Nicola Sturgeon urged to take a Ukrainian refugee into her home to ‘lead by example’

·4 min read
Nicola Sturgeon - ROBERT PERRY
Nicola Sturgeon - ROBERT PERRY

Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to "lead by example" by offering to share her home with a Ukrainian refugee, after it emerged that her Government is to plead with normal Scots to help ease pressure on her crisis-hit resettlement scheme.

The Scottish Government said on Sunday that it was working on a new campaign to encourage more people to agree to personally offer shelter to victims of the Russian invasion, with temporary accomodation in hotels rooms "very close" to running out.

The First Minister claimed in March that she would offer sanctuary to a victim of the war “if needed”, but last month backpedalled over the pledge, claiming a Ukrainian living with her may face unwelcome publicity.

She also argued that her job was to ensure Scotland could provide safe refuge for thousands of people, rather than just “one person”.

However, opponents claimed the First Minister personally signing up for the scheme would be a “powerful gesture” which could encourage many more people to follow her lead.

Ms Sturgeon shares a large detached home in Glasgow with only her husband, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, while she also has use of her official Bute House residence in Edinburgh.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the leader of the Scottish LibDems, has offered use of a well-equipped cabin in his Edinburgh garden, which he previously rented out as a short-term let though AirBnB, to a refugee.

“The Scottish government’s handling of the refugee scheme has been an unmitigated disaster,” Mr Cole-Hamilton said. “We need a fresh push on securing volunteer hosts and more money for vetting them as soon as possible.

“My family and I are in the process of being matched with a Ukrainian who we hope to welcome to stay with us from early September. It would be a powerful gesture if the First Minister would join me in doing the same."

Ms Sturgeon's flagship "super sponsor" initiative has run into major problems, with around 20,000 Ukrainians who have not yet arrived having already been granted the right to come to live in Scotland.

However, severe shortages in temporary accommodation have led to fears they will have nowhere to live.

Two huge cruise ships have been hired, under a contract that will cost taxpayers up to £100 million, although even at full capacity they would provide space for only a fraction of the refugees who may arrive in Scotland over the coming months.

The one-bedroom en suite cabin in Mr Cole-Hamilton’s garden, in the west of Edinburgh, has received hundreds of positive reviews from those who have stayed there through AirBnB. He previously earned between £5,000 and £10,000 per year in income from renting it out.

When Ms Sturgeon committed to taking in a refugee, she attacked the UK Government for its Homes for Ukraine scheme.

'Super sponsor' scheme scrapped last month

She successfully pushed to be allowed to set up her "super sponsor" route, which meant her Government would directly sponsor applications rather than refugees having to wait until they were matched with an individual willing to share their homes.

However, despite saying an "uncapped" number of people could come to Scotland under the scheme, it was scrapped last month.

Around 30,000 visas were granted under the scheme, and although only 10,000 have so far arrived, places to put them have nearly run out.

Miles Briggs, the Scottish Tory MSP, said the push to persuade more people to open up their homes sounded like “a plea from the SNP for ordinary Scots to bail out the Scottish Government for the mess created by its shambolic Ukrainian refugee policy.”

He added: "No wonder the SNP ministers are now appealing afresh for kind-hearted Scots to take in more Ukrainians.

“But that’s a big ask amid a global cost-of-living crisis, so perhaps it’s time for the First Minister to lead by example and follow through on her own pledge to house a refugee if it was needed.”

Asked whether Ms Sturgeon would join the scheme, a spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “This is of course a personal decision for every household – anyone seeking to offer a home to those fleeing the war in Ukraine will need to be sure they understand what they are being asked to offer, taking into account their own circumstances, family and caring responsibilities, and housing arrangements.”