Scottish Labour’s deputy leader has been criticised by an Aberdeen MP for an “unbelievably out of touch” tweet suggesting the city’s lockdown was a diversion from controversy over exam results and Covid-19 deaths.
Jackie Baillie quoted a tweet portraying a fictional meeting where the emergency local lockdown was suggested as an attempt to distract journalists from other issues at the First Minister’s coronavirus briefing.
The tweet she quoted said: “So, Sturgeon’s staff meeting this morning. ‘I’m sorry FM but you’re going to get eaten even by this press on the SQA. Not to mention your false figures on deaths.’ Nicola: ‘Any ideas?’ Intern (shyly): ‘How about we close down Aberdeen?’ Nicola: ‘Give this person a full time job!’
Ms Baillie added the comment: “A classic diversionary tactic – wow,” accompanied by the large pair of eyes emoji.
The tweet drew a sharp rebuke from the SNP’s Aberdeen North MP Kirsty Blackman, who accused Ms Baillie of “making rubbish party political jibes”.
Emergency restrictions have been placed on Aberdeen, with bars, cafes and restaurants ordered to close, amid a cluster of coronavirus cases.
The announcement was made by Nicola Sturgeon at Wednesday’s media briefing, as she said 54 cases linked to the outbreak had been confirmed.
The tweet quoted by Ms Baillie joked that the emergency measures were an attempt to deflect attention from the backlash over exam results moderation that disproportionately downgraded pupils from deprived areas.
Education Secretary John Swinney has insisted the process was “fair”, while Ms Sturgeon said the results would not have been “credible” if the pass rate of the most-deprived pupils had risen by the 19.8% estimated by teachers before moderation.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) downgraded 124,564 pupils’ results in its moderation process, revising down the pass rate of the poorest fifth of Scottish pupils by 15.2% compared to a 6.9% drop for those from rich backgrounds.
Responding to Ms Baillie’s tweet, Ms Blackman said on Twitter: “Unbelievably out of touch comment by an unbelievably out of touch party.
“@jackiebmsp my constituents are going through yet another rollercoaster of worry and pain and you are seeking to trivialise it by making rubbish party political jibes. You should be ashamed.”
Asked about her post, Ms Baillie said: “The virus cluster in Aberdeen is a serious cause for concern and the Scottish Government and Aberdeen City Council have made the correct decision to protect the wellbeing of the community by reimposing certain restrictions.
“The containment of the virus is of the highest importance and Scottish Labour will continue to support the efforts of the Government to do so, while holding it to account for its failings.”
She also questioned why the Education Secretary has been tasked with leading the response to this outbreak “while his education brief is in utter disarray”.
She added: “There are numerous other ministers capable of leading this response and the choice of Mr Swinney cannot be used to escape scrutiny of the exam results fiasco.
“He had one job to do and he has spectacularly failed at that, so I wouldn’t put him in charge of anything else.
“The reimposition of restrictions will inevitably have a negative impact on the economy of Aberdeen and the north east. It is vital that the Scottish Government is willing to do all it can to protect not only the physical but also the economic wellbeing of the area.”
Ms Blackman, the SNP’s former deputy leader at Westminster, later added: “It’s absolutely shocking that the deputy leader of Scottish Labour has resorted to endorsing conspiracy theories during a public health pandemic.
“Jackie Baillie should be ashamed of her attempt to trivialise this crisis by making party political jibes.
“Jackie Baillie should apologise to the people of Aberdeen, and think very carefully before she tweets anything like this again.”