We all want to get to bed early tonight, so we should keep to time.
The level of the UK Government intervention in response to the pandemic has been without parallel. The furlough scheme has helped save a million Scottish jobs and Barnett formula consequentials have delivered an additional £8.2 billion of funding for Scotland.
Unfortunately for us all, the SNP has not been forthcoming with that money and is currently sitting on £2.2 billion of unallocated funding. The SNP Government has been told repeatedly by business leaders and sector bodies that it is not listening to the needs of business in its response to the pandemic, that its interventions have taken too long to get to businesses in need and that its support measures do not go far enough. The time for SNP inaction has to end. It is already too late for a number of Scottish businesses, but others can still be saved.
Now is the time to act. With the hope that a vaccination roll-out programme will begin any week now, we are starting to see a pathway out of this enduring nightmare, but Scotland’s small businesses need to get through the pandemic to ensure that Scotland has any sort of economy left on the other side.
Today we learned that Tesco will repay £585 million of Covid-19 rates relief, and that means that about £50 million will go to the Scottish Government. We urge that that goes to independent retailers via grant payments. It is a small sum when we consider that the SNP is hoarding billions in cash that could be spent right now. The question is why. Why is the SNP putting the livelihoods of millions of Scots at risk when it has the means to do something about it? What other priority could it have for that money?
We know what that priority is. It is the one thing that trumps all others: the obsession with independence. It is independence, and independence at all costs. We heard again this week that the First Minister may push for an independence referendum next year. The SNP is sitting on that cash, as it sees it as a war chest in the run-up to the election and the furtherance of its independence goal—[
.]—If that is wrong, prove me wrong. Publish a plan.