Nicola Sturgeon’s top adviser has been ridiculed after it emerged she ordered civil servants to investigate the use of the Union flag on Scotch Beef during the pandemic.
On the day the first minister warned that Covid was once again “accelerating” across the country, her adviser, Kate Higgins, was complaining about meat labelling.
In emails obtained under freedom of information laws, Ms Higgins said it was “not on” for supermarkets to sell Scotch Beef packaged with a Union flag.
She added if Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), the public agency, was aware that Scotch Beef was being marked as British “we have a problem”.
Email to SNP adviser
The comments on September 8 came as Ms Sturgeon asked the nation to “treat the current situation with the seriousness it most certainly merits”.
After the SNP adviser pushed civil servants to investigate, QMS said Marks & Spencer – which had been specifically cited in the emails – had agreed to “review the fresh meat labelling”.
An email to Ms Higgins from QMS stated: “The M&S team have committed to review the fresh meat labelling as there were some products they identified that should be packaged as Scotch but were labelled as British.
“(Redacted) said he thought this may be due to a hangover from the initial Covid panic-buying period when much of the range was labelled as British to ensure maximum volumes were processed.
“I have agreed to review the in-store range in the coming weeks to monitor the Scotch brands and report back to M&S.”
Labelling issue ‘total waste of time’
Scottish Conservative rural spokesman, Oliver Mundell MSP, said the emails were “jaw-dropping”.
He said: “In the middle of a pandemic, it’s jaw-dropping that a key SNP government adviser is furiously investigating how the Union flag ended up on a packet of meat.
“It’s an embarrassing reveal of the priorities of the SNP government. The big issue facing Scotland today is not the labelling of beef in Marks & Spencer.
“We are fighting a pandemic and 100,000 jobs are at risk. What will the Scottish public make of one of the first minister’s key advisers complaining about flags on meat?
“I’m incredibly proud of Scottish produce but this is petty, small and trivial. The first minister should explain if her government endorses this total waste of time.”
‘Scottish Government makes no apologies for promoting our world-class produce’
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing defended the emails, however, saying the SNP “makes no apologies” for seeking to promote Scottish produce when it is “under threat”.
He said: “Scotch Beef is an iconic product which enjoys protected named status, which should always be safeguarded and promoted – particularly during the pandemic, which has hit our food and drink sector hard.
“The Scottish Government makes no apologies for promoting our world-class produce at a time when it is under threat like never before due to the reckless Brexit policies pursued by the Tories – who have disgracefully just voted to water down food standards – and championed by the likes of Oliver Mundell.”