IT seems like every day in Westminster is like another episode of ‘Carry on up the Commons’ and Scottish Questions today was no different. It’s supposed to be an opportunity to raise issues specifically relating to Scotland that impact our Scottish constituents, to stand up for their rights, ensure their voices are heard and that they get answers on how Westminster is serving them.
The reality and today’s shambolic performance couldn’t be further from that. The Scottish people deserve answers to the questions posed to the Conservative Government on their behalf – what they don’t deserve is the utter contempt shown to them on almost every occasion. Today for example; Scottish Secretary of State Alister Jack was asked: “What discussions has he had with the chancellor on the economic support available for Scottish businesses during the covid-19 outbreak?” Not a difficult question, not one designed to trip him up, just a simple query about support for businesses in Scotland. Mr Jack couldn’t give an answer. Not because he didn’t know the answer, but because he forgot to bring the answer with him. Yes, you heard me correctly. Despite having sight of the questions in advance and access to a team of researchers and civil servants paid for by the taxpayer to write the answer for him, he forgot to bring it. This is simply the latest in an increasingly lengthening line of disrespectful and arrogant responses to Scotland and its totally unacceptable.
It’s not just the Scottish Secretary at fault. His colleague the Chancellor said he would “do whatever it takes” to protect the economy, but he, Mr Jack and the rest of the ministers are now presiding over a winter of redundancies while the Scottish Secretary shows contempt for Scotland by not even preparing an answer to a pre-published question. Scrapping the UK Budget without having the courtesy to notify the Scottish Government or the other devolved administrations shows how Scotland is treated with utter contempt by Boris Johnson and his cabinet. As does the decision to extend furlough across UK only once it became apparent that the south of England needed it. They couldn’t even give us a straight answer on that either, instead they ended tripping each other up, a comedy of errors it seems to be.
WATCH: Alister Jack stuns MPs as he ‘forgets’ answer at Scottish Questions
Tens of thousands of jobs are at stake across the UK and there are millions of self-employed workers who have been excluded from meaningful support, falling through gaps in the support packages – and thousands of those people are in Scotland. The number of workers in Scotland fell by 15,000 in the first three months of lockdown and around 11,000 are still looking for work. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 124,000 people (16-64) are unemployed, that’s 4.5% of the workforce. The truth is that the vast majority of Scotland’s tax and spending decisions are still taken at Westminster but the UK Government’s approach demonstrates time and again that Scotland remains, at best, an afterthought. It also underlines the urgent case for Holyrood having complete control of all economic decisions and Scotland to be Independent as soon as possible.
Scotland shouldn’t have to wait for Westminster. Where we have power, the SG has spent £4bn on COVID and for businesses it is more than £2.3 billion – above the Barnett consequentials. But our hands are tightly bound; Holyrood’s financial powers are simply too small to protect jobs. And that’s all before Brexit. The Conservative government’s mismanagement of both Brexit and the pandemic combined with its arrogant and often careless approach is a perfect storm – and hapless, unprepared Alister Jack has left his umbrella at home and come to work with his shoelaces untied.