Kate Forbes sets out plans for a post-Covid recovery at SNP campaign conference

This week we marked a somber anniversary – a year since we entered lockdown.

It was an unprecedented act of collective sacrifice for collective wellbeing and we know the impact the pandemic has had on ourselves, and on our fellow citizens.

It has touched every aspect of our lives.

So many lives lost. So many important moments forgone. So many businesses impacted.

But there is hope on the horizon.

Vaccines, developed at record speed by global teams of scientists, are being deployed at a phenomenal rate by our NHS.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is getting brighter and brighter every day with every vaccine.

But as we emerge from lockdown, we face choices – choices about the kind of country we want to be, choices about who we trust to lead our recovery, choices about the values that should underpin our decisions.

We’ve come through the most challenging of times – together – and we must rebuild together. Looking ahead, with a shared ambition to use all that we have and all that we are to be a more just country, a fairer country, a more prosperous country.

Our economic recovery lies at the heart of our ambitions. It is the strength of our economy, the wealth of our natural resources and the ingenuity of our people that will power Scotland’s recovery.

In the last year, we’ve used all our resources, and more, to support businesses, from the small fishing boat in Kyle, to the hotel in Dumfries.

Small and Medium Sized enterprises are the backbone of the Scottish economy. They create the jobs and keep communities going. They are the entrepreneurs and pioneers. They are the drivers of economic prosperity.

That’s why we put in place £3bn of financial support in Scotland to act as a life line, much of it unavailable elsewhere. We tried to reach as many of the excluded groups as possible – the newly self-employed and the sole traders, the hairdressers and driving instructors, the soft play centres and the brewers.

These businesses display the best of Scotland, and we have used every penny at our disposal to reach as many as possible, so that none are forgotten who could have been supported.

As we emerge from lockdown, we won’t stop offering support, as the only Government in the four nations to offer 100% Non Domestic rates reliefs for a full year, and to reduce the rates poundage, so that businesses can protect jobs and recover.

A re-elected SNP Government will put the creation and protection of good, green jobs right at the heart of our economic policy.

We will continue the National Transition Training fund – providing support to anyone facing redundancy or in unemployment to retrain in areas of growth areas of the economy.

Just as responding to Covid-19 has been a collective effort, so economic recovery must also be a national endeavor, empowering everybody to play their part. There has been a disproportionate impact on women and young people, and our election commitments recognize that.

Too few women get the help they need to start out in business, and so we will create a Women’s Business Centre, backed by £50 million of investment over the next parliament, to help create, grow and develop the next generation of women led businesses.

We know the pandemic has had a stark impact on the job prospects of our young people.

Through our Young Person’s Guarantee, we will ensure that every 18-24 is given an opportunity of a job, apprenticeship, education, training or volunteering.

We will make it easier and more affordable for them to get to work by expanding concessionary travel to everyone under the age of 22.

And in recognition of the impact Covid has had on lives and opportunities for young people, particularly those entering the jobs market for the first time, we will increase the age at which young people become eligible for council tax from 18 to 21.

For a young person living alone in a Band B property that will mean an annual saving of around £750.

In a few short weeks the people of Scotland will go to the polls to choose their government.

The next session of the Scottish Parliament will be crucial to Scotland’s recovery.

Some people might say we should put economic recovery before independence. But you can’t have one without the other.

For a strong, robust, green recovery we need independence.

Why? Because quite simply, we know what happened last time the Tories were in charge of economic recovery.

After the crash of 2008, the Tories embarked on a decade of austerity – balancing the books on the backs of the most vulnerable.

In fact, Rishi Sunak the Chancellor is on record as saying that austerity was absolutely right – austerity that delivered the bedroom tax, the undignified welfare system, the painfully slow economic growth and low levels of productivity.

And Labour offer no hope for a change in direction at Westminster.

Austerity will undermine economic recovery, and deepen inequalities.

And the thing is, it doesn’t have to be that way. Scotland has all the natural wealth, the talent and ingenuity and the resilience to do things better.

Our ambitions should be bigger than just mitigating the Tories’ economic incompetence and brutal welfare policies. And, they are.

The strength of our economy

But, be in no doubt: without the powers of independence, it will be a Tory Government that undermines our recovery.

