Brian Monteith: Where’s the £2,800m of additional funding, First Minister?

The current pandemic should not prevent us holding Nicola Sturgeon to account, says Brian Monteith

Where’s the money? The UK government has made a staggering £2,800 million of additional funding available to the Scottish Government to help businesses and charities that face economic ruin due to the government interventions deemed necessary to save us from the worst scenarios the coronavirus pandemic might deliver.

Yet many Scottish enterprises, including those in the care sector, are being treated differently from similar businesses operating across the rest of the UK.

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That such bare-faced discrimination might happen while we have a United Kingdom requires the severest of condemnation – that it might happen during a pandemic threatening tens of thousands of lives that requires us to pull together as one society is, and I shall not mince my words, despicable.

Should Chancellor Rishi Sunak announce Scottish businesses and care homes can apply directly to him for the relief and he will deduct the money from the British funds he sends to Nicola Sturgeon’s government? Picture: Tom Farmer/PA

Scottish businesses, be they profit-making, social enterprises, co-operatives or partnerships pay their taxes to both the Scottish and UK Governments – they have no reason to expect that when British taxpayers’ money is used to help save them from an existential catastrophe they should be discriminated against and treated differently. Yet that is exactly what is now happening, putting businesses on the verge of closing their doors for good and forcing thousands into unemployment and the poverty it normally delivers. And all because of the SNP Government’s own choices.

Let me put it another way. Imagine this scene for one minute: the UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, addresses the assembled media at a Covid-19 briefing in Downing Street and announces immediate relief to small and medium-sized businesses by the provision of a flat £25,000 for each of their premises.

Only there’s a catch, it will apply differently in Scotland, where no matter how many premises a business has it will get only £25,000 and not a single penny more.

In Wales an enterprise with eight coffee shops will qualify for £200,000 to set against its ongoing overheads because government forced it to close during the lockdown – but in Scotland a similar enterprise will receive only £25,000. In England a small pub chain might have six pubs in a city, entitled to £150,000 to help keep it alive while it has no revenue – but in Scotland the owners will only qualify for £25,000.

Imagine the reaction from the First Minister to Rishi Sunak making such an announcement that openly discriminated against Scottish businesses. Visualise in your mind’s eye how clenched in anger her fists would be; how she would spit fire and epithets about Toaries; how we would be told only a referendum to deliver independence could ensure such injustice is never again visited upon us.

Or imagine that Rishi Sunak had been able to make such an announcement in the House of Commons and face questions. Consider how the SNP parliamentary leader, Ian Blackford, might rise from the green benches and what he might say? Would he welcome the Chancellor’s generosity with British taxpayers’ money and praise him for his actions? Would he ignore the disparity in treatment between Scottish business and enterprises in the rest of the UK?

Of course not. He would be outraged at the injustice, angered to the point of exploding that Scotland should be so slighted, and its businesses so unfairly mistreated. For once I would agree and say he would be right.

The Chancellor might reply that Scottish businesses are different, there are charities and creative industries to think of, so he thinks Scotland should be an exception. Blackford could be expected to have none of it, to turn red in the face as he castigates the Chancellor, saying Scotland should have at the very least the same, indeed its exceptional circumstances mean it should have more money, not less.

The argument would finish by Blackford claiming – as Sturgeon would say too – that only an independent Scotland could look after Scottish business so it might prosper.

You might think that such rank hypocrisy could not be bettered, but you would be wrong. For at a time when those we love – but especially our older family members – are at mortal risk the discrimination by the Scottish Government against our own care homes follows the same pattern.

In England private care homes are working in partnership with local authorities and receiving extra financial assistance that has come from the UK government. In Scotland the evidence of our local councils passing on these UK funds to private care homes does not exist – even though the majority of their beds are filled by council referrals. The reason is simple: Scottish local councils cannot be certain the Scottish Government will pass on Rishi Sunak’s benevolence. After years of SNP cuts they will not take the risk of making payments they will not have reimbursed.

The First Minister has threatened care home bosses with “enforcement” that includes heavy fines or jail if they don’t meet care guidelines. Does the threat apply to council-run nursing homes? Will council leaders and chief executives be put behind bars if local authority care does not come up to scratch or is it only the private sector that faces this threat?

Nobody knows. Only in Scotland is it impossible to establish the truth of what the Scottish Government is doing – where’s the money going? Unhelpful media enquiries have to be submitted as Freedom of Information requests that have been extended from a 30 to 60 days
minimum response. The UK government did not use coronavirus as justification for such restrictions – creating a more secret state
only exists in Sturgeon’s Scotland.

After 20 years of devolution we are now witnessing its destruction from within. Rather than use the powers that devolution provides to enhance local services, to make them better and the envy of the rest of the UK – the ideal that many who advocated a Scottish Parliament thought it could achieve – Sturgeon’s SNP Government is doing everything in its power to make Scotland worse off. Then the political blame is laid at the feet of “Westminster”, “Whitehall” and “London” – all of which are euphemisms for England – when the pain has been visited upon us by our own Scottish Government.

Coronavirus is no excuse to hold back from condemning this descent into hell.

Our businesses and care homes should get the same help as they would get in England. If justice is not done within the next week the Chancellor should announce Scottish businesses and care homes can apply directly to him for the relief and he will deduct the money from the British funds he sends to Nicola Sturgeon’s government.

Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org