Scottish budget should not be subject to the ‘disinterested whims of a distant Tory government’
The Scottish budget should not be subject to the “disinterested whims of a distant Tory government”, Kate Forbes told delegates at the SNP’s autumn conference.
The Finance Secretary said the Scottish Government had given £350m to communities and £2.3bn to businesses to support them through COVID-19, “whilst being one of the very few countries around the world which was dependent on another government's decisions to make the funding that we needed available”.
“That has often felt like, quite frankly, a ridiculous position to be in, but never more so than when we found that the public health measures we needed to take had to be weighed up against whether the UK Government might give us the funding needed in plenty of time to take those necessary and urgent decisions,” she said.
Nothing exemplified that better than the furlough scheme, Forbes said, noting that the UK Government had refused to extend the scheme when Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland asked for it to be extended, and only done so when England needed it.
Forbes said she didn’t “begrudge” furlough for anyone in England, but “the whole of Scotland saw with their own eyes what drives decision-making in the UK Government. And there's no doubt, it is not driven by what Scotland needs.”
She said: “If they had acted sooner, redundancies could have been avoided, of that there is no doubt.
“Months and months of anxiety and worry for businesses could have been spared.
“With power comes responsibility and the powers to protect jobs lie at Westminster.
“The responsibility for the failure to protect jobs also must lie at Westminster.
“Because let there be no doubt, if those powers have been in Scotland, if that decision had been mine, furlough would have been in place for every day and every business that needed it.
“There has never been a clearer example of why our parliament, our Scottish Parliament, needs the powers of independence than Tory indifference to the need to protect jobs in a pandemic.”
Speaking of the Scottish budget in January, Forbes said there would be a five-year pipeline of investment in infrastructure to boost economic growth.
Included in the almost £5bn for inclusive economic growth will be £500m to extend full fibre broadband to businesses and households in rural areas, £30m to support the islands, £11bn for cities, towns, villages and rural areas, including £275m to revitalise town centres and create vibrant neighbourhoods, and nearly £2bn on health infrastructure and equipment.
Forbes said she would “push the powers of devolution as far as they can go”, but criticised the UK Government’s decision to delay the budget again, meaning she would be making a decision “blindfolded”, without knowing what the Scottish Government would receive from Westminster.
“For the second year in a row, the UK Government has shown complete disregard for devolution by delaying their budget to March, saying it's far too uncertain a time to plan ahead.
“Well, Scottish finance secretaries are well used to balancing the books with one hand tied behind their backs.
“But this year of all years, I'm being asked to do it blindfolded as well.
“The Scottish budget has an impact on all of our lives, it funds our NHS, it funds our schools, it ensures that there's adequate funding for public services, and it shapes our economy.
“It shouldn't be subject to the disinterested whims of a distant Tory government.
“Now, that risk will always be there until independence. And that's why the election in a matter of months is so absolutely essential.”
The Finance Secretary said the economy was “big enough, inventive enough, resilient enough and rich enough, not just to protect what we have, but to grow stronger” and “with independence we can and will create a wealthier, fairer, greener country”.