Nicola Sturgeon claimed relaxing the Covid-19 two-metre social distancing rule would cost lives as she faced questions over a “tidal wave” of Scottish job losses.
At First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon was urged to take action to protect the hundreds of jobs at risk including those at the Crieff Hydro group, Forfar’s Don and Low and Fishers in Perth.
The economic damage was raised by Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie as the leading SNP economist Andrew Wilson appeared to suggest that the two metre-rule should be eased “to get the balance right for jobs”.
1m distancing rule: China, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Lithuania, Singapore. 1.4m South Korea 1.5m Australia, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal. What are they getting so wrong? Time to get the balance right! Jobs matter for health matters for jobs.
— Andrew Wilson (@AndrewWilson) June 9, 2020
Mr Wilson, a former SNP MSP, was the economist who wrote the SNP’s Growth Commission, the party’s 2017 blueprint for Scottish independence that was commissioned by the first minister.
After Mr Wilson suggested changing the two-metre rule, the subject was brought up by North East MSP Mike Rumbles, who quoted World Health Organisation advice suggesting one metre was safe.
People can die and that’s why I’m not prepared to be reckless about any of it.”
Ms Sturgeon maintained that all the advice she had received was against making the change, although she would continue to monitor the situation.
She said she would not “depart from a careful and methodical consideration” of the issue. But she warned that if a “wrong” decision was made “people can die and that’s why I’m not prepared to be reckless about any of it”.
Ms Sturgeon admitted the economic emergency facing Scotland was “colossal” and raised the prospect of more companies being nationalised by the government in order to save jobs.
Mr Rennie pointed to data suggesting one in 10 workers could be out of a job this year.
He pointed out 700 positions were under threat at Rolls-Royce in Renfrew. A further 200 were at risk in the Perthshire-based Crieff Hydro hotel chain.
There were, Mr Rennie pointed out, also 1,000 jobs at risk at Oval energy including in Perth, Selkirk and Glasgow.
“This tidal wave might last for three years. I want to know if the government is ready,” Mr Rennie said.
The First Minister responded: “The economic emergency we face is colossal, just like the health emergency we’ve been dealing with is colossal.
“We’ve been very clear all along that the health emergency very quickly led to an economic one and we have been planning for that almost from the start of this.”
She said a Cabinet sub-committee has been discussing the economy since the start of the crisis and a report from an advisory group chaired by Benny Higgins is due to publish its report in the coming weeks.
My fear is that the tidal wave is overtaking the advisory group and the work that the First Minister has just set out. This is urgent. We need an urgent plan right now.”
Ms Sturgeon added she had contacted the chief executive of Rolls-Royce and will also speak to the Scottish Tourism Alliance about the job losses.
Mr Rennie said: “My fear is that the tidal wave is overtaking the advisory group and the work that the First Minister has just set out.
“This is urgent. We need an urgent plan right now.”
The Lib Dem leader called for government-backed jobs schemes, a Universal Basic Income, investment in transport, energy, construction and colleges.
He also asked if the Scottish Government would intervene in the way that it had nationalised Prestwick Airport and the Ferguson shipyard on the Clyde.
Ms Sturgeon said the government would consider such moves, while acknowledging there would be “difficult decisions” about which companies would be saved.
“The Scottish Government has always shown a willingness to do that (intervene) when we can satisfy state aid constraints and satisfy ourselves that we can satisfy the public that there is value for taxpayers’ money. And we will continue to be as interventionist as we possibly can be,” Ms Sturgeon said.