Covid-19 Lockdown: Next Steps

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 21st May 2020.

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The First Minister:

That is a really important question, which will continue to be important. We have good discussions with the UK Government across all aspects of the handling of the crisis. Despite our political disagreements, I would say that it has been a constructive process. I want that to continue, and I hope that it will.

Many of our discussions have been about the initial responses, including on the economy and helping business, but, increasingly, we are seeking to discuss how we respond in the longer term. That will include discussion about how the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government can be better equipped fiscally to deal with the challenges, which is an area that I am sure that every party will want to be involved in.

We must also make sure that, as we come out of the immediate crisis, we—by which I mean all of us, including the UK Government and the Scottish Government—take a very different approach to the one that was pursued after the financial crisis, whereby we treat the debt that has been accumulated through the crisis separately, almost as in wartime, and do not see an austerity approach as being the way to deal with it.

That would be a disastrous thing to do, as it was after the financial crisis.

Instead, we must rebuild carefully and must be prepared to think about doing things differently—I have spoken previously in the chamber about my growing support for the concept of a universal basic income. We must think about how we support people, we must get the economy growing again in a sustainable way and we must get our focus firmly back on the need to move to net zero, as was the case before the current crisis. An austerity approach or anything like it would be devastating for all of that, so we must resist it with everything that we have.