As readers will be aware, Scotland is treading warily through the Covid-19 crisis, attempting where possible to reinstate activities that will allow us to regain some aspects of social and economic normality.
Managing our way through, particularly as winter approaches, will remain challenging. However, if we can maintain a high level of compliance with the guidance and restrictions we can, as a nation, get through this crisis.
However, the recent and ongoing actions of the UK Tory Government risks exposing Scotland to significant negative economic and societal harm as the twin impacts of coronavirus and a no deal, or low deal, Brexit loom large on the horizon in the next few months.
The virus will still be with us for months to come and there will still be issues and challenges for many sectors of our economy. Yet, the Tory Government’s outright refusal to extend the furlough scheme in the middle of a pandemic is nothing short of reckless and will lead to an inevitable jobs apocalypse unless support is strengthened and extended.
I have been contacted by many local businesses, particularly those operating in the events sector, who will not be able to return to work for several months yet. To them, the scheme is just as important now as it was when it was introduced.
The Chancellor previously pledged to do ‘whatever it takes’ to help people get through this crisis. However, choosing to prematurely shut down the furlough scheme next month confirms the very opposite – that the Tories are pulling support and abandoning people and businesses at this critical time.
This reality has been recognised by many other countries, including Germany, France and Ireland, who have extended furlough support by up to a further 18 months in some cases.
Whilst furlough support has been welcome, it has not been the result of UK Government largesse. They have had to borrow billions to fund it and should continue to do so. The Scottish Government does not have the same borrowing powers and requests to Westminster for such powers have been rejected.
Sadly, we are reliant on the Tory Government doing the right thing.
I welcomed Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, joining the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament recently in calling for the UK Government to extend the furlough scheme. This is an issue that we should be working cross-party on, as it will affect hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland and across the UK.
Unbelievably, instead of taking the fight to the Tories, Scottish Labour are, once again, riven with internal strife. A grouping of Labour MSPs are seeking to dump their leader eight months out from an election – even threatening legal action if they cannot force a leadership vote.
Even Rutherglen Constituency Labour Party elected representatives are split. As so many times in the past, their focus will never be on protecting Scotland’s interests but self-interest instead.
It is now clearer than ever that Scotland needs her independence. And when an independence referendum comes – as it will – it will no longer be a choice between independence and the status quo, but between independence and a Tory regime which is intent on crippling Scotland.