Coronavirus: SNP ignores how much UK has done to protect Scotland's economy – Jackson Carlaw MSP

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes’s call for more borrowing powers to deal with Covid crisis shows how the SNP is stuck in the past, writes Jackson Carlaw MSP.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes needs to avoid a return to the politics of the past, says Jackson Carlaw (Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament via Getty Images)
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes needs to avoid a return to the politics of the past, says Jackson Carlaw (Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament via Getty Images)

The SNP’s call for more Scottish Government borrowing last week felt almost laughably out-of-date. It’s as if Kate Forbes missed the economic bazooka Rishi Sunak fired at the Scottish economy.

On Thursday, we heard that the UK’s support schemes saved 800,000 jobs in Scotland – so it’s clear the UK is Scotland’s insurance policy, and it has paid out, in full and on time.

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It’s also breathtakingly hypocritical. Under independence or full fiscal autonomy, the Scottish budget would have been shredded by the coronavirus. Instead, the current rules protect Scotland from big, UK-wide shocks.

It’s only if we grow relatively slower than the rest of the UK that our budget goes down – and vice versa. And that places the responsibility firmly on the SNP.

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We know, for example, that we will be living with Covid-19 for some time, and we can only reopen the economy when it’s safe to do so. That requires an effective test, trace and isolate system.

But the SNP’s record on testing is woeful – and risks undermining our exit from lockdown.

Timing the release from restrictions might be tricky too, but the SNP seems intent on confusing it further. Hotels in Scotland only got an opening date last week, well after the rest of the UK.

Shops south of the Border opened on Monday. Garden centres, recycling centres and building sites have been operating safely for weeks elsewhere, while in Scotland, big retailers like Ikea look likely to open six weeks

later.

In some cases, this will directly hit the Scottish budget. The housing market will probably reopen a month later here than in England. There’s no obvious public health difference for this, but the gap between a normal month of stamp duty revenue and the amount received in a month of lockdown is about £30 million in lost tax take. Whatever we lose, it’s on the SNP.

In fact, when we see that the Welsh Government found twice as much cash as the Scottish Government to tackle coronavirus from a much smaller budget, when we remember that the SNP has already used up much of Scotland’s current borrowing totals with a budgetary black hole looming in the next few years – and when we remember that the SNP committed long ago to an independent review of existing borrowing powers before any further changes – last week’s move by the SNP to talk about more borrowing starts to look a lot like a distraction tactic.

It smells a bit like the old nationalist game: pick a constitutional fight to hide from their record.

Fiscal devolution in 2016 was supposed to stop that. Finally, instead of complaining, governments in Scotland would be held accountable for their own decisions on tax and spend. That kind of maturity is surely what people will want after the virus. We’ve just been through too much to go back to the old finger-pointing.

So Kate Forbes’s comments last week aren’t just misplaced. They aren’t just hypocritical. They represent the arguments of the past. After the virus, we all deserve better.

Jackson Carlaw is leader of the Scottish Conservative Party

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