Why Scotland must not return to independence debate after Covid – Ian Murray MP

Scotland needs to fix its economy, not return to debates about independence, says Ian Murray (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)Scotland needs to fix its economy, not return to debates about independence, says Ian Murray (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
Scotland needs to fix its economy, not return to debates about independence, says Ian Murray (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
Dire economic warnings mean that Scotland’s politicians must make saving people’s jobs and investing in public services their priority for the foreseeable future, writes Ian Murray MP.

Scotland faces the most severe economic downturn in modern times. That is the dire warning from financial services giant KPMG, predicting a ‘lasting mark’ on the economy following the coronavirus lockdown, with ‘crippling’ levels of unemployment.

Edinburgh is the driver of Scotland’s economy, but our city is expected to suffer a 6.4 per cent fall in output this year. This is devastating for so many livelihoods. Tourism is such an important part of our economy and it’s clear it will be some time before that industry can recover. If at all.

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The Scottish Government needs to do much more to help businesses. Right from the start, the SNP administration has failed to understand the impact on independent local traders which are the lifeblood of our economy. It was belatedly forced into a U-turn when grants were originally restricted to one per firm rather than per premise.

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And in May my colleague Jackie Baillie MSP revealed that almost half a billion pounds of business support funding allocated to the Scottish Government was still unused. One measure that needs taken right now is immediate financial support for zoos struggling to cope with costs during Covid-19 closures.

Edinburgh Zoo has appealed directly to the government for help, warning it faces financial disaster if it remains closed over the summer. A £14m Zoo and Aquarium Support Fund has been made available to licenced zoos and aquariums in England, but the Scottish Government has not created a similar support package here.

But it’s not just employers who need help. The looming recession will dramatically increase poverty in our city, at a time when too many children are already growing up in deprivation. Yet the Scottish Government has chosen to delay the publication of the 2019-20 Progress Report on Child Poverty, which casts doubt on SNP’s claim to treat child poverty as a top priority. The date of publication is now unknown. I’ll take a rough stab and guess we won’t see it until after the next election like the education review.

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It should reverse this decision and make tackling poverty a top priority – handing a fair deal to Edinburgh City Council so that it can take action at a local level through local services. Our city is also facing a double whammy of economic pain with the increasing risk that we exit the Brexit transition period without a trade deal.

Over a quarter of jobs in Edinburgh and West Lothian are in banking, finance and manufacturing – the sectors deemed most severely exposed to a double economic hit. The UK Government must keep its promise to secure a good “oven ready” trade deal, and if it can’t then it will have to ask for an extension to the Brexit transition period.

With so many challenges ahead of us, it’s clear what the priority of both governments must be: tackling poverty and rebuilding our economy. We can’t go back to the old politics of division. Extraordinarily though, that is what some SNP politicians want to do. They want to re-open the independence debate at this time.

I find it a gross insult to the people of Scotland to even contemplate devoting years of government time and resources to a second independence referendum when people face losing their jobs. I can’t comprehend why some want to divide us at a time when we all need to look out for each other and work together.

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Following a meeting of Scottish Labour’s executive committee last weekend, which I am a member of, our party will be going into the next election with a clear commitment to reject separation and we will instead focus relentlessly on improving our NHS and economy. The things that matter to you. Investing in public services and saving people’s jobs must be at the forefront of politics for the foreseeable future. If we end up in another constitutional row that splits Scotland into winners and losers once again, we will all lose.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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