FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon challenges Willie Rennie over UBI hypocrisy

SCOTLAND’S First Minister has urged Willie Rennie to back further fiscal powers for Holyrood if he wants to see a universal basic income (UBI) implemented.

The Scottish LibDem leader has expressed interest in the policy, which sees every citizen given a guaranteed sum of money regardless or their means and removes the need for other welfare measures, and said since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic the case for it is “growing”. The LibDems’ 2019 autumn conference also backed holding pilots of a UBI scheme.

However Rennie has not given his support to Scottish Government calls for more fiscal powers to be devolved in the wake of the major Covid-19 crisis. Yesterday the Finance Secretary Kate Forbes warned there may need to be “deep cuts” if Holyrood is not granted further borrowing powers to help it tackle the economic consequences of the pandemic.

READ MORE: Covid-19: First Minister says ‘time has come’ for UBI in Scotland

Speaking during First Minister’s Questions, Rennie asked Sturgeon if her government is prepared for the economic fallout of lockdown and social distancing implementation – and asked how ministers will decide which companies to save and which to let go if they fall into financial difficulties.

The SNP leader said it is “right” to await the recommendations of the economic recovery group before speculating, and stressed the Scottish Government has “always shown a willingness” to directly intervene in companies, adding they will “continue to be as interventionist as we possibly can”.

But she went on to say there are other ways to tackle the impending economic issues.

Sturgeon said: “Universal basic income which Willie Rennie and I have exchanged views on in this Chamber in recent weeks. I am a supporter of that, I have long been interested in the concept, I think the case for it has been immeasurably strengthened by the crisis we’re living through, but this Parliament does not have the powers to introduce a universal basic income on its own, unfortunately because so much of welfare and tax responsibilities are still reserved to Westminster.

READ MORE: Holyrood will make ‘deep cuts’ without new financial powers

“Therefore there is a very real discussion that we also all have to engage in, whether it’s about borrowing powers or tax and welfare powers, about the ability of this Parliament, whether collectively we should be coming together to make the case for additional powers to lie here to equip us better to deal with the economic challenge that lies ahead.

“So I hope on some of this, and I mean this sincerely, Willie Rennie, particularly on things like UBI will not end here but will also join with me in willing us to have the means to deliver those ends because that’s going to be really important in the weeks and months to come.”

Sturgeon said earlier in the pandemic that she is hoping for “constructive” talks with the UK Government on the implementation of a universal basic income in Scotland.

Speaking at a May government briefing, she said: “The experience of the virus and the economic consequences of that have actually made me much, much more strongly of the view that it is an idea that’s time has come.”

The Conservative Government, however, has repeatedly denied that such a policy would be the right move.

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