Nicola Sturgeon 'walking nationalist tightrope' says expert

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Today’s online meeting will bring together the Prime Minister, Ms Sturgeon, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill. But ahead of the crunch meeting, Ms Sturgeon has listed a number of demands.

The Scottish First Minister demanded the Government extends the furlough scheme, rule out a return to austerity and prioritise a just recovery from the pandemic.

She also called for the Government to ensure pre-existing inequalities are not further exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We have made significant progress on the way out of this pandemic, which has devastated the lives of so many.

“But we are clearly still in a precarious situation, and it is vital to make sure that we support the people who have been most badly affected by the past 14 months.

“We have done everything we can with the limited powers we have to tackle inequality and mitigate the impact the pandemic has had on peoples’ livelihoods, but we cannot allow that to be eroded as we enter the next phase of living with the virus.

“A return to the pre-pandemic austerity would be disastrous for jobs, for public services and for people and families across Scotland.

“As the UK Government hold the key financial levers to help us recover from this, I will be calling on it to commit to maintain public spending during the period of recovery, and to extend the furlough scheme for as long as it is needed to protect businesses and people who have been required to stop working to protect others, and I will be emphasising that it is managed sensitively in a way that supports longer-term recovery.

“I’ve been given assurances that this will be a meaningful discussion, and it must be.

“Working to recover from Covid cannot be a PR exercise – it must be a collaborative process that properly respects the devolution settlement.”

The First Minister went on to say how the Scottish Government “requires certainty over funding”.

Ms Sturgeon continued: “Without it, people across Scotland who have had to endure so much these past 14 months would lack the reassurance that their jobs are protected, and their public services will continue to be funded to an appropriate level, whatever the virus has in store – that is the bare minimum of our expectations.

“The depth and severity of the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19 are clear and are being borne unequally.”

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She added: “For this summit to be in any way productive all UK nations must work collaboratively.

“As part of that, the UK Government needs to ensure meaningful engagement with the devolved administrations on the negotiations and governance of trade deals, and to respect the devolved Parliaments by not diverting money to be spent by UK Ministers.”

Downing Street confirmed Mr Johnson will meet with the leaders of the devolved administrations on Thursday.

The summit had originally been scheduled for last week but Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford said they did not have enough information to take part.

Mr Johnson personally wrote to the Scottish First Minister just days after the Holyrood elections in early May, which saw the SNP fall one seat short of an overall majority.

While Ms Sturgeon insists she has been given a mandate from voters to push ahead with a second independence referendum, Number 10 has pushed back.

Ministers have repeatedly warned now is not the time to plan or hold indyref2.

Instead, they argue, Scotland should be focused on rebuilding its economy which took a battering last year when the pandemic hit.

In a statement, a No10 spokesperson suggested Mr Johnson would use the meeting to strengthen unity in the face of Ms Sturgeon’s bid for independence.

It said that “ministers across the UK face common challenges as they seek to rebuild in the years ahead.”

Meanwhile the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove MP said: “I am delighted that the leaders of the devolved administrations all responded positively to the Prime Minister’s invitation to join this important meeting on Covid recovery.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have worked together to stop the spread of the virus and to roll out lifesaving vaccines.

“Our joint success has shown the world what we can achieve as a United Kingdom.

“We must take the same approach to the difficult challenge of rebuilding our economy and public services from the damaging impact of COVID-19.

“It will not be a quick or easy job, but we will all do better if we face the challenge together.”

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