Omicron Scotland Analysis: The Treasury's funding intervention has the whiff of 'playing politics'
It is hard to read the last-gasp intervention by the Treasury around additional Covid-19 funding just minutes before Nicola Sturgeon stood up in Holyrood as anything but playing politics.
It was Boris Johnson’s favourite objection to criticism around the Downing Street parties, but it seems his Chancellor is happy enough playing the political game.
At 2.02pm, three minutes before Nicola Sturgeon announced new Covid measures and prior to her furiously criticising the Treasury for a lack of support, a press release dropped promising more money for the devolved nations to tackle Omicron.
Politicians often play fast and loose with definitions, and in their well-timed press release, the Treasury suggest the money coming to devolved nations is “additional”.
The release states money will be made available to “provide greater certainty” and “allow them to plan” their response to Covid-19.
However, it also states that part of the funding may have to be paid back by the Scottish Government if the amount provided by the Treasury is more than what additional cash may come to Edinburgh after the supplementary estimates procedure in the new year.
This is a process in which additional money for Whitehall budgets results in a boost to devolved funding via consequentials from the Barnett formula.
If these consequentials are higher than the amount provided “up front”, Mr Sunak’s press release states, the administrations will keep the “extra funding”, which in reality will be what is owed to Kate Forbes regardless due to the rise in Whitehall budgets.
This was later confirmed by the Treasury.
In essence, this isn’t new money, it is simply early money, and an announcement designed to take the sting out of the SNP tail.
To an extent, it worked, Nicola Sturgeon was blindsided by the announcement and it is understood there was absolutely no prior warning or notification by the Treasury to the Scottish Government about the impending announcement.
It made some of the First Minister’s blows land more softly on the Treasury, especially given the lack of detail on how much, when, and in what way the money would arrive into the Scottish coffers.
Should the fact the money is not truly “additional” been understood by the SNP prior to the statement beginning, it is easy to see how Ms Sturgeon may have hardened her rhetoric instead.
In any case, Douglas Ross must have been thanking his lucky stars for such an useful early Christmas present.
The Tory leader has had a difficult few days trying to simultaneously show moral outrage over the Christmas party scandals, all while supporting Boris Johnson just enough.
There are others who said the Scottish Tory leader was as blindsided by the release as anyone in the Holyrood chamber.
There are some who suggest this release was a helping hand from the Chancellor and potential Boris successor, Rishi Sunak.
As rumours about unhappy MPs around the future of the Prime Minister continue to rumble in Westminster, might Mr Sunak have found an ally in Mr Ross?
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