Everyone’s focus must be on recovery and not constitution, says Chancellor

Now is not the time to discuss Scottish independence, the Chancellor has said on a trip north of the border.

Following a visit to generator manufacturers Peak Scientific in Glasgow on Friday morning, Rishi Sunak said he believes Scotland is one of the UK’s “power brands” in the tourism sector and could drive the recovery of the whole country.

The Chancellor – the fourth UK Cabinet minister to visit Scotland in recent weeks – also said new fiscal powers for the Scottish Parliament should be decided in a “proper way” through a review of the fiscal framework. That is the agreement between the UK and Scottish governments on funding arrangements.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak visits Scotland
Chancellor Rishi Sunak visits Scotland

Mr Sunak said: “I don’t think now is the time to be talking about these constitutional questions, I think everyone’s sole focus and my sole focus right now is doing what we can to protect people’s jobs and their livelihoods at what is an incredibly difficult time for our economy.

“That’s what I think everyone should be focused on, let’s not focus on these divisive constitutional questions, let’s focus on rebuilding for the future.”

The Chancellor echoed the sentiment expressed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson when asked about Scottish independence, saying the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of the union to Scotland and how it will prove just as important in the economic recovery to come.

He added: “Tourism is a really important industry for the United Kingdom and Scotland is one of our power brands when it comes to UK tourism, and Scotland can help drive our recovery in that regard.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak

“Which is why the UK initiatives like ‘eat out to help out’ or the VAT reduction for tourism and hospitality can disproportionately benefit the Scottish economy and Scottish jobs and in doing so help drive the UK recovery.”

As the Chancellor visited Glasgow, Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said on Twitter she doubts his understanding of the urgency for more fiscal powers for the Scottish Parliament – something that has been requested several times during the pandemic.

Ms Forbes said most of the new powers sought would not cost the Treasury a penny, and claimed Mr Sunak therefore “either doesn’t care… or it’s purely a political position”.

Constitution Secretary Mike Russell has said extending the borrowing powers of the Scottish Parliament could lead to the furlough scheme in Scotland continuing past the October cancellation date.

And as a reminder, most of our requests won't cost the Treasury a penny – so either he doesn't care (Scotland isn't high enough on his list of priorities), or its purely a political position (Tory ideology will trump good sense.)

— Kate Forbes MSP (@KateForbesMSP) August 7, 2020

In response, Mr Sunak said: “I strongly want our fiscal framework to work well, and we’re happy to be constructive on that.

“The fiscal framework is big and important and should only be changed after a proper process, that process is due to happen, I think, next year.

“There should be a time-frame for those things and I think those time-frames have been set out for a while and are being adhered to.

“We will approach those constructively, as our track record demonstrates.”