Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of presiding over a "complete farce" after her government’s vaccine passport app was finally launched only hours before the controversial scheme started.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, questioned why the promised app was still not available to download on Thursday lunchtime, despite the new regime starting at 5am on Friday morning.
It eventually appeared at teatime, less than 12 hours before the scheme’s launch, but there were immediately widespread reports of it malfunctioning.
Error messages posted on social media read: "Something went wrong. We’re working on it. We apologise for the inconvenience. Please try again later or contact our support team."
The app uses facial recognition technology to verify the identity of users, using either a person’s passport or driving licence.
But Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said: "The launch of the Covid status app has been a complete shambles. I have already been contacted by several constituents complaining that the app crashed on them.
"It is typical of the SNP to rush this out when it clearly doesn’t work. This is embarrassing for the Scottish Government, they need to get a grip and fix the app urgently."
But Mr Ross said "everything about the SNP’s vaccine passport scheme has been left to the last minute" and warned of chaos at nightclubs and football stadiums this weekend.
He also highlighted a Scottish Government evidence paper admitting that it was the only passport scheme in Europe that refused to give people a back-up option of providing a negative test result if they had not been jabbed twice.
Sturgeon’s court victory
In fiery exchanges at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon hailed a court victory over the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), which had earlier failed to obtain an interim interdict blocking the introduction of passports.
Judge Lord Burns ruled it was an attempt to address “legitimate issues” of the pandemic in a “balanced way”. He said it was not " for the court to prevent Parliament considering a scheme which is designed to benefit the public by relieving the pressure on the National Health Service at a time when the virus remains prevalent."
From this morning, only adults who can show they are double-jabbed will be allowed to enter nightclubs and other late night venues.
The operators of large events such as concerts and sports matches will be expected to conduct spot checks covering one in five of all people going through their turnstyles.
Are mandatory vaccine passports a good idea
Last week Ms Sturgeon dramatically extended the scheme by including pubs and hotels if they have a "designated space" for dancing and serve alcohol after midnight. Weddings and funeral wakes will be exempt but birthday and engagement parties will not.
However, she delayed enforcement of the scheme until Oct 18 after the hospitality industry warned it was unworkable and a sharp drop in Covid cases raised more doubts over why it was needed.
Scots can show their vaccine status by downloading the new app, which produces QR codes for each of the two jabs administered. These can read by a separate app that can be downloaded by venue operators.
Sturgeon urged to delay ‘shambolic’ scheme
Mr Ross argued Ms Sturgeon should delay the "shambolic" scheme if she was not willing to scrap it, following the late release of the regulations and the app.
He said: "Guidance is still being published and the government’s flimsy evidence case for this policy only appeared before the Scottish Parliament a day before the scheme goes live.
"At the football this weekend, thousands of people will need to go through vaccine passport checks in a very short space of time – without the SNP developing a public information campaign to inform them of the scheme."
The Scottish Tory leader added: "When even Nicola Sturgeon is clueless about her own regulations, this looks like a complete farce to everyone in the real world.”
Douglas Ross, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives attends First Minster's Questions
But, highlighting Lord Burns’ judgement, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: "This is a targeted and proportionate way to try to reduce the harm that the virus can do over the winter months while keeping our economy fully open, fully functional and fully trading.
"The judgment from court this morning recognises both those reasons and the way in which the government has gone about this."
Rejecting the NTIA’s legal challenge, Lord Burns had earlier told the Court of Session he did not accept that the petitioners had demonstrated the scheme was "disproportionate, irrational or unreasonable", or that it infringed on their rights.
He said it was within the margin of what the government could decide was a reasonable response to the pandemic, it was subject to scrutiny at Holyrood and would be frequently reviewed by ministers.
The NTIA said it was "deeply disappointed" that the scheme would be going ahead and the group would take further legal advice on its options.
Meanwhile, Holyrood’s Covid-19 Recovery committee also heard warnings from senior academics that passport schemes can be a “double-edged sword”.
Prof Stephen Reicher, of St Andrews University, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies subcommittee advising on behavioural science, told MSPs “they alienate people from authority.”