The SNP has been confronted over its spending during the coronavirus outbreak in Scotland. Dan Vevers, a political reporter at The Scottish Sun, asked Deputy First Minister John Swinney about how this may relate to the party’s bid for independence. During Scotland’s daily Covid briefing, he brought up accusations of the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon potentially “playing politics with the pandemic”.
He asked: “Up to £1billion of the £8.2billion the Scottish Government has received from the UK Government could be unspent, according to the latest research.
“Were you saving this money to make the announcements at the SNP conference?
“The First Minister insisted independence was needed for the recovery, and the SNP has picked a fight with the UK Government over the £500 bonus.
“Does this all show that you’re now playing politics with the pandemic?”
The SNP chief was quick to deny this was the case, simply stating: “No.”
He added: “We have resources available to us that are announced by the Finance Secretary.
“She makes decisions on the justifiable use of public expenditure for a variety of different issues and of course we have put in place substantial support to individual businesses around the country.
“And we have recently announced more support to businesses – the £100 child payment which we have approved as well is a very important support to families who are facing difficulties in these circumstances.”
He also pointed to the money allocated by Westminster in order to help the SNP government provide free school meals.
He said: “These are appropriate measures we are taking and demonstrate rational decisions.”
The row comes as the Fraser of Allander Institute think tank has estimated the First Minister’s government is sitting on £1billion in unallocated cash and dismissed a plea for the UK Treasury to not tax a £500 bonus to Scottish healthcare workers as a political stunt.
Ms Sturgeon used her keynote speech at the SNP conference this week to announce a “one-off thank you payment”, a £180million plan that will reward more than 300,000 staff, including nurses and doctors.
During her speech, Ms Sturgeon also issued a plea to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make the bonus tax-exempt – something that was swiftly rejected by the Treasury.
A Fraser of Allander Institute spokesman subsequently said: “Exempting any bonuses from tax is not widely regarded as a good use of tax policy. There’s a reason bonuses are taxed; if they weren’t, everyone would want to be paid in bonuses rather than regular pay.
“Making an exception to the rule once opens the possibility of endless future lobbying for tax-exempt bonuses – which is not something any government should be keen to encourage.”
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During the daily Covid briefing, Mr Swinney also announced another 41 deaths of coronavirus patients and 966 positive cases have been recorded north of the border in the past 24 hours.
On the daily coronavirus figures, Mr Swinney said the daily test positivity rate in Scotland is 4.2 percent, down from 4.3 percent on Thursday.
A total of 98,686 people have now tested positive in Scotland, up 97,720 from the previous day.
There are 965 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, a fall of 17 in 24 hours. Of these patients, 65 are in intensive care – down by four.