The Chancellor must deliver a serious package to kickstart the economy

The past decade of Tory austerity has been deeply damaging for communities across the UK, as Westminster cut billions from Scotland’s budget and pushed millions of people into poverty.

The harm caused by Tory cuts has been exacerbated by Brexit, which has already taken more than £4 billion from Scotland’s economy – and will cause lasting harm when the UK crashes out of the EU transition period with a low-deal or no-deal extreme Brexit in January.

All of this has been compounded by COVID, and the serious gaps in the Tory government’s economic response.

As a result, UK unemployment has now risen to 4.8 per cent, redundancies are at a record high, and there are almost 800,000 fewer people in employment than in March.

At this critical juncture, it is vital that the UK Government steps up to the challenge, gets a grip of this crisis, and delivers the investment and powers required to mitigate the damage and avoid a protracted economic downturn.

That is why the SNP has proposed a stimulus package of at least £98bn – the equivalent of 5 per cent of GDP – which matches the scale of investment we are seeing from our friends in Germany, France and New Zealand.

That money should be invested in measures to save jobs, boost incomes, and protect our public services.

We await to see what the Chancellor will announce in his statement, but reports of a return to austerity, with a pay freeze for millions of public sector workers, and cuts to international aid, are deeply worrying. It suggests, yet again, that the Tory government has all the wrong priorities.

Instead of freezing public sector pay, the Chancellor should be honouring our heroes in the NHS, social care and other public services with a multi-billion pound boost to funding across the UK – and a meaningful pay rise for workers.

That means increasing health and social care spending in England to at least the higher per capita level in Scotland. This would deliver £35bn extra in day-to-day NHS spending in England, and an extra £4bn for NHS Scotland in Barnett consequentials.

At this start of this crisis, I told the Chancellor we must recognise the efforts of our public service workers, who have been on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus.

The SNP’s proposals would do just that, while a Tory pay freeze would be a slap in the face for millions of workers.

The Chancellor must also take action to boost incomes for the wider population, including the growing number of unemployed people.

That means, making the £20 uplift to Universal Credit permanent and extending it to legacy benefits, delivering support for the three million people who have been completely excluded from UK Covid schemes, and tackling poverty by matching the new Scottish Child Payment of £10 per child per week.

The decisions that the Chancellor makes at this Spending Review will impact on Scotland for years to come.

We have already seen the negative impact the Tory government’s decision to withhold investment, and block the devolution of financial powers, has had on Scotland’s ability to respond to this crisis. The Tories must not jeopardise Scotland’s recovery too.

Throughout COVID, we have seen that it is the Scottish Government that is most trusted to take the action Scotland needs. As the focus moves towards building our future, it is Scotland’s Government that is best placed to deliver the strong, fair and green recovery we all want to see.

In order to properly secure our recovery, Scotland needs the full powers and levers of an independent country. People in Scotland have the right to determine our own future, so we can build that fairer society.

This article was originally published in The Scotsman.