Scottish Government 'cannot rule out' Scotland lockdown amid calls for furlough clarity

The deputy first minister has said it would be “foolish” to rule out a return to full lockdown in Scotland, amid cross-party calls to guarantee future furlough support from Westminster.

John Swinney said it would be "foolish" to rule out another lockdown in Scotland
John Swinney said it would be "foolish" to rule out another lockdown in Scotland

John Swinney said he was not surprised by Boris Johnson’s move to put England into lockdown from Thursday and said he could not categorically rule out the Scottish government abandoning their new levels system introduced today at 6am.

The new measures will see different parts of Scotland subject to a differing severity of restrictions depending on the prevalence of Covid-19. Much of the central belt will be in Level Three, with other areas in Level Two and parts of the Highlands and islands in Level One.

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It came as the SNP and Scottish Conservatives united in calls for the UK Government to guarantee full furlough payments would be available to Scottish businesses if Scotland has to enter a lockdown.

Asked whether he could categorically rule out Scotland returning to a national lockdown, the deputy first minister said he could not do so.

Mr Swinney said: “I can’t categorically rule that out, no, and it would be foolish to do so because we do face a very serious situation.

"We took the scientific advice that was given to us in September and we applied restrictions right away, we have not been able to visit other households in Scotland in any part of the country since September 22 and indeed in some parts of Scotland, in Glasgow and the West of Scotland, people have not been able to visit in each other’s houses since the early part of September.

"We have taken early steps to try to stem the increase of coronavirus based on the scientific advice that was given to us and have acted promptly.

"But I cannot rule out the possibility of other measures or indeed a national lockdown being required should the circumstances arise.

The deputy first minister added that the Scottish government “hoped” the restrictions in place already in Scotland and the ones imposed today “will be enough” to avoid a national lockdown but said it must “remain one of the possibilities that exist for us”.

Asked whether any future lockdown would be possible or whether it would undermine the levels system, Mr Swinney said the Scottish government had “great confidence” in the levels system.

He said: “There is very significant difference in the prevalence of coronavirus in Scotland in general compared to England and a very significant difference between different parts of Scotland.

"The Highlands and Islands and Moray is in a very different category and level compared to West and Central Scotland because the prevalence is so much lower.

"The time that we’ve taken to bear down on the virus over the course of the last two months has put us into, in general, a stronger position compared to the situation that prevails in England today.

"Also within Scotland we have significant differentials in the level of the virus which enables us to operate with varying degrees of restrictions within the country.

“The crucial thing is that everybody must comply with the restrictions in place in their own locality so we can continue to bear down on the virus.”

On Saturday, Nicola Sturgeon welcomed confirmation from the UK Government that the full furlough scheme – which was due to end and be replaced by the Job Support Scheme on October 31 – would cover all four nations of the UK for another month.

However she said that it was important to clarify whether the same level of funding would be available in the future for Scotland if the country required a similar lockdown to the one facing England.

That call was echoed by Mr Swinney who said the devolved nations were told a “very firm no” when they asked for an extension to furlough in September.

Mr Swinney added: “It’s a matter of concern that the issues we’ve faced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were just disregarded by the UK Government, but it’s a welcome measure that it is now back on the table.

"What we need to know is the circumstances in which furlough payments are going to be available.

"Are they only going to be available when England has got a problem or will they be available at all times, in all parts of the UK when we all at different stages face difficulties and have to apply restrictions.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross echoed calls from the SNP for the funding to be guaranteed, tweeting it "must be there” and that it must not be a request but “it simply has to be done”.

In a keynote speech the Moray MP will give at Policy Exchange today, Mr Ross will say that Scotland must be treated in the same way as England in future decisions about furlough.

He will say: “Now that the scheme has been extended to cover the impact of a second lockdown in England, how could a Unionist government not restart the scheme if a second lockdown is required in Scotland?

“We all hope that by following the guidance and doing the right thing, a second Scottish lockdown will not be necessary.

“But if it is, the UK Government must treat Scotland the same way as England. That guarantee has to be made immediately.”

A Treasury spokesman responded: “Mr Ross is right that this crisis has underlined the importance of the Union.

“Our extension of the furlough scheme until December is just one part of our £200 billion support package, which has protected jobs and helped millions of people across the UK continue to provide for their families.

“As we have throughout this crisis, we will continue to listen and respond to people’s concerns as the situation demands.”

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