THE Scottish Tories have urged Nicola Sturgeon to let Scotland’s pubs open sooner in light of the Covid vaccine rollout and improving public health data.

Douglas Ross said indoor hospitality venues selling alcohol should reopen from April 26 instead of May 17, as currently planned.

He called for a “more optimistic” route of lockdown to help people’s mental and physical health, and support businesses struggling to cope with lost trade.

At the moment, pubs and cafes will only be able to sell food and soft drinks indoors until 8pm from April 26, although beer gardens will be able to open until 10pm.

It is not until May 17 that indoor pubs are due to open in Scotland, serving until 1030pm.

In England, restaurants and pubs will be allowed to serve customers outdoors from April 12, with indoor venues opening on May 17.

The call for an accelerated end to lockdown coincided with warnings of a "hospitality emergency" from the sector.

The Scottish Hospitality Group said only a fifth of pubs would be able to open with outdoor areas later this month, yet the Scottish Government was cutting a lifeline support fund to 16,700 licensed premises from April 19.

The First Minister is due to give an update on secondary schools reopening at a Covid briefing later today.

The Scottish Tories highlighted comments from Ms Sturgeon in February in which she said restrictions could be loosened faster, depending on public health data.

Covid hospitalisations in Scotland have fallen from 824 to 215 over the last months, with more than 2.5 million people offered their first dose of a Covid vaccine.

Mr Ross said: “Throughout the pandemic, we have supported the bulk of the Scottish Government’s measures to tackle Covid-19, with the exception of their schools plans and their lacklustre business support.

“However, we now believe the evidence is in favour of a more optimistic route map out of restrictions, while still remaining cautious.

 “The success of the UK vaccine scheme and far more positive public health data means we can look to safely speed up Scotland’s reopening dates.

“The SNP Government should not keep Scotland under restrictions any longer than we need to because every day that the government delays, the impact grows on mental health, physical health and family finances.”

He also called for a raft of other measures due to start on May 17 to be brought forward to April 26, including outdoor adult contact sport, indoor exercise, cinemas, bingo halls, small-scale indoor and outdoor events, and larger communal worship.

He said: “We are facing a looming jobs crisis that will be far worse if the government holds back on a return to normality. This is the time to back businesses and work with them to start rebuilding Scotland now.

“People are waiting to get on with their lives. They should not wait any longer than public health data shows is necessary.

“Let’s safely speed up our return to normality and get our country on a faster road to recovery.”

Stephen Montgomery, spokesperson from the Scottish Hospitality Group, said: "A day of reckoning is coming for debt strapped Scottish businesses and as politicians prioritise the electoral trail, they are needlessly cutting a financial lifeline.

“The only certainty the SHG can take from this roadmap is that our strategic grant support will be ended on April 19.

"It’s senseless and again highlights Ministers’ lack of knowledge of our sector – 12 months down the line this is pitiful. Grants should be maintained until a business can return to trading normally. 

“We are relieved that some hotels and restaurants will be able to open this month, but Scottish ministers cannot just wash their hands of the thousands of operators left stranded and unable to trade viably.

"These constraints are simply not feasible for most bars and the late-night premises that will remain closed for weeks if not months, and we are calling for a workable solution.

“We urge the government to appoint a senior representative with a business background who is capable of grasping the unique challenges facing the sector such as the level of complexity and scale of our industry and the punitive restrictions forced on us."

Nic Wood, of the Signature Pub Group, warned many small bar operators would not survive asfter funding ceased.

He said: “As one of Scotland’s independent operators we have 21 premises with only seven able to open on 26 April, leaving 300 of my staff reliant on furlough for longer.

“Most of our venues are landlocked with no outdoor space.

"It’s just terrifying that the Scottish Government believes you can trade as a pub, viably and supporting jobs, while not being allowed to sell alcohol.

"But these limitations are endless for smaller city centre bars, late night premises, nightclubs, entertainment and live music venues, that now starved of financial support just won’t make it through the next couple of months.”