Business leaders warn Nicola Sturgeon of Covid economic firestorm as she argues indy ref two needed

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Simon Johnson
·3 min read
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A woman walks past a closed pub in The Grassmarket, Edinburgh last year - AFP
A woman walks past a closed pub in The Grassmarket, Edinburgh last year - AFP

Scotland's business leaders have pleaded with Nicola Sturgeon to start paying more attention to the economic devastation wrought by the Covid pandemic as she renewed her demands for a second independence referendum.

Speaking ahead of the First Minister's statement on Tuesday on easing lockdown, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) argued the success of the UK's vaccination programme meant she could allow firms to reopen more quickly.

Tim Allan, the business group's president, warned Ms Sturgeon she needs to put out "a fire raging through this country which has burnt up many small businesses."

Although health factors have dominated the First Minister's decision-making, he said the vaccine roll-out means she could "take a more balanced approach to the economic harm that has hitherto been shown."

Ms Sturgeon insisted that the SNP was "laser-focussed on keeping Scotland safe" but argued that another vote on leaving the UK was needed. Ian Blackford, the SNP's Westminster leader, said last week it could be staged later this year.

She highlighted the success of the Covid vaccination programme but did not mention that Scotland doses were procured by the UK Government, or that her ministers had wanted to join the EU's disastrous programme.

Alex Salmond with Nicola Sturgeon during the 2014 independence referendum campaign - David Gordon / Alamy Stock Photo
Alex Salmond with Nicola Sturgeon during the 2014 independence referendum campaign - David Gordon / Alamy Stock Photo

Ms Sturgeon was accused of keeping the public and businesses in the dark last month when her promised lockdown exit plan turned out to be a very limited easing of restrictions until the end of April only.

Following a backlash, she has since expressed more optimism that the sharp decline in Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths means thet lockdown could be eased more quickly.

But Mr Allan told BBC Scotland's Sunday Show there was "still a tremendous amount of caution dominating government thought around the Cabinet table" about health factors.

He argued that SNP ministers needed to balance "the health harms with the business harms" and warned "the economic harm being done to this country is "deeply scarring and deeply difficult for many businesses."

"There's a fire raging through this country which has burnt up many small businesses across the community, even major businesses are suffering as well," he said.

"And it's got to be put out, and there are some adjustments that can be made to allow that to happen." In particular, he said there must now be a "more nuanced and more flexible" approach to both the hospitality and retail sectors.

A healthcare worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the Pentland Medical Practice, in Currie, Scotland - Reuters
A healthcare worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the Pentland Medical Practice, in Currie, Scotland - Reuters

Ms Sturgeon said the SNP would set out "bold plans" in the upcoming election campaign for rebuilding Scotland including putting "Scotland's future in Scotland's hands" - her euphemism for another independence referendum.

Speaking with three weeks left of the current parliamentary term, and the election campaign starting in earnest, she said the "fundamental question" for Scots was "who has the right to decide the kind of country we should be?".

“Should it be the people who live here or should it be the likes of Boris Johnson? I believe it is for the people of Scotland to decide," she said.

But Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said: "“We will not rebuild Scotland by dividing our country all over again with another referendum, which the SNP want to take place as early as this year.

“The Scottish Conservatives will campaign for a Scottish Parliament 100 per cent focussed on recovering from this health crisis and tackling the looming jobs and economic crisis that faces us all."

Anas Sarwar, the new Scottish Labour leader, said rebuilding Scotland "simply can’t be achieved if she continues with her attempts to divide the people of Scotland by returning to the old arguments."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "“We fully understand the challenges facing many businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, and no-one wants the restrictions in place a moment longer than necessary."