WITH Covid-19 cases at continuing to track at very high levels and a more contagious strain of the virus ever more present in the community, it is as vital as ever that we continue to adhere with the government guidelines.

Last month, I was immensely optimistic that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

I wrote that vaccines are our route out of this pandemic – and they still are – as the UK had led the way on ensuring that these are approved as quickly as is safely possible.

We have three vaccines approved for use in the UK, two of which have already started to be distributed to the most vulnerable.

We could only have done this in Scotland due to the fantastic efforts of the UK Government to secure early access to 367 million doses of the seven most promising vaccine candidates.

I also wrote that it was incredibly important that the roll out of the vaccine is managed effectively, but there seemed at the time to be something of a postcode lottery which felt very much like history about to repeat itself from days of the flu vaccine rollout.

Sadly, this concern based on past experiences began to bear fruit. Remembering that the SNP had committed to vaccinate all over 80s by the end of January; by the 4th week in January it was being reported by the BBC that only 13.1 per cent of over 80s in Scotland had received their Covid jab, whilst the rest of the UK was tracking an average of over 50 per cent.

So it was of great relief that the Ministry of Defence committed UK Armed Forces' help to provide more support and start administering vaccines in Scotland to speed up the SNP's slow rollout. Over 200 military personnel were detailed to support the programme which as a result, is now beginning to make progress.

This is not to slight, however, the truly phenomenal job that the NHS and our front-line workers are doing right across Scotland, working immensely hard right round the clock on testing, administering to and ultimately caring for our patients and we should rightly be proud of everyone's sterling efforts. My profound thanks go to them all.

Compounding all this, Scottish Conservative analysis showed that Scotland would have around half a million fewer vaccines if we had been in the EU vaccine scheme.

Under the EU scheme, 3.2 vaccines have been administered per 100 people, so based on Scotland's population that would amount to just short of 175,000.

However, the actual number of vaccines administered in Scotland, under the UK scheme by last week was showing over 649,000 meaning that if Scotland had followed the SNP's route and proceeded under the EU vaccine scheme, we would have had nearly 475,000 fewer doses administered right across the country.

SNP Scottish Government ministers previously slammed the decision to opt out of the EU scheme, but their silence on it now is deafening.

So at this uncertain time, the only priority that the SNP Scottish Government should have is to work together, manage this crisis and to rebuild our country.

Any other route to create further unwanted division and uncertainty will be irresponsible in the extreme