Originally published in the National

Joanna Cherry: Union of Equals would furlough when needed, not wait on England

By Joanna CherryThe Tories are less than enthusiastic when it comes to supporting ordinary people through the crisis


The Tories are less than enthusiastic when it comes to supporting ordinary people through the crisis.

THE attempts by Scottish Tories to benefit from this week’s furlough fiasco would be laughable if we weren’t talking about people’s livelihoods. The shambles that have occurred is no way to run a country let alone a supposed union of equals. While Scottish ministers are trying to take important strategic decisions to protect public health the Scottish Tories are more interested in trying to ensure Douglas Ross gets a win and puts out a zinger of a tweet. It was tragi-comic to observe how his efforts failed and such glory as he managed to obtain didn’t even last 12 hours. The efforts of David Mundell to pull off the same “feat” the next day were truly pathetic.

Finally, yesterday, with the PM pantomiming false joviality at his side (he’s obviously been to the same acting school as Ross, Mundell and Ronald Villiers), Rishi Sunak announced an extension of the furlough scheme until the end of March next year. He did so trumpeting the “strength of the Union” and the importance of “reassuring people in Scotland”, etc. But the damage has been done. Everyone knows that this is a decision to which the UK Government has been dragged kicking and screaming and that without an England-wide lockdown it would never have happened.

For many jobs and businesses, the announcement came too late. Had the UK Government been a step ahead rather than a step behind of what is happening, had they listened to the SNP, jobs and businesses could have been saved.

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As Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, pointed out, this kind of support is not unique to the UK and many countries have done it more competently and generously than the UK. Plus, there are still three million people across the UK excluded from support because of their employment status.

It should come as no surprise to us that the Tories are less than enthusiastic when it comes to supporting ordinary people through the crisis. This is a government and a party which was content to deny children in England free school meals during the half-term break, even if it meant some of them would go hungry. At the same time, they are showering companies run by their mates with millions of pounds under dodgy contracts. Under cover of the pandemic the Tories have ditched any pretence of open recruitment and procurement processes. Thank goodness the Good Law Project is currently pursuing some of these contracts through the courts.

Earlier this week my colleague, Richard Thomson, MP for Gordon, coined the phrase #Cronyvirus and set a new hashtag running when he referred to reports that Kate Bingham, the head of the vaccine taskforce showed official sensitive government documents to an event for US venture capitalists. Meantime the scandal over the appointment of Dido Harding as head of the failing English Test and Trace system rumbles on. Both women are married to Tory MPs. Harding is a mate of David Cameron from Oxford days. Bingham went to school with Johnson’s sister whilst her hubby was Eton chums with Boris. Neither had to go through a competitive process to get their jobs. Frankly, it stinks. Anyone who thinks these people play by the rules is either deluded or naïve.

Scotland has been calling for a full furlough extension, and the devolution of financial powers, for more than six months now – but the Tories have refused to listen and failed to act. When Scotland needed full furlough support Westminster said no. Let’s not kid ourselves. It was only when Johnson was convinced that the south of England needed to lock down that this money was forthcoming.

In a union of equals, one would expect additional financial support to be available when needed not just when the larger partner of the Union deemed it necessary for itself. If the Tories are the defenders of the Union then why couldn’t they give the certainty needed to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that the same furlough guarantee was available to be drawn upon when needed without all this messing about? Instead, as Douglas Chapman noted in the Commons on Monday, the English tail is wagging the UK dog.

In fact, it’s the South East of England that is determining the Tories’ strategy just as it always does when it comes to the economy. After the events of the last few weeks England’s northern regions can be in no doubt that this Tory Government despises the limited amount of devolution it has granted to the English north as much if not more than Scotland’s Parliament and Wales’ Senedd. Anyone suggesting that further English devolution or federalism is a way to fix the Union is kidding themselves. Worse still they are kidding voters in Scotland. It takes two to tango. Federalism has been promised so many times without delivery that it become a running joke. Fortunately, recent polls suggest most Scots aren’t interested in hanging about waiting for something that will never be delivered and which no-one in a position of power at Westminster is interested in making actually work.

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The inevitable conclusion from this week’s deplorable carry-on is that these people are absolutely not to be trusted. But then we knew that already.

ALL this toing and froing to get the details tied down of something which should be have been a given in any functional union is exactly what Mike Russell has experienced in his dealings with the British Government during the Brexit negotiations. There is no reason to doubt that this nonsense will continue. Indeed, it is the shape of things to come. And so, I return to a point that has been the theme of this column for some time. In order to escape a situation in which we are dependent on the Tories largesse with our own money it would be best not to be dependent on their largesse to grant us the means to realise our right to full self-government.

It is not prudent to stake the strategy for delivering an independence vote on the assumption that once another mandate is in the bag Boris Johnson will do the right thing.

The SNP must have a fallback strategy to deal with delay and obfuscation when we ask again for a Section 30 order. I reiterate my hope that the NEC to be elected at this year’s SNP conference will make sure that such a strategy is devised and in place before next year’s election.

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