Nicola Sturgeon's threat to put a five-mile travel limit in law would be impossible to enforce without identity cards, one of Scotland's most senior police officers has said, delivering another blow to the plan's credibility.
Will Kerr, a deputy chief constable, said that there was little appetite from police for stronger lockdown powers and that the force would continue to adopt “the same approach” to enforcement, even if Ms Sturgeon follows through with her warnings to write existing guidelines into law.
Following the widespread flouting of her advice last weekend, Ms Sturgeon said she would consider passing new laws to enforce the rules, which include a five-mile limit on how far someone can travel from home for outdoor activities.
Mike Russell, a senior SNP minister, later reiterated Ms Sturgeon’s stance that a five-mile travel limit, as well as restrictions on gatherings of more than eight people, could become legal requirements. He also suggested the Scottish Government could take a harder line on the issue of face coverings, after admitting advice to wear them in shops is being widely ignored.
However DCC Kerr told the BBC that he had doubts over whether a five mile legal travel limit would be “fair or practical” and said the force would continue to apply discretion in how it applied the law.
“Any law has to comply with equity and practicality,” he said. “Putting into law the five mile restriction, you have to ask whether it would be fair or practical.
“People in Scotland don’t carry identity cards so there would be no practical way to enforce some very necessary measures for public health without being overly intrusive. We have to apply judgement in how we operationalise the law in every single case.
“We have no intention of setting up road blocks, we have no intention of applying really disproportionate and intrusive powers on the people of Scotland. What we are relying on, and what the First Minister has been consistently asking for, is that people of Scotland use their good judgement and common sense.”
He added: “Whether something is enshrined in regulations, or whether it’s in the guidance, the intent is the same, to stop the virus spreading and to save lives. I understand the difference between the two, but policing will apply the same approach and the same principals to both.”
At the weekend, as lockdown restrictions were partially eased, Scots flocked to beauty spots with traffic up by 70 per cent in some places, compared to the previous weekend.
Meanwhile, Police Scotland said there had been 1,391 "compliant dispersals" of groups of people over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with another 650 where groups broke up "after a police warning".
Other aspects of the guidance are also being widely ignored, for example on face coverings. Nicola Sturgeon has urged Scots to wear face coverings when shopping or on public transport.
However, Annabelle Ewing, the SNP MSP, told Mr Russell at a meeting of Holyrood’s Covid-19 committee that the advice was not being followed and questioned whether wearing face coverings should become “something we all have to do”.
She said: “I was at the supermarket last night, I think I was the only person in the entire shop wearing a face covering. I think we need to have further reflection on what our message is there. I know what the message is - that we should be doing this - but evidently people are not yet doing that. If that is something we all have to do, it changes the tone of the way we think about this.”
Mr Russell, the SNP cabinet secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, said he would consider the issue “very seriously”.
“The issue of face coverings is coming again centre stage,” he said. “I have noticed myself wearing a face covering at a filling station that I was the only person who was doing so. I know there is a lot of thinking going on about that.
“I would encourage people to wear one when in shops. Sometimes I think people think they are going to be looked at or stared at, we should get to the stage where if everybody is doing it, the person not doing it is the one who is looked at and stared at.
“I think we need to look at that very, very seriously. There has been debate about the efficacy of it but I think there’s a growing public view we should see it more.”