Our country is rich with natural resources, which drives economic growth and raises revenue for our public services.

Take our international renowned food and drink sectors, grown by our farmers and crofters, caught by our fishermen and distilled by experts. From whisky to seafood – we are home to world class produce.

In the last ten years we’ve seen exponential growth in our exports, valued at £6.3bn. Yet, exports have been stymied, and seafood has rotted as it waited to cross the Channel to European customers. Scotland didn’t vote for a Brexit that is harming our global exports, creating layers of bureaucracy and costing us jobs.

Take our wind and rain, which is powering Scotland. Just this week it was announced that our renewable energy met 97% of Scotland’s electricity demand last year. That compares with only 25% in 2010. Our wind and water are keeping the lights on.

Our renewable energy output has quadrupled in the last ten years – that’s enough power for the equivalent of nearly nine million households. Alongside the energy benefits, there are the financial benefits too. Onshore revenues continue to grow in Scotland, rising by over a billion pounds in 19/20.

With the need to decarbonise the way we travel and heat our homes, there is potential to unleash even more of Scotland’s immense renewables potential – driving green growth and creating thousands of jobs.

But that potential is being curtailed by Westminster energy policy. Where a windfarm in Scotland will face a hefty bill for each unit of power exported to the grid – similar producers elsewhere in the UK are paid for the privilege.

We’ve got the resources, but our potential is thwarted. Westminster rule working against the creation of jobs and investment in the renewables sector in Scotland. Holding us back.

When you hear the Tories talk about the broad shoulders of the union, remember this: it isn’t international aid.

Scots pay tax too, but we only get it back when the Tories decide to spend it.

So every time, they crow about how much they are spending in Scotland, remember that we have a right to see our taxes spent in Scotland on priorities that are important to people in Scotland – not a Boris bridge.

Infrastructure investment is one of the key levers at our disposal – and we will use our spending power to drive a robust, green recovery.

Central to this will be continuing the delivery of the National Infrastructure mission – our plan to boost annual infrastructure by 1% of GDP by the end of the next parliament.

This will deliver total investment value of over £33 billion pounds in the next five years, supporting 45,000 jobs in that period, and providing benefits right across Scottish supply chains.

Our capital spending review published in February set our plans for infrastructure – including £2 billion for new schools, £1.2 billion in major rail improvements and over half a billion in our City and Region Deal programme.

And if re-elected we will go further. To inject confidence in our economy, create jobs and deliver infrastructure that works for households and businesses, we are committing to an ambitious programme of investment.

Firstly, we will embark on a ten year programme to deliver 100,000 affordable homes, with 70,000 for social rent – ensuring everybody has a safe, warm home.

Secondly, we’ll establish a £100 million Digital Boost scheme to support small businesses to become fully digitalised and access the benefits and productivity gains of the digital economy.

Thirdly, we will launch a National Challenge competition, providing funding of up to £50 million to the project with the greatest potential to transform Scotland’s economy.

Fourthly, we will invest an additional £500 million over the next parliament to create new, good, green jobs, support people to start and grow a business and re-skill for the jobs of the future.

And lastly, in my part of the world, jobs go hand in hand with population retention. And so to encourage people to move to the Highlands and support entrepreneurs here already, we will create a new, £20 million Rural Entrepreneur Fund – providing grants of up to £10,000 to support the creation of 2,000 new businesses.

I said at the outset, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That light is getting brighter and we will face choices.

As we emerge from lockdown, I am sure that each of us is dreaming about hugging our family, visiting friends and reopening our business. As a country, we should be ambitious about our collective future too.

Scotland’s economic recovery is at the heart of our ambitions. We will commit to using every penny and every power to invest in this country and support businesses to create jobs.

But the bottom line is, that despite all the many strengths of the Scottish economy, we need the full levers of control, if we really want to be more prosperous, more just and fairer.

On the 6th of May the people of Scotland have a choice. With both votes SNP you can elect a government that will put economic recovery and job creation at the heart of everything we do.

That will reject austerity and invest in our economy, our NHS and our public services.

And give the people the opportunity to choose independence and put Scotland’s future -Scotland’s recovery – in Scotland’s hands.

Scotland, we’ve got the people, we’ve got the resources, the only thing we don’t have is the independence to deliver our ambitions.