NICOLA Sturgeon has been told to produce answers about mistakes in her Government’s handling of the Covid pandemic, not hide behind “Scottish exceptionalism”.

It came as the First Minister admitted Scotland should have gone into lockdown earlier last year and that she led the country as best she could but “far from perfectly”. 

But facing demands for a judge-led public inquiry to get underway this year, she refused to confirm a timescale, only saying she would prefer it to start this year. 

Opposition parties suspect she would rather a four nations inquiry did the work instead, so the focus would be on Boris Johnson's decisions not hers.

It followed Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar attacking her handling of the Covid pandemic and accusing it of making many of the same mistakes as Mr Johnson.

Mr Sarwar said some problems identified by the PM’s former aide Dominic Cummings were as true of the Scottish Government’s response as the UK Government’s. 

Scottish Labour also published a timeline comparison of key decisions by both governments. 

At FMQs, Mr Sarwar said there had been a lack of PPE, insuffiicient testing and Covid positive people being sent into care homes north and south of the border.

Mr Sturgeon said: “I have always accepted that we made mistakes in the handling of this pandemic. I have never tried to shy away from that.”

Mr Sarwar said the timeline showed that “at key moments and on big decisions the UK and Scottish governments were in lockstep”.

He said last March both governments were talking about a strategy of herd immunity.

On March 12 last year, 47,000 fans attended a European football match in Glasgow as the Scottish Government said stopping mass gatherings was not the best way to contain the virus, and they were only banned UK-wide 11 days later.

The UK Government announced routine testing of patients being sent to care homes on April 15, while “the Scottish Government waited until the 21st of April - the result, 1 in 10 of our care home residents in Scotland losing their lives to Covid”. 

He said: “Does the First Minister accept that these were decisions made in Scotland, by this First Minister, and by the Scottish Government?”

She replied: “I’m glad for him that Anas Sarwar has the time to do timelines. There’s nothing that I’ve sought to shy away from. I lived throught that period as the lead decision-maker in the Scotish Government. I take responsibility for all those decisions.

“We sought all along to do the right things, based on the knowledge and the understanding we had. In light of developing knowledge, some of these things, if we could turn the clock back, we would do differently. 

“In addition to that, we will have made straightforward mistakes. I will regret any mistakes we made forever. I don’t know what point Anas Sarwar is trying to prove here.

“If I could turn the clock back, would we go into lockdown earlier than we did? Yes, I think that is true. We did move on mass gatherings slightly before the UK Government, we announced the position on schools slightly before the UK Government.”

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She said she would continue to take the best decisions she could.

Mr Sarwar said: “Large events matter, because on the day we had 47,000 fans in Glasgow, Ireland was announcing an end to large gatherings. Herd immunity matters, because New Zealand took a very different approach and had very different outcomes.

“An Edinburgh University study has shown that if Scotland had acted earlier we could have prevented 2,000 Covid deaths.”

He said that besides flawed decisions on strategy, mass gatherings and care homes, there were also problems in Scotland with PPE supplies, testing, contact tracing and quarantine.

He said: “NHS and social care staff and the Scottish people deserve more than just rhetoric, they deserve answers. 

“They deserve more than being told that the Government cares, they deserve answers.

“Because we can’t allow Scottish exceptionalism to stop us from learning critical lessons.

“It’s always easier to focus on failures elsewhere but we must learn from mistakes here at home.

“We don’t need to wait for the UK Government, work can begin right now, to establish a judge-led, Scottish-specific public inquiry on the decisions made in Scotland.”

Mr Sturgeon said: “People can make up their own minds whether they’re hearing from an inability to face up to mistakes or ‘Scottish exceptionalism’.

“I think what they’re hearing from me is a candid admission that we would not - like many other governments across the world - have got everything right, and not just a willingness [but] a desire to face up to that and learn from that.

“I could paper the walls with bits of papers and timeline but, actually, my focus right now as First Minister is getting the vaccination programme delivered to keep people safe in the future, to make sure that we’re taking the right decisions - criticised by many for being too cautious and too slow - to keep people safe.

“We could be in the foothills of a third wave of this virus.”

She said she suspected Mr Sarwar would have grappled with the same decisions had he been in charge last year.

On the issue of a public inquiry into her Government’s handling of the pandemic, Ms Sturgeon continued: “I’ve given that commitment, that commitment stands.

“I want to see that up and running before the end of this year.

“The UK Government has announced plans for a public inquiry and have asked for four-nations discussion about remit and where there might be overlaps.”

She added: “Having led this country to the best of my ability – far from perfectly – through this pandemic, I want, as much as anybody wants, to make sure that we learn the right lessons.”

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After FMQs, Mr Sarwar added: “The First Minister has always been better at spinning her failures than Boris Johnson.

“But many of the failures exposed by Dominic Cummings – the lack of PPE, insufficient testing, Covid positive patients being sent into care homes, and inconsistent and delayed decision making – will be failures that people recognise in Scotland.

“They weren’t decisions made by a UK Government but by the Scottish Government.

“We must guard against a Scottish exceptionalism, an idea that just because decisions were made in Scotland that somehow they were automatically better or the right ones.

“The reality is that one in 10 of our care home residents in Scotland lost their lives to Covid, 3,774 deaths, a third of the total. 

“None of this was the fault of our hardworking NHS staff. We are questioning the decision-making of the Scottish Government.”