Row over SNP's £500 'thank you' to health and care workers shifted focus from the priority: saving jobs – Ian Murray

Only the SNP could turn a gift to health workers into a constitutional fight.

The SNP’s belated £500 ‘thank you’ is welcome, but proper and permanent pay rises for public-sector workers is a more pressing need, says Ian Murray MP (Picture: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)
The SNP’s belated £500 ‘thank you’ is welcome, but proper and permanent pay rises for public-sector workers is a more pressing need, says Ian Murray MP (Picture: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Nicola Sturgeon can’t simply use devolution as it was intended; she always has to contrive a way to generate a grievance. It’s the type of underhand politics she would rightly call the Tories out for.

Our frontline healthcare workers are the heroes of 2020 and they deserve so much more than to be embroiled in petty political games.

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The announcement of a £500 bonus for care workers by the SNP copied an identical announcement by the Welsh Labour government last May.

In Wales, the government didn’t wait until it had a pre-election conference to announce it, recognising the contribution of NHS and care home staff from the offset.

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All Scottish NHS and care staff to get £500 'thank-you' payment

The SNP’s belated ‘thank you’ is welcome nonetheless, even if proper and permanent pay rises for all public-sector workers is a more pressing need and would be a more valuable thank you.

As part of the UK, there has been over £8 billion in additional resources for Scotland to tackle the pandemic, with up to £1bn still unallocated despite the vast number of people and businesses in need of further Covid support. That has enabled policies like the £500 bonus to be introduced.

As a result of delivering the promise to devolve income tax to the Scottish Parliament, the SNP government gets the tax back from the £500 to re-use.

Rather than concocting a row about Westminster exempting the bonus from tax, the government could simply do what thousands of employers already do: gross up the amount so the net sum received by workers is the whole £500. As the Scottish government would get the tax revenues back as a result of income tax being devolved (it’s not devolved in Wales), it would cost them the same.

Rather than pointlessly debating the constitution, we could have a debate about how to better support all key workers.

The supermarket staff who ensured we could buy food during lockdown; the refuse collectors who emptied our bins; the bus drivers who took key staff to work; the emergency services workers who kept us safe; teachers in the classrooms; posties in our streets, and many more.

A £500 thank you, while welcome, doesn’t mean we have climbed the mountain in terms of recognising the true value of key workers. It must be just a start.

With the collapse of two huge retailers this week and the real and devastating threat now posed to many workers and suppliers, governments have a duty to prioritise jobs, jobs, jobs.

That is what Labour is doing in opposition at Holyrood and Westminster, pressing the two governments to focus on practical solutions to the economic crisis and people’s jobs and livelihoods.

In Scotland, we are up against a government obsessed by independence and a desire to create division.

And across the UK, we are up against a UK government that is out of touch with ordinary people.

We need both administrations to start listening, to put their differences aside, to stop playing games and to work in partnership to get us through this crisis.

The best way to say thank you to our key workers is to strain every sinew to ensure they still have jobs in 2021.

Ian Murray is Scottish Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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