned event. No police presence was required at the event, but local officers patrolled the area as part of routine duties.The officers observed the gathering was attended by a larger number of people than was permitted under legislation for live outdoor events and fed this information back to senior officers. The matter was then raised with council officials in relation to Covid-19 legislation.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton claimed the meeting, called to discuss the hotly debated potential introduction of a Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) in East Craigs, was given the go-ahead by then Justice Minister Humza Yousaf – now First Minister. 

He said it was a face-to-face meeting with Mr Yousaf in the Parliament’s “garden lobby”, but there is no ministerial record of such an event and the MSP said he does not know exactly when the meeting took place.

At a meeting held in Corstorphine in June, Mr Cole-Hamilton told the audience:

“Three years ago I convened a very similar meeting in Gyle Park. It was at the height of the first lockdown. I got special dispensation from the Cabinet Secretary of Justice to breach Covid rules for the function of democracy.”

A former Government minister we spoke to said that civil servants are meticulous in communications and that all meetings are recorded where a minister is concerned.

However, The Scottish Government confirmed no correspondence between the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Justice Secretary could be traced. 

We also asked The City of Edinburgh Council if they were contacted in this regard, and they have no record of any permission asked for to use one of the city’s parks or any other kind of permission.

A Scottish Liberal Democrat spokesperson said:

“Mr Cole-Hamilton sought approval from both the Justice Secretary and the police for a socially distanced event to take place on a matter of importance to his constituency. Many residents attended along with Conservative and SNP politicians. The police attended and raised no concerns.”

During the Partygate scandal, Mr Cole-Hamilton accused Boris Johnson of showing contempt to the British people and demanded his resignation.

Lockdown rules

As of 28 August, the country was subject to Phase 3 regulations. Details of these are shown in the graphic below. One of the measures is that “certain outdoor live events (involving open space or organised seating) with physical distancing and restricted numbers – subject to guidance – might be allowed.

But the situation was changing day by day and week by week. On 10 September, the government introduced more stringent measures restricting indoor and outdoor meetings to no more than six people from two households, reflecting up-to-the-minute data and case numbers.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

The transport measures considered then were dealt with under special Covid rules, mainly under Spaces for People.

The effect of the measures would be similar, but the process at this particular juncture was completely different. The UK Government funded a scheme to install measures to help with social distancing, such as you will have seen all over Edinburgh – black and white bollards to widen pavements and give people space. 

There was also a move to create some segregated cycle lanes as more people were cycling rather than taking public transport.

The Scottish Government allocated half of the national funding  – a sum of £5.25 million – to Edinburgh and did not lay down any requirements whatsoever for consultation due to the public health emergency.

The idea was to implement measures for public health reasons as quickly as possible. The Low traffic Neighbourhood measures in East Craigs were eventually scrapped due to the level of opposition.