The recent issues regarding furlough provision in Scotland prove that Scotland is an afterthought as far as the UK Government is concerned.
During the initial lockdown, the furlough scheme preserved 374,000 Scottish jobs according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). This shows that the furlough scheme was essential to protect Scottish jobs.
As countries around the world begin to enter restrictions similar to those that took place during the spring, furlough must be re-introduced to protect jobs. The SNP has always advocated for the UK Government to extend the furlough scheme beyond the initial October deadline, or to give the Scottish Parliament the financial power to do so itself.
Unsurprisingly, these calls fell on deaf ears in Westminster – until it became clear that further lockdown measures would be necessary in the south of England. At the same press conference in which an England-only lockdown was announced, so too was an extension to furlough across the UK – for at least as long as a lockdown continued in England.
However, it is still not clear if the furlough scheme would continue in the devolved nations if a lockdown was to become necessary outside of England only. This is despite inquiries from the press, Scottish cabinet secretary for finance Kate Forbes, and first minister Nicola Sturgeon. This is vital as COVID cases in Scotland – as across Europe – are unfortunately rising rapidly.
Aside from all the political theatrics of the past few days, let’s take a step back to consider the consequences of this uncertainty for the Scottish people. In short, this may mean that Scotland could be obligated to go into a lockdown sooner than necessary, in order to access the furlough scheme to project jobs. Conversely, it means that the UK Government will put Scottish jobs at risk if a Scottish lockdown is deemed necessary at a time when the furlough scheme is not available. Further to this, if the Scottish Government should judge that a lockdown is not feasible in the absence of a furlough scheme, then the over-reaching power of the UK Government may have put public health in Scotland at risk.
This is why the SNP will continue to push for definitive clarity on this issue from the UK government, not just warm words from senior Tory politicians.