NICOLA Sturgeon has defended her doomed attempt to cling on to her chief medical officer after she admitted twice breaking her own lockdown guidance to visit a second home.

The First Minister said she acted in “good faith” when she decided that “continuity of advice” from Dr Catherine Calderwood was paramount during the coronavirus crisis. 

However she admitted the actions of Dr Calderwood, the public face of the Scottish Government’s stay-at-home campaign, had ultimately sent a “terrible message” and she had to go. 

The First Minister said people were "entitled to think" she had also made an error of judgment in not sacking Dr Calderwood immediately, instead of waiting 24 hours.

She said Dr Calderwood's departure was arrived at “by mutual agreement”.

Ms Sturgeon said she shared the public’s “anger” over Dr Calderwood’s actions.

She said it was “far from ideal” to lose a chief medical officer (CMO) during a pandemic, and that she “was “very sorry” the situation had arisen. 

She said: “She made a big mistake in how she acted. I understand people’s anger.

"She made a serious error of judgment and she has paid the price for that."

READ MORE: Coronavirus: CMO Dr Catherine Calderwood resigns

Dr Calderwood quit her post on Sunday night after the Scottish Sun revealed the CMO and her family, who live in Edinburgh, went to their bungalow in Earlsferry in Fife at the weekend.

At a press conference alongside Ms Sturgeon on Sunday, Dr Calderwood apologised and revealed she and her husband also visited the property the previous week.

Despite Dr Calderwood twice breaching rules she had told the country were needed to save lives, Ms Sturgeon’s initial reaction was to try to keep her in post.

The First Minister agreed Dr Calderwood had made a serious mistake, but said she wanted her to continue as her top medical adviser amid the crisis.

In a short-lived concession to the public outcry, the Government said the CMO would no longer front virus information adverts or appear at daily media briefings.

However, after opposition parties said Dr Calderwood’s position was untenable, Ms Sturgeon changed her position, and accepted her CMO’s resignation.

Interviewed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today about her own judgment over the matter, Ms Sturgeon said: “She made a big mistake in how she acted. I understand people’s anger. 

“She was right to apologise. She could not continue to be the face of the public advice campaign

“But to be candid, I did hope that I could continue to call on her advice and expertise, because at this point in dealing with a pandemic, continuity of advice from somebody who’s been immersed in this from the very outset was important. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Police Scotland issue warning to Dr Catherine Calderwood

“But it was outweighed by the risk of our message being crowded out and undermined.”

She went on: “Notwithstanding her mistake, and I’m not defending that, I also know how hard she has worked over the weeks since this outbreak arrived.”

At the reference to Dr Calderwood's hard work, GMB anchor Piers Morgan interjected: "I don't want to hear it!" and suggested her hypocrisy could have cost lives.

Ms Sturgeon added: “People can disagree with my judgments, but I hope they accept that the judgments that I’m trying to make in these unprecedented times are based on good faith.

“I do regret that I’m having to change chief medical officer at this point but I reached the view last night that the risk of that was outweighed by the risk to our public health campaign.”

Put to her that Dr Calderwood’s actions had sent a “terrible message, Ms Sturgeon said: “I agree, I agree, and ultimately that’s why she’s no longer in office this morning.”

HeraldScotland:

READ MORE: Catherine Calderwood: The obstetrics expert who held Scotland’s top medical job

“There was a risk to the clarity of that message, and that message is so important. I want to be able to give that message with crystal clarity - that people should be staying at home.”

Asked why she hadn’t fired Dr Calderwood immediately for her “appalling hypocrisy”, The First Minister said: “It may have been easier for me to have done that. All I can do is set out the good faith in which I’m trying to take the judgments that I’m taking, not just on this but on a whole range of things. People can agree or disagree. 

“I’m  simply candidly setting out the reason why I thought, all of that considered, continuing with the advice of the person who had been so central to this, given the situation we’re in, and the importance of the decisions we’re taking, was also a consideration.”

Ms Sturgeon said she expected everyone in the Scottish Government to follow the advice to stay at home which Dr Calderwood did not.

She said: “That advice has been given for the best of reasons. It’s really tough advice, but it’s vital that people follow it.

“I deeply regret this situation. I’m trying to do the best thing to lead the country through this and making the best judgments I can.”

Later, on BBC Breakfast, Ms Sturgeon said she had been unaware of Dr Calderwood’s second home trip until the Scottish Sun approached the government on Saturday.

She also appeared to admit that she had made a mistake.

Asked if she had made an error of judgment by not instantly removing Dr Calderwood, she said: “People are entitled to think that. What I would ask people to accept though is we’re all making judgments in an unprecedented and difficult situation in good faith.

“I understand people’s anger. But I could not ignore the damage it would do, in my view, to lose a chief medical officer who has been so central to developing our response. 

“That was my motivation for saying - I didn’t try to defend what she’d done because I don’t think it should or can be defended - so that was the reason. People can disagree with me. Of course, they’re entitled to, but it was a judgment made for the best reasons.

“Last night it became clear to me and it became clear to her that no matter how valid that reason was, the bigger risk if she stayed in office was that important message [about staying at home] could be undermined, and the confidence in that message could be undermined, and that was not a risk either of us were willing to take.”

Asked if she had taken the decision that Dr Calderwood had to step down, Ms Sturgeon said: “We had a long conversation last night. It was my view, but she came to the same view. So we came to that by mutual agreement. But it was my firm view by last night that that was the correct course of action.”

Asked if she had known Dr Calderwood had been visiting her holiday home before the press broke the story, she said: “Not until Saturday night. I spoke to her on Saturday night when we got alerted to the fact that the Sun were going to run that story.”

Asked how members of the public would feel about the entitlement, arrogance and hypocrisy of Dr Calderwood, Ms Sturgeon said: “Firstly, I understand that anger. I share the anger that that mistake was made. I know how hard it is for people to follow the advice they’ve been given right now. It gets harder and harder with every day that passes.

“The reason that Dr Calderwood is not in office any longer as Chief Medical Officer is that it was undermining that message.

“I deeply regret this situation. I’m very sorry that this situation has arisen. But I’ve got to keep focused on the decisions I need to make and giving that clear message to people for the best and the right reasons.”

Asked how Dr Calderwood could have made such a mistake, Ms Sturgeon said: “She made an error. She made a serious error of judgment and she has paid the price for that.

“I said at the outset of this, we will all make mistakes in this, none of us have dealt with a situation like this before. But I am guided purely by my desire and my duty to do the right things and make the right judgments to the best of my ability to steer the country through this and that is what I’m going to continue focusing on.”

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