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UK must avoid 'repeat of Thatcher years' and pledge almost [pounds sterling]100 billion in next week's Budget - Ian Blackford; As Scotland's vaccine roll-out powers ahead, there is growing discussion across society about what sort of country we should be after the pandemic and how we can build a strong, fair and green recovery.

Byline: Ian Blackford

With the UK Budget in ten days time, the first priority must be to ensure that people, businesses and public services get the immediate support they need to get to the other side of this crisis.

We know covid restrictions will still be with us for some time, so it is crucial that the Chancellor extends the furlough scheme and plugs the gaps in support to ensure that no one is left behind.

The SNP has repeatedly raised the plight of the three million people who have been completely excluded from covid support, including many self-employed and freelance workers who haven't been given any help by Westminster. After a year of excuses, the Chancellor must finally act.

There must also be increased support for the growing number of unemployed and low income families who are seeing their household budgets hit as a result of the downturn. This must include a full U-turn on cruel Tory plans to cut Universal Credit. Instead of taking money away from families, the [pounds sterling]20 uplift must be made permanent and extended to legacy benefits.

Read more: ( Scottish councils handed an extra [pounds sterling]275 million to tackle Covid

Above all, this should be a budget that invests in growth and meets the huge scale of the challenge we face. That means a major fiscal stimulus of at least [pounds sterling]98billion, the equivalent of five per cent of GDP, to protect people's livelihoods and lay the foundations of an investment-led recovery.

The UK economy has suffered a record slump, shrinking by 9.9% in 2020. UK unemployment has risen to 5%, redundancies are at a record high, and there are over 800,000 fewer people in work. We must not have a repeat of the Thatcher years - when the Tories left people on the scrap heap and caused lasting scars on our communities by failing to act.

At the very moment when the economy needs maximum investment, the Chancellor is threatening Scotland's recovery with a return to Tory austerity cuts. The fact that the Tories are even considering a public sector pay freeze, and cuts to Universal Credit, show they are returning to type and have failed to learn the lessons of the pandemic or the last financial crisis.

It's been clear for some time that the Chancellor is getting nostalgic for the return of conservative cuts - he's desperate to get back to the Tory austerity agenda. That fundamental chasm between the cruel choices the Tories are threatening to impose and the economic choices Scotland now needs, speak to a wider reality and a defining choice for our people in the time ahead.

Read more: ( Ian Blackford urges Boris Johnson to extend Universal Credit uplift or leave 'millions of children' in poverty

Coronavirus has exposed the deep inequalities that exist in the UK under the Westminster system. The pandemic has been difficult for all of us but many families have struggled to get by, after a decade of Tory cuts that have pushed millions of people into poverty and hardship.

These inequalities will only get worse with the long-term damage of Brexit, which has already cost Scotland's economy more than [pounds sterling]3.94billion, and is set to leave every person [pounds sterling]1,600 worse off as more costs, red tape and barriers to trade hit Scottish businesses and communities.

It is increasingly clear that Scotland faces a choice of two futures - the long-term damage of Brexit and more Tory austerity cuts under the broken Westminster system, or the opportunity to protect our place in Europe and build a strong, fair and green recovery with independence.

If we want to build a fairer and more prosperous society then we need the full powers and levers of an independent country to boost the economy and deliver real change.

The issue at the heart of the Scottish Parliament election in May will be this: who has the right to decide what sort of country we should be after the pandemic - the people of Scotland or Boris Johnson? Who do we trust most with Scotland's recovery - ourselves or Westminster?

Scotland's future should be in Scotland's hands - not Boris Johnson's but only both votes SNP in May can enable us to build the fairer future we all want to see.

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CAPTION: SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford warned the UK must avoid a "repeat of the Thatcher years"
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Title Annotation:Politics; Opinion
Author:Ian Blackford
Publication:The Scotsman Online
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 20, 2021
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