Covid-19 Fiscal Implications

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

I want to pick up on Michelle Ballantyne’s remarks. To be honest, she made a point that will resonate with many of our constituents. People are genuinely anxious. They are worried. They are watching the First Minister’s briefings, they are seeing the welcome fall in the numbers of people who are infected and who are dying from coronavirus, and they will be feeling mounting anxiety about their future economic prospects. Will they have a job to go back to in the autumn? Will they be able to pay the mortgage? What about their children going back to school? What opportunities will there be for small business owners?

I declare an interest as a member of the Musicians’ Union. As someone who was in the music industry, I know the anxiety that is being felt by so many people across the music sector now. I declare an interest also in that my wife works in television, and I sense the anxiety among many in that sector who are freelance.

I do not agree with everything that Michelle Ballantyne said, and I will explain why in a moment, but I recognise that anxiety. It is important that we do not lose sight of the economic anxiety that the crisis is causing.

However, first and foremost, we have to remember that this is a public health crisis. There cannot be any economic recovery without a health recovery—that is just the reality of it. That is because of both the practicalities of maintaining a functioning NHS and our ability to ensure a return of consumer confidence.

It is paramount that our efforts and our focus are on ensuring that we suppress the virus. Although it can be tempting to clutch at straws and to reach for magic formulas—I am thinking of the idea that social distancing of 1m can achieve an economic reopening that social distancing of 2m cannot—it is dangerous to do so. All of us have a duty to be consistent in our messaging, because there is a clear path out of lockdown, but if we are to be able to take that path, we must suppress the virus. My genuine fear is that, if we are premature and we have a reckless rush out of lockdown, that will prove to be a false economy and we will be right back to square 1. We must take a strategic view and a long-term approach to ensure that the recovery is sustainable.

I encourage members to reiterate that point in their communications with constituents and in the press releases that they put out. Let us not risk having division among ourselves as politicians in our political parties over a false dichotomy between health and the economy. Without addressing the health emergency, we cannot address the economic emergency.