Covid-19 Fiscal Implications

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

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Photo of Alexander Burnett Alexander Burnett Conservative

There are plenty of projects that have not gone ahead, for various reasons, and the Scottish Government has plenty of powers—[

Interruption

.] If what SNP members say is the case, why has COSLA become so fed up with the SNP that it is now seeking support directly from the UK Government?

It is not just our councils that the SNP is letting down. Right now, our high street shops are being failed by the Government, so I am pleased to say that the Scottish Conservatives are currently calling for support for those businesses. We are asking the Scottish Government to consider various measures, including law changes to relax rules on pavement eating and drinking, temporary scrapping of parking charges to encourage shoppers to go out shopping, and a review of the 2m social distancing rule. Those measures would not only bolster local businesses, but would prevent closures and bankruptcies in towns all around the country.

I know that the Scottish Government has taken many unprecedented steps to assist our constituents during the crisis. However, I cannot help but feel anger because the SNP did not prepare better for a situation such as this. We might not have known that a pandemic of this magnitude would occur, but for 12 years the Government has not listened to us while we warned it about draining reserves and not doing enough to boost our economy. Therefore, we entered the crisis with a weakened economy and not enough left for a rainy day, and now it is pouring.

That feeling is echoed by businesses and academics alike. A fortnight ago, at the Finance and Constitution Committee, Professor Jim Gallagher said:

“In the past 10 years, we have done less well in promoting economic growth than the rest of the UK has. That contrasts with every decade before then, from the 1960s onward.”

He went on to note:

“At the time of devolution in 1999, Scotland was the third richest region of the United Kingdom. Since about 2008 or so ... per capita economic growth in Scotland has consistently underperformed that of the UK. In the decades before that, it consistently outperformed that of the UK.”—[

Official Report, Finance and Constitution Committee,

5 June 2020; c 15-16.]

Those are his words, not mine. There has been only one constant in that period of poor performance: this SNP Government.

Nothing strikes fear into business more than Kate Forbes saying that the SNP will use its “ingenuity” to solve the crisis. What has the SNP’s reaction been to the pandemic? What is this “ingenuity”? It means demands for more borrowing powers and for full fiscal autonomy. However, that would not solve the problem, but would only make it worse. The SNP’s reckless plans for full fiscal autonomy would slash the Scottish budget and leave more Scots struggling to make ends meet during this economic crisis. As my colleague Maurice Golden noted, full fiscal autonomy would lead to cuts and would leave every person in Scotland £2,000 poorer, because we would lose additional funding from the UK. In the middle of a crisis, that is the last thing any of our constituents needs.

Instead of picking constitutional fights or arguing over full fiscal autonomy, the SNP Government needs to focus on the task ahead. I ask it to sort out Scotland’s test and trace system, which is vital to getting our economy moving again, and to sort out our education system, which is vital to our children’s future.