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Pamela Nash: Coronavirus outbreak show benefits of being part of the UK

This article first appeared on on 07/07/2021

Recent weeks have clearly shown the benefits of both Scotland being a part of the UK and devolution.

There has been an unprecedented level of UK financial support to protect people’s income during this difficult period, while decisions on Scotland’s response to the virus have been made here in Scotland.

However, it has felt sadly inevitable that arguments over Scotland’s constitutional future would return to the fore.

The coronavirus pandemic may have forced the SNP to put its campaign for a second referendum on hold, but that couldn’t stop senior nationalist politicians focusing all their energy on dividing Scots once again.

Predictably, it was fanatical figures such as MPs Angus MacNeil and Joanna Cherry who were first out of the blocks, prioritising their goal of separation over our economic plight and the ongoing public health crisis.

They were, rightly, largely ignored at first while the country focused on what really matters.

But the drumbeat has become louder in recent days.

Insults at border

This culminated in the First Minister openly talking up the prospect of somehow closing the border with England.

Despite her claims this was entirely based on a public health argument, it is clear she sees this through a constitutional prism.

All that matters to Nicola Sturgeon is being able to distract from the SNP’s failure to get PPE to the frontline, an excess mortality rate that is among the highest in the world, and a testing rate that is one of the worst in Europe.

The hardcore minority of Scottish nationalists who shouted insults at drivers from England last weekend have rightly been condemned from across the political spectrum.

But would they have been there if Nicola Sturgeon hadn’t ramped up her rhetoric about borders? No.

And while we can ignore the offensive antics of a few ultra-nationalists, widespread talk of borders by government ministers has already had a negative impact on our economy.

There have been reports of English holidaymakers seeking refunds, and deep concern from the tourism industry as it struggles to recover from coronavirus.

Neighbours helping each other

Yet rather than showcasing our beautiful country, some in the SNP would rather pull up the drawbridge.

That metaphorical drawbridge would be transformed into a hard border checkpoint should the SNP ever gets its way and Scotland leaves the UK.

The devastating impact of that on Scotland’s businesses doesn’t bear thinking about and would mean more than just economic pain – it would put a barrier between our families and friends in England.

If we can take any positives from the coronavirus outbreak, it’s the way that it has brought people together in every nation of the UK – whether that was neighbours helping each other on their street, or whether it was the whole country coming together to support our dedicated NHS staff and care workers.

When we all clapped those on the frontline last Sunday evening, the theme was ‘Together’.

This theme must run through every aspect of our politics in the months and years ahead as we recover from this catastrophe.

Economy and NHS are the priorities

We face a deep recession with hundreds of thousands of people’s jobs at risk. Every day, we hear on the news about another high street name making drastic cutbacks.

Our cherished NHS remains under pressure. There is much room for improvement in the Scottish Government’s response to the pandemic, and mistakes cannot be repeated if there is a second wave or a future outbreak.

The economy and the NHS must be the priorities; it is clear in poll after poll that this is what the people of Scotland want politicians to focus on.

Yes, if asked, they will give their views on the constitution, but only a small minority believe it should be the government’s priority.

This matters because we are now just ten months away from the next Holyrood elections.

Already, senior SNP figures are talking up the prospect of a mandate for another divisive independence referendum.

This fails to acknowledge the basic fact that people vote in elections on a huge range of topics.

But it also begs the question: at this perilous moment as we continue to battle the effects of an unprecedented public health crisis, do we really want our next election to be a referendum on another referendum?

Broad shoulders of the UK

Do we really want the constitutional debate to dominate the campaign rather than debating people’s jobs or the future of our NHS?

Whether it’s Angus MacNeil’s ‘Plan B’ to use the election to declare independence, or MP Pete Wishart’s proposal to ask the EU to support another referendum, this is not the time to divide Scotland yet again.

The next five years require a laser-like focus from the Scottish Government on economic recovery.

And there is not a scrap of evidence which suggests that leaving the UK would be positive for Scotland’s economy – quite the opposite, as the SNP’s own misnamed ‘growth commission’ confirmed.

Instead, as part of the UK, the broad shoulders of being part of something bigger has helped every worker and business during these difficult times.

Across Scotland, 628,000 people have had their jobs protected by being furloughed through the coronavirus job retention scheme, and an additional 146,000 self-employed jobs have been saved.

UK spending in Scotland to help the fight against coronavirus has topped £10 billion, and in the last few days an additional £97 million to support theatres, concert venues, museums and galleries.

The next five years need to be about building on these measures so that our economy recovers – not on reopening old divisions.

And whatever you think of Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s future is not about the performance of any single politician – it’s about bringing our communities together and working in the interests of every citizen.

You cannot build a successful country by dividing its people.

Let’s focus on what we have in common; not what divides us.

Pamela Nash, Chief Executive of Scotland in Union.


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