The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) Scotland Commission has today, 9 September, issued a plea to first minister Nicola Sturgeon to abandon her plans for vaccine passports for nightclubs, warning that she is making an error and that the policy is a “dangerous road” to go down.

In an open letter to the first minister, chairperson of the NTIA Scotland Commission Mike Grieve set out the industry’s case against vaccine passports, which he argues will “cripple” a sector that has already found pandemic restrictions “devastating”.

Grieve has also hit out at the Scottish Government for a lack of meaningful consultation with the sector about the policy, and accused ministers of “putting their heads in the sand” rather than listening to the concerns of industry.

The intervention follows a survey of NTIA member businesses, on a UK-wide basis, that found more than 80% were against vaccine passports.

The letter also urges Sturgeon to press pause on the Scottish Government’s proposals to make its Covid-19 powers permanent. The letter says, “the idea that Scottish ministers would be able to impose these kind of [health restrictions on night time economy businesses’ ability to operate] at the stroke of a pen in the future is fundamentally undemocratic.”

Grieve said, “Vaccine passports will further cripple an industry that has already borne so much in terms of the costs of this pandemic. It has been devastating to business. We are warning the First Minister that by going down the Vaccine Passports route she is making a serious error.

“With so many pubs and bars offering similar services to nightclubs, and with so many nightclubs offering an array of different services, it is almost impossible to identify with any sort of precision what a ‘nightclub’ is. Leaving out the rest of hospitality from the policy will only displace the transmission risk to other settings.

“Although Scottish Government officials have engaged with the sector following the policy announcement two weeks ago, it has become obvious that not one of the concerns we have raised is being seriously contemplated by ministers – despite the policy being implemented as early as next month.

“We have said repeatedly that, if it must happen, negative testing and natural immunity should be included for certification. But it feels like they have been burying their heads in the sand. Even at this late stage, we are making a plea today to the Scottish Government to change course.”

The arguments set out in the letter include:

  • It is impossible to properly define the term “nightclub” leading to severe difficulty in drawing the line between what are perceived to be nightclubs on the one hand, and pubs, music venues or ‘hybrid’ bars on the other. This will create a competitive advantage for those venues not designated as clubs and will simply ‘displace’ any potential Covid transmission risk to these other settings
  • Due to high levels of vaccine hesitancy among young people, the policy will likely lead to an increase in illegal, unregulated events and parties in domestic settings
  • The additional cost of implementing the system for businesses that are already overburdened with debt and rent arrears is unsustainable
  • A concern about discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics such as ethnicity, with vaccination rates considerably lower amongst ethnic minority communities
  • Recent research suggesting the vaccine passports may actually be counterproductive to the Scottish Government’s stated aim of increasing uptake amongst hesitant young people
  • There are serious data protection concerns about potential implementation technology
  • Concerns about the effect on an already depleted workforce in the sector who will be asked to police this government public health policy, including concerns about staff confrontations with customers particularly, over how exemptions will be implemented
  • A worry about the possibility of an illicit market for fraudulent vaccine passports developing, as has reportedly started to happen on the Ibiza club scene
  • Concerns about staff confrontations with customers and over how exemptions will be implemented
  • With differing requirements for different jurisdictions, there are serious concerns about the impact of vaccine passports on Scotland’s previously thriving nightlife tourism sector