Scotland faces a choice of two futures

With Scotland’s vaccine roll-out powering ahead, and lockdown measures gradually easing, attention is turning to the economic recovery from covid-19 – and the question of what sort of country we should be after the pandemic.

This week, I set out the SNP’s five-point plan to kickstart a strong, fair and green recovery – outlining our priorities ahead of the UK Budget.

Above all, it is essential that the Chancellor rules out a return to Tory austerity cuts and delivers a major fiscal stimulus of at least £98billion, the equivalent of five per cent of GDP, to lay the foundations of an investment-led recovery.

The UK has suffered the worst slump of any major economy. Millions of families have seen their incomes slashed, UK unemployment has risen to 5.1%, and there over 700,000 fewer people in work than this time last year.

This damage has been compounded by Boris Johnson’s extreme Brexit, which has already cost Scotland’s economy an estimated £3.94billion and is projected to cost every person the equivalent of £1,600 as Scottish businesses and communities are hit by added costs, red tape and barriers to trade with our European neighbours.

If we are to avoid a protracted downturn, the UK government must boost it like Biden. In the United States, President Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package to restart and renew the American economy. Instead of imposing more damaging cuts, the Tories must match this scale of ambition.

We know there is still some way to go before covid restrictions will be fully lifted, so the first priority for investment must be delivering the immediate support that people, businesses and public services need to get to the other side of this crisis.

This renewed financial package must extend the furlough scheme in full and plug the serious gaps in support – including help for the three million people who have shamefully been excluded. Many self-employed and freelance workers have received no help from Westminster over the past year. That must finally change.

There must also be more fundamental changes in our society too. The coronavirus crisis has exposed the deep inequalities that exist under the broken Westminster system. A decade of Tory cuts has pushed millions of people into poverty and taken money away from public services.

While the pandemic has been hard on all of us, it has thrown into sharp relief the disparities between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in our society, and the weaknesses in a welfare safety net decimated by the Tories. Many families are on the breadline, struggling to get by, and will be left with mounting debts racked up to cover the essentials like rent, food and bills.

It should shame Tory ministers that 4.2million children in the UK are now living in poverty – including 1.3million babies and children under five. If we want to build a fairer society then we must embody the spirit of 1945 and maximise investment to deliver real change.

Instead, the Tories appear to have learnt nothing from this pandemic. They want to cement inequality by returning to business as usual. While family budgets are squeezed, Rishi Sunak has been demanding cuts to Universal Credit. While frontline workers have got us through this crisis, the Chancellor wants to impose a public sector pay freeze as their reward.

It is increasingly clear that Scotland faces a choice of two futures. Another decade of Tory cuts and the long-term damage of Brexit at Westminster – or the opportunity to protect our place in Europe and build a fairer and more prosperous society as an independent country.

If we want to make meaningful changes, then we need the full powers that other independent countries are already utilising. The power to invest in our economy and create jobs, to introduce a real Living Wage and raise sick pay, to protect the welfare safety net and enhance it.

The question at the heart of the Scottish election in May will be this: who has the right to decide what sort of country we should be after the pandemic – people in Scotland or Boris Johnson? Who do we trust most to deliver a fair recovery – ourselves or Westminster?

With both votes SNP we can deliver a strong, fair and green recovery and put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s.