Nicola Sturgeon grilled by Ruth Davidson during FMQs
The Scottish Government Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Shadow Chancellor Alison Thewliss MP and Scottish National Party (SNP) Westminster leader Ian Blackford have all called for Scotland to have greater fiscal autonomy in order to be able to fully recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Blackford said during Prime Minister’s Questions over the summer: “The UK faces the worst health and economic emergency in decades – and it requires an unprecedented response. “It is absolutely vital that the Scottish Parliament has the financial powers and funds necessary to fuel a strong recovery and protect Scotland’s budget.
“Scotland can make different choices for an investment-led recovery but we can only do it with the borrowing powers and access to capital needed to stimulate our economy.”
He added: “It would be completely unacceptable if the Tories were to leave the Scottish Parliament to respond to this huge economic crisis with one hand tied behind its back by refusing to devolve the powers needed and ushering in another decade of Tory austerity cuts.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson dodged the questions, telling MPs: “Scotland has so far received as part of our UK campaign against coronavirus £3.8billion in Barnett consequentials, a fact that I’m sure is seldom off his lips in his discussion with SNP colleagues.
“We will continue to invest massively in Scotland because Scotland, like the whole of the UK, benefits from being part of the oldest and most successful political partnership in the world.”
According to author Richard Bath, if the Government wants to stop Scottish independence, the best course of action would be giving the SNP exactly what they are asking for.
Nicola Sturgeon on brink as new plan that could silence SNP forever emerges
SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford
He explained last year: “Instead of ceding a referendum if the nationalists dominate next year’s elections, the granting of full fiscal autonomy would instantly transform the terms of the debate.
“This federal system would see the Scottish government only spending what it raises in taxes, including from oil, VAT and whisky.
“Instead of sending taxes to Westminster and in return getting a block grant, Scotland’s only financial contribution to the UK would be a pro rata share of the defence budget and interest payments on the existing national debt.
“Although the SNP would see full fiscal autonomy (aka devo-max and fiscal federalism) as a bear trap and would inevitably present it as an economic punishment beating, how could First Minister Nicola Sturgeon present a coherent case for opposing what is, in effect, independence-lite?”
It is a move, Mr Bath noted, that would radically empower Holyrood and ensure that Westminster could no longer be framed as the villain of the piece.
It could essentially silence the SNP – as the electorate’s focus would shift to their incompetence, where its record on health, education and the economy is woeful.
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SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
He added in his piece for Reaction: “This is a package of measures which, at a stroke, would give Scotland’s electorate a glimpse into the painful trade-offs that independence would entail.
“It might even make the SNP’s more impoverished supporters question their blithe assumption that things can only get better.
“Full fiscal autonomy would also reveal Scotland’s true nature.
“The SNP, obsessed with Scottish exceptionalism and virtue signalling, have peddled the fantasy that a nation with the largest public sector in the developed world is a corporatist, left-of-centre society.
“The evidence suggests otherwise: the annual Survey of British Social Attitudes, for instance, consistently shows Scottish attitudes to be economically and socially to the right of every region in England. Instead of being on the same page as the collegiate Scandinavians, the Scots remain at heart the rugged individualists and entrepreneurs whose economic genius – embodied in Adam Smith – underpins modern capitalism.”
So far, Downing Street’s plans to save the Union have not been as ambitious.
On Wednesday, the Chancellor has announced that his Budget provides an additional £2.4billion to the devolved administrations in 2021-22 through the Barnett formula, with the Scottish Government getting a £1.2billion funding boost.
Rishi Sunak said: “The Government has protected millions of jobs and livelihoods across Scotland – and the strength and stability of our economic union will ensure we bounce back from this pandemic together.
“This Budget will ensure the people of Scotland continue to be supported through our Plan for Jobs, committing more than a billion pounds in extra investment and funding to help fuel the UK’s recovery.”
The Treasury noted that individuals and businesses in Scotland also continue to be supported through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, self-employment grants, loan schemes and VAT cuts.
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Should Scotland become independent?
By tipping hundreds of millions of pounds directly into the pockets of Scottish communities, bypassing the government in Edinburgh, Mr Johnson hopes to thwart Scottish independence.
Spearheaded by Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, the funding is expected to go towards community centres, local parks, shared spaces projects and other schemes “that make an obvious impact on regenerating a local community”.
One Cabinet minister told The Telegraph: “We want people in Scotland to see where the butter comes from.”
As part of the plans, Union flag branding will be used in many of the projects which are funded by the Government.
The funding will be funnelled through the Community Renewal Fund, which is being replaced in 2022-23 by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
The latter aims to compensate for the loss of EU funding, but will not be allocated by the Scottish government.
Instead, Westminster will use the powers outlined in the UK Internal Market Act to allow it to bypass the devolved administrations.
Mr Jack said: “Scotland has two governments, and it is absolutely right that the UK Government invests directly in Scotland.
“We will be working with local authorities, who know their communities well.
“People in Scotland can expect significant direct UK Government investment in their communities in the coming months and years.”