FMQS: Nicola Sturgeon derides Labour leader as 'Boris Johnson cheerleader'

Nicola Sturgeon said Richard Leonard should stop “extolling the virtues” of the UK government as he asked her to work with Westminster to ensure the extension of the jobs furlough scheme and to bring forward payments to Scotland’s poorest families.

Richard Leonard MSP was accused of being Boris Johnson's "chief cheerleader" by Nicola Sturgeon.

The First Minster said Mr Leonard was leading a “dwindling party” in which half of his supporters now backed independence, and said he should not ask her to go “cap in hand” to Westminster.

A furious Nicola Sturgeon turned on Mr Leonard when he raised the latest GERS figures at First Minister’s Questions, pointing to the Scottish deficit of £15bn, and suggested this underlined the need for the Job Retention Scheme to be extended and for the Scottish Government to deliver a “quality Scottish job quarantee scheme to deliver secure jobs based on the principles of fair work” by October.

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“I don't know where Richard Leonard has been for the last few weeks, but I’ve been asking the UK government to continue the Job Retention Scheme almost every day for weeks, so I'm glad Richard Leonard has decided to back that call,” said Ms Sturgeon. “The Scottish Government has also set out plans for a youth jobs guarantee scheme and we will set out more detail in the coming days and weeks.

"Richard Leonard is still capable of surprising in this chamber because I didn't think it would be him today who would stand up to extol the virtues of being governed by a Westminster Tory government, I thought that would come from the other side of the chamber.”

She added: “The furlough scheme is funded by the UK government borrowing money, and the reason they do it for us is because we don't have the powers here to do it ourselves.

“If Richard Leonard used his imagination to imagine Scotland was independent right now, he wouldn’t have to be asking me to plead with a UK government to borrow more money to extend the Job Retention Scheme because we could do it here ourselves in Scotland. It's probably that conclusion that has led to the situation we have right now where almost a half of Richard Leonard’s remaining Labour supporters, a dwindling band of people, I grant you, now support scotland becoming an independent country.”

Mr Leonard said that despite Ms Sturgeon's attack she would need to “answer the questions on where she will make up that £15bn deficit and where she will find the £100bn it will take to set up the separate Scottish currency she now says she wants.”

He added that the Scottish Government had to ensure it focused on jobs in next week’s Programme for Government, using the powers of the Parliament because “all our attenion now needs to be on jobs, reshaping the economy and tackling poverty and inequalities” and called on her to ban tenant evictions until the next Parliament.

His question appeared to further infuriate Ms Sturgeon who said she had “already stood here and said we will extend the protection against evictions in the original coronavirus legislation for an additional six months, so again Richard Leonard really needs to keep up with announcements as they are made by the government.

"I don't have the luxury of going at his pace in these things we have to power ahead and get these things completed.”

She added: “Can I say to Richard Leonard, apeing the Tories on using GERS which are a reflection of Scotland's fiscal position within the UK and not a reflection of how Scotland woul fare as an independent country and talking about deficits at a time when the UK deficit is projected to be almost £400bn and at a time when the UK debt has just topped two trillion is not the strongest territory for the Tories to be on, but it's suicidal political territory for Labour to be on.”

Mr Leonard said that with the Scottish deficit around 9% of GDP and the UK deficit less than 3% of GDP, “there is a comparison to make that anybody reasonable and rationale would want to make."

He raised the concerns of the Children's Commissioner and the government's own independent poverty commission about the delays to the new child payment, which won't be paid out til next February.

“The Scottish Government has said that Covid makes this difficult, but Covid is what makes it urgent - if its possible to rapidly introduce payments to businesses in need surely it’s possible to rapidly introduce payments to families and children in need? Will you get the cash to families who need it now?”

The First Minister said that no other government in the UK was introducing a similar payment, and it was being done on the “quickest timetable” possible.

She added: If Richard Leonard started to really think about the real drivers of child poverty he would stop being Boris Johnson's chief cheerleader in this Parliament and start standing for this Parliament having the powers we need.”

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