Scotland's chief medical officer apologises for retweeting 'political messaging'

Gregor Smith was accused of breaking the civil service code
Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

By Louise Wilson

15 Feb 2022

Scotland's chief medical officer has apologised for sharing a tweet posted by cabinet minister Humza Yousaf that contained "political messaging". 

The Scottish Conservatives had accused Gregor Smith of breaking the civil service code.

Smith said he'd retweeted the SNP health secretary "as an attempt to contribute to the debate on the isolation period".

He added: "However, on reflection it is clear this contained political messaging alongside the public health info. I have therefore withdrawn the [retweet] and apologise for passing it on."

Yousaf's tweet was posted in response to the prime minister’s announcement on Wednesday about easing Covid rules.

Boris Johnson told the House of Commons last week that self-isolation rules for positive cases could be dropped a month earlier than planned due to “encouraging trends” in case numbers and falling hospitalisations.

That final legal restriction was due to end on 24 March but the PM said an update on the strategy for “living with Covid” will be published once parliament returns from February recess.

Yousaf said the move was an “attempt to distract and deflect scrutiny” from other issues, including the Downing Street parties.

He added that the Scottish Government had asked for the public health advice surrounding that announcement, but “unsurprisingly it hasn’t been forthcoming”.

Tory public health spokesperson Sue Webber said Smith had “clearly broken” the rules guiding the conduct of civil servants.

Calling for an explanation from Smith, she said: “It is inappropriate for a civil servant to be promoting political messaging.

“The civil service code emphasises the need for impartiality and objectivity. Those requirements appear to have been clearly broken in this instance.”

The Scottish Government is to publish its own strategy on 22 February.

Speaking to the BBC last week, Yousaf said the level of Covid cases remained “far too high” and public health experts were advising against the removal of measures like self-isolation rules and face masks.

He added: “Boris Johnson has made this decision in the interest of Boris Johnson, not in the interest of people.”

Later the same day, Smith tweeted: “I’m really pleased with progress we’ve made in recent weeks – impacts of booster campaign in particular cannot be over-stated. But anyone who says the pandemic is over after omicron is sadly deluding themselves. We need to use period of greater stability to adapt for future.”

The code of conduct says all civil servants must act in a way “which maintains political impartiality”.

Louise Wilson is a journalist and sketchwriter for CSW's sister title Holyrood, where this story first appeared

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