SIR Keir Starmer has accused Nicola Sturgeon of mishandling the Covid pandemic as badly as Boris Johnson, and said her record across government is “appalling”. 

The UK Labour leader lambasted the First Minister’s response to the pandemic, saying her communication may have been better than the Prime Minister, but not her actions.

Sir Keir also accused Mr Sturgeon of using the constitutional debate to distract and disguise her failures in power on education and inequality as well as on the health service.

Earlier this month, Sir Keir called on Mr Johnson to apologise to bereaved families after a “damning” Commons report into his Government’s response to the Covid outbreak.

The report said mistakes and narrow-minded ‘Groupthink’ by ministers and scientists at the start of the pandemic delayed lockdown and cost lives, leading to one of the worst public health failures in British history, although it praised the vaccine rollout. 

Speaking to the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists Association in his Westminster offices, Sir Keir said: “I think Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic hasn't been, if you look at the relative numbers, has not been better than Johnson's.

“You know, she may have communicated differently, but actually when you look at it, whether it's on the number of deaths, proportion of deaths, inequalities that have been exposed by it, or Trace and Protect, again, has been a failure in much the same way as Track and Trace has been here [south of the border].

He said he was “frustrated” at the way the constitutional question was “consistently being used by the SNP to mask their record”. 

He said: “I think Nicola Sturgeon said that she wanted to be judged on her record. 

“Well if you look at her record on education, it's appalling. 

“If you look at her record on health and the health service, it's appalling.

“The last time I was in Scotland the army were being drafted into to relation to the ambulances - that’s still the opposition… two months on from that.

“If you look at the drug-related deaths, the record is appalling.

“If you look at child poverty [reduction targets] , which I think went into legislation in 2017, and consistently missing the target.

“So you can see very clearly what's going on here. Which is, as ever, using the constitutional issue to mask an appalling record of failure by the SNP.

“If they want to be judged on their record they should be judged on their record. 

“And it's not a very good record for them to defend, in my view.”

Asked if he thought the First Minister was losing her touch. He said: “I think she has long hidden behind the constitutional issue to mask the failures of her government. In education, Scotland used to be a real leader, and now it isn't. 

“In health, the idea you’ll got the Army dealing with ambulances is clear evidence of failure.

“Child poverty - again, going in the wrong direction. Nobody can dress this up as success. It isn't success.”

Asked if Nicola Sturgeon had peaked and no longer served a useful purpose, the allegation he recently made against the PM, he said: “I think that she has failed the test she set herself, which is to be judged on her record. Her record is appalling, and she should be judged on it.”

Sir Keir also described Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross’s plan to make his the party of

working class Unionists in Scotland as “ludicrous”.

Asked how he stopped the shift among former Scottish Labour voters to the Tories, Sir Keir said: “I think the idea that the Tories are the party of working families is ridiculous. 

“Just look what is happening for working families right now. Their prices are going up, whether that's fuel, whether that's energy, whether that's food, almost every bill is going up.

“Wages have not increased, despite what the Governor says. It’s talking with a forked tongue when it says, We're not going to break the triple because the apparent increase in wages is not real, it is not of the real world, and then pretending are wages going up, and it's about to whack working people with new taxes. 

“The National Insurance tax was a deliberate decision to hit working people and it will hurt working people.

“So the idea that that they’re the party of working families is ridiculous, and it's not an argument that can be sustained on any analysis whatsoever.”

He said Labour had used its recent UK conference to reaffirm it was the party of working families. 

He said: “That's our history, that's our present, and that is our future. And that is why the spine of our conference was all about education, work, health and security in the sense of housing and and criminal justice. The absolute spine which is the spine for any working family. 

“And I know that because I came from a working family and they're the things that people actually talk about around the kitchen table, and things that matter most to people.

“That's why we introduced that core into our conference because I think it's very important that the Labour party be absolutely focused on.”

With Labour reduced to a single MP in Scotland at the 2019 general election, and Mr Johnson having an 80 seat majority, Sir Keir said there was “no route back” to power for Labour unless it reconnected with Scottish voters.

He said: “There’s no route back that doesn’t run through Scotland, nor should there be for the Labour Party. 

“In other words, we know that we have to win more seats, more votes, in Scotland, and we fought to because I want to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and I want us to have stronger representation in Scotland. That means we've got a lot of work to do. 

“That is why we're changing our party. It's why we have Anas as leader in Scotland, who has got that focus on rebuilding in Scotland. It's why I spent a good chunk of our conference, just a few weeks ago, making important changes to the Labour Party that allows us in Scotland and elsewhere to face the electorate, rather than facing ourselves.

“The route back for Labour runs through Scotland and we know that, we accept that, and we we've got the job of work to do.”

With the SNP likely to demand a second independence referendum as its price, he ruled out any kind of electoral pact or coalition with the SNP to get into Downing Street, something the Scottish Labour leadership is also stridently against.

Asked if would categorically ruling out working the SNP, he said: “No deal before an election, no deal after an election. I'm absolutely all square with Scottish Labour on that, very clear. I think I said that when I was up in August, so there's no, this is no late position on my behalf.

“No deal going in, no deal after the election. I’m in the exact same place as Anas is on this.

“Both Anas and I have been very, very clear on it, so I don’t think the membership can be under any illusion that we’ve got a different position on that.”

He said Gordon Brown’s commission on the future of the UK would look at how power could be more decentralised in Scotland and elsewhere in the country, but would not consider independence or fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

He said: “I’m in favour of further devolution. What we know is that needs to be change.

“That change should not be breaking up the Union, but there needs to be change and Gordon is looking into what the options for that are. 

“I am as keen on changes that go beyond just the formal question of what powers the Scottish Parliament has or doesn't have that include putting decision-making closer to communities and local authorities, as well as the Scottish Parliament.

“In other words, I don’t think there should be a dry constitutional debate about whether this power is exercised here in Westminster, or that one in Holyrood.

“It should be about whether decisions can be taken closer to people in Scotland and that is what Gordon is working on, and that's why it's called the Commission on the Future of the UK.”

It is understood Mr Brown will produce an interim report within weeks, with the final conclusions in the New Year.

An SNP spokesperson said: "Once again, Keir Starmer shows how little he actually knows about anything going on in Scotland. The people of Scotland had their say on our record in government – and our ambitious plans to lead Scotland through the pandemic and into a sustainable recovery - in May’s election. The SNP recorded its highest ever share of the constituency vote, while Labour slumped to its worst ever result.

“If Keir Starmer wants to know what poor leadership looks like, maybe he should reflect on the fact that despite being in opposition to the most shambolic, callous, crony-infested Westminster government in living memory, he is still trailing Boris Johnson’s Tories in the opinion polls.  

"The Labour party continue to allow the people of Scotland to be controlled by Westminster and by a Tory party it did not vote for - and until they recognise the democratic right of the people of Scotland to choose their own future then Labour will continue to slip into the abyss."