Columnist Brian Wilson and Finance Secretary Katie Forbes.
The Brian Wilson column
The Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, has learned fast in the school of hard grievance, as a radio interview last week confirmed.
Ms Forbes was exceptionally exercised by the UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, postponing his budget. Economists seemed to regard that as predictable and sensible, but Ms Forbes portrayed it as a constitutional and fiscal outrage.
Without a UK budget, she complained, how could she set a Scottish budget without knowing how many additional billions will be heading north via the Barnett Formula?
“Quite a few” is the answer though the precise reason for not having a Budget is that nobody knows how the coming months will play out. Not much to get indignant about there, in Scotland or anywhere else.
It would be more useful to tell us what has happened to the billions already added to Edinburgh’s revenue in response to the pandemic. Where is the check-list of exciting initiatives, shovel-ready projects, community-led work programmes…? We wait in vain.
There was one interesting phrase in the midst of Ms Forbes’ prolonged girn. “We need to make (health-related) decisions with no detriment to jobs”,” she said. In other words, close things down while paying the wages of those out of work as a result. There is in that scenario no need for a trade-off between health measures (justified or otherwise) and the economy.
The same approach was enunciated by Nicola Sturgeon who informed us she would have closed the hospitality industry altogether if the furlough scheme was continuing. This strikes me as an undesirable strategy, furlough scheme or not, which shows little understanding of how society works.
People need to live their lives within sensible parameters. Businesses need to operate rather than endure prolonged limbo. Consideration must be given to other health consequences. None of that figures prominently in the Scottish Government’s priorities.
The same approach permeates much of what we are being told to do. The default position is to ban this or that. The consequences of these actions are entirely secondary and when chickens come home to roost, it will be someone else’s fault.
The blanket ten o’clock curfew on pubs and restaurants falls into that category. I heard an Edinburgh publican say it will cut takings by 25 per cent and he made a simple request: “Show us the evidence” of net health benefit from the curfew (which will inevitably lead to far more late night socialising in unregulated environments).
I suspect he will still be waiting for “the evidence” when the pandemic is over and, quite possibly, his business gone bust. Ditto, the ridiculous ban on even low level sound in pubs and restaurants which, I’m told, doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.
Another example of careless talk costing jobs was Ms Sturgeon telling Scots not to travel abroad, full stop. What was the point of these green lists, which still represent the official position, when they can be overtaken by an edict which the Scottish travel industry described as a ”body-blow” causing “chaos and confusion”?
Throughout the summer, we were relentlessly sold the line that Scotland was doing things so much better and was on course for an elimination strategy delivering by Christmas. The point of this was largely political – to drive distinction and generate stupid talk about borders. But it also contributed to complacency.
Much better if that time had been spent on the hard work of testing, tracking and tracing. Yet four fifths of Scots have never been tested while the number of “trackers” is still fewer than half the 2000 promised in June.
It seems incredible that with six months to think about it, students arriving in crowded campus accommodation were not tested. That is a dangerous and avoidable shambles but it is apiece with the general failure to give the test, track and trace mantra priority.
Instead of demanding powers and money to close down more of normal life, conducted in safe and responsible environments, we need to face up to reality – further restrictions are capable of doing harm rather than good and more Scots are getting wise to that.
SCOTTISH RENEWABLES JOBS GO EVERYWHERE BUT TO SCOTLAND
The latest blows to Scottish jobs from the lamentable failure to win work from multi-billion offshore wind projects should not pass unnoticed.
In particular, the decision by Scottish and Southern Energy to place the contract for the Seagreen windfarm with an American company which will build platforms for turbines in China and the UAE deserves only contempt.
SSE – whose loyalty to its home base is now precisely zero – advise us primly that it “worked hard to ensure some of the work went to a Scottish contractor, but the price gap between the Chinese and Scottish yards was just too big”.
So how big was too big within the context of a massively profitable, consumer-subsidised project and were no other considerations in play? Once again, the inability of the Scottish Government to exercise leverage is truly dismal.
Seagreen was the last hope for Arnish yard in Lewis to win work from current projects and a campaign has been mounted to save it. BiFab in Fife might get some crumbs from the other big project, but it is all a far cry from Salmond’s “Saudi Arabia of renewables’ creating 28,000 jobs by 2020.
For that to have any connection with reality, there needed to be investment over the past decade in infrastructure to allow Scotland to claim a substantial part of the loaf.
The failure to pursue that course genuinely astonishes me and confirms we simply have no industrial strategy. Coupled with the Scottish Government’s hopeless failure to play the many cards it holds, it means our renewables boom will continue to create jobs … in China, UAE, Denmark, Spain, Germany. But precious few in Scotland.