Murdo Fraser is Member of the Scottish Parliament for Mid-Scotland & Fife, and the Scottish Conservative spokesman on Covid Recovery.

I am not an antivaxxer. All the scientific and medical evidence tells us that the vaccination programme is our most effective weapon against the deadly Covid virus. This is particularly true in relation to the Omicron variant, where the Pfizer booster is essential in providing protection and helping preserve lives.

The UK Government’s leadership on the vaccination and booster programmes has helped protect citizens across our country in a manner which has been the envy of the world.

So if we support vaccination, and want to see it encouraged, wouldn’t it be logical to support vaccine passports?

A version of this argument now being made within Westminster, with the proposal to introduce these for certain indoor settings, alongside the alternative of a recent negative test being presented.

We have had vaccine passports in Scotland since the start of October, so now have two months’ experience of their operation within one part of the United Kingdom. Isn’t it worth looking at the experience from Scotland before deciding to implement a similar scheme south of the border?

Vaccine passports were introduced here for all those attending nightclubs, indoor events with more than 500 people, outdoor events unseated with more than 4000, and all live events in excess of 10,000 – initially without allowing the negative test alternative. Following protest from the business community, a grace period was introduced for the first 17 days, so no sanctions would apply to premises which did not enforce the rules until the October 18.

There was very little attempt by the Scottish Government to develop an evidence base for the policy. Was this primarily about preventing infection, or rather about encouraging more people to take up vaccination, particularly amongst younger age groups? We simply were not told.

From the start, the Scottish Conservatives were actively opposed to vaccine passports being introduced. This was not just because of the lack of evidence; there were real concerns about the human rights aspects of such a policy.

Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 Recovery Committee (of which I am Deputy Convenor), Judith Robertson of the Scottish Human Rights Commission said that the case had not been made for their introduction, adding: “There isn’t a clarity around what evidence is being used to base the decisions on”.

Experts such as Professor Sir John Montgomery, of the Ada Lovelace Institute, told the Committee that vaccine passports might actually entrench anti-vaccine sentiments amongst those already suspicious of Government. He said:

“What you worry about with vaccine passports is that instead of seeking to address the reasons for distrust and concern, you aim to up the stakes for people and say that if you want to enter these things, you have to be vaccinated, and that may exacerbate distrust and come back to haunt us”.

There was no response from the Scottish Government to these issues.

Despite the concerns being raised, the SNP pressed ahead. There was an immediate impact on the hospitality industry, with many nightclub operators reporting a drop in business of up to 40 per cent – and this from a sector which had already suffered significant financial losses due to restrictions and closures over the previous 18 months. The Scottish Hospitality Group reported incidents of increased aggression towards security staff and stewards, leading some to walk off the job as a result.

Ignoring the reaction, the SNP Government threatened to extend the vaccine passport scheme, to bring in other hospitality venues, theatres, and cinemas. On November 19, they produced a 70-page “evidence paper”, making the case for the passports; a paper rushed out and strewn with errors and grammatical mistakes. Even this official document did not support the case for an extension of the already existing scheme.

On the two crucial arguments for introducing vaccine passports – that they would help prevent the spread of Covid within busy venues, and that they would drive up vaccination rates amongst groups, such as the young, where they were too low – the report suggested that neither of these objectives had been met.

On the question of the spread of infection, the evidence paper stated only that “infected vaccinated people were slightly less likely to pass the virus on than infected unvaccinated people”. On the second point around vaccine take up, the paper conceded that there had only been “a relatively slight impact on uptake of vaccination since the scheme was introduced”.

Moreover, we now know that vaccine take up in England, where vaccine passports did not exist, was virtually identical to that in Scotland in the period from the beginning of October.

Even the SNP’s own evidence paper couldn’t make a case for their introduction. The advantages of the scheme were marginal, at best, and substantially outweighed by the negative impacts on the economy. On November 23 the SNP announced a major u-turn, ruling out for the time being any extension to the vaccine passport scheme, and instead allowing a negative Lateral Flow Test to be produced as an alternative to vaccine passports at the venues previously covered by the scheme – which is the approach now proposed for England.

This change helped address many of the concerns which had been raised by the business community, although issues remain as to the security of a scheme which essentially relies upon self-policing. It was, nevertheless, a major signal from the Scottish Government that vaccine passports simply did not achieve the intended outcomes.

So all the experience from Scotland, over the past two months, is that a vaccine passport scheme does not deliver on its objectives. It does not help prevent the spread of Covid to any meaningful degree, nor does it encourage the take-up of vaccinations. The Scottish Conservatives have been vindicated in our opposition to this scheme from the very start.

Whilst allowing the alternative of presentation of a negative Covid test from the start is an improvement on the scheme originally introduced in Scotland, it is still hard to see what positive benefits a passport scheme will bring.

Rather than going down this route, the emphasis should be on rapid roll-out of the booster vaccination programme, as the Prime Minister has proposed, and encouraging unvaccinated groups such as the young, and those in ethnic minorities, to take up the offer of a jab.

That is how we protect the population, not with a scheme of vaccine passports that infringes human rights, will damage the economy, and simply doesn’t work.