Scottish Conservatives join Scottish Government call for extension to furlough in Scotland if further lockdown needed
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross is calling for the UK Government to restart the furlough scheme if a Scottish national lockdown becomes necessary.
In a speech at the Policy Exchange on Monday, Douglas Ross will say that the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has put devolution to the test and “exposed its weakest points”.
He will says that Scotland must be treated the same way as England, should another lockdown be necessary.
The furlough scheme was extended until 2 December on Saturday, the day it was due to end, after it was announced that England will go into lockdown for almost a month from Thursday, despite previous refusals to extend the scheme to help business forced to closed in Scotland, Wales and the north of England.
The Scottish Government has called for the scheme to cover future lockdowns in Scotland, should one be needed, and not just the period of the English lockdown, but it is understood the UK Government has refused to extend it beyond the beginning of December.
Finance secretary Kate Forbes said: “Despite discussions today, HM Treasury continue to deny our request that full furlough at 80 per cent be available in Scotland at any point we need it, suggesting that it’s only available for duration of a lockdown in England.”
She also said there was “no clarity” on the Barnett consequentials of the extra funding for England, nor whether unlimited payments to businesses in England will be available on a similar demand-led basis to allow the Scottish Government to match the commitment.
In his speech, titled ‘Why is our Union special?’ Ross will say that the structures for communication between the UK Government and the devolved bodies of the UK “have been found wanting” during the pandemic.
This follows Douglas Ross call for an end to “defeatism and disinterest” over the future of the Union at the UK Conservative party conference, where he challenged the Conservative party to rediscover its unionist DNA.
At a fringe event at the conference, he said the case for separation was “now being made more effectively in London than it ever could in Edinburgh.”
At the Policy Exchange speech on Monday, Douglas will expand on how the handling of COVID and Brexit has impacted on the Union.
Ross will say: “The COVID-19 crisis has put the structures for interaction between the UK Government, devolved administrations and indeed the English mayoralties to the ultimate test.
“And I think that even the most committed defender of the current system would admit that they have been found wanting.
“The pandemic has not broken devolution. But it has exposed its weakest points.
“The Scottish Government and other devolved administrations, responsible for managing the virus in their nations, have been forced to look for detail on announcements from publicly available press releases.
“The SNP benefits from inter-governmental disputes, the UK Government does not.”
On the furlough scheme, he will add: “The furlough scheme has not just been a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of Scottish people who would have otherwise lost their jobs, it is also a real and tangible reminder of the economic security of the Union.
“Now that the scheme has been extended to cover the impact of a second lockdown in England, how could a unionist government not restart the scheme if a second lockdown is required in Scotland?
“We all hope that by following the guidance and doing the right thing, a second Scottish lockdown will not be necessary.
“But if it is, the UK Government must treat Scotland the same way as England. That guarantee has to be made immediately.”