Nicola Sturgeon has moved to distance herself from the views of SNP conference host Hayley Matthews after a series of conspiracy theorist social media posts about coronavirus and vaccines were unearthed.
The first minister said Ms Matthews’ views, which included supporting claims that governments are aiming to “impose a new world order” through the pandemic, were “emphatically” not hers or the SNP’s.
However, despite the posts being exposed by the Daily Record over the weekend, the 39-year-old newspaper columnist and TV presenter was allowed to continue as the face of the party’s conference on Monday.
Ms Matthews, who appeared without offering an apology or further explanation, was thanked by SNP MPs and officials as she led proceedings.
The running of the event is the responsibility of Ms Sturgeon’s husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, but the SNP leader was asked during her daily coronavirus briefing whether the party should have taken more care when choosing the host.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I don’t want to go too far into SNP conference because it’s not a forum for that but I have seen the reports in the media today.
“Hayley Matthews is a professional presenter that we have hired as part of the technical team to sort of stitch together the online conference we’re having right now.
“The views that I have seen attributed to her in the media today are absolutely, emphatically, not the views of the SNP and obviously not the views of the Scottish Government.
“I read a comment from her this morning that she will absolutely get the vaccine when it is available but let me be very clear, I have stood up here almost every day for nine months to advise people about public health risks.
“I will continue to advise people to do the right things and, when the time comes, to get the vaccine. So clearly these are not views that I would endorse in any way, shape or form.”
Social media posts
In her social media posts, which, along with her accounts, were deleted after being exposed in the media, Ms Matthews claimed one bizarre theory was “speaking the truth” and supported the view nature was “the best medicine”.
She also liked a tweet stating: “The vaccine should be tested on politicians first. If they survive, the vaccine is safe. If they don’t, then the country is safe.”
The pandemic has been tough for all of us and I’m sure I’m not alone in learning how to keep safe.”
Hayley Matthews, SNP conference host
Ms Matthews appeared again as SNP conference host just one hour after Ms Sturgeon’s television condemnation. In a statement issued via the party, Ms Matthews said she is “not an anti-vaxxer”.
“The pandemic has been tough for all of us and I’m sure I’m not alone in learning how to keep safe,” she said. “I’ll be getting vaccinated as soon as it is offered to me.”
Dangerous mixed messages
But opposition parties accused the SNP of sending a dangerous mixed message by allowing Ms Matthews to continue as host, and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said her presence was an “insult” to the relatives of those who had died of the virus.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron insisted the SNP “must explain why they are continuing to associate themselves with someone who holds these deeply suspect views”.
“People are understandably excited about the prospect of an imminent vaccine and everyone should be encouraging uptake among the public,” he said.
“Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP must condemn these views urgently and not allow vital health messaging to be undermined.”
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon told the Daily Record: “Ministers can’t switch off from their responsibilities at SNP conference. Mixed messages on vaccines undermined the pandemic response.
“Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP should distance themselves from people who peddle dangerous nonsense about vaccines, not give them a platform.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The SNP must seriously reflect on their decision to give someone who is spreading fear and falsehoods about the Covid vaccines such a significant platform alongside the first minister.
“It does a disservice to our dedicated and exhausted health professionals, who have been battling the harsh end of this crisis for months on end, to lend any credibility to people with these views.”