Boris Johnson’s premiership has been “woefully exposed” by his handling of the coronavirus crisis, the SNP’s Westminster leader has claimed.
Ian Blackford warned the UK Government’s decision to end the furlough scheme in October was the “height of irresponsibility” and would “kick the legs away” from Scotland’s “capacity to recover”.
People, he argued, were contrasting the “very firm” leadership of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during the pandemic with Johnson’s “u-turn after u-turn”.
His comments came in the week the UK Government changed its guidance on face coverings in schools, days after a decision on masks in Scotland.
Ahead of MPs’ return to Westminster, Blackford said: “The lack of clarity, the shambles of the situation that we had with Dominic Cummings, a Prime Minister that makes u-turn after u-turn and I think rightly people are making a judgment on what they see as the choice of those two futures.”
The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber added: “I expect and understand that Boris Johnson had a desire to be Prime Minister, but I’m not convinced that he’s got the character and he has what it takes to be Prime Minister at a time of crisis such as this and I think he’s been woefully exposed.”
There were, he said, “significant challenges” with stopping furlough, warning “many businesses are going to see three winters”.
He said: “To see its demise too early when the economy’s not in a position to deal with the adjustments that have to be made is the height of irresponsibility.”
Blackford cautioned against “repeating the mistakes” of the “massive rise” in unemployment during Margaret Thatcher’s first term in power.
He added: “If we don’t extend the furlough scheme as is required and this has to be done on a basis of need, then we’re going to put ourselves in a position that we’re going to have a material rise in unemployment that we could have avoided.”
He criticised ministers’ approach to encourage employees back to work, adding: “I think what is not the answer is a government trying to bully people and to see the kind of threats that we’ve had about people losing their jobs…
“The public recognise that this virus has not gone away, that there is a risk.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has resisted calls to extend the furlough scheme with targeted measures, saying the support cannot go on “indefinitely”.
Meanwhile, new Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has vowed to “champion a post-referendum Scotland where we focus not on the divisions of the past”.
Blackford argued: “They can try and have a makeover as much as they like, but the fundamental point is that Scotland’s moving on.
“You can see all the polling which has emerged over the course of the last few months showing that the SNP are in a very strong position for the Scottish elections next year.
“The support for independence is now consistently and materially above 51% and I think the big question for Douglas Ross and the Conservatives is will they accept the right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future as they should.”
Ahead of the Scottish Government’s unveiling of its programme for government on Tuesday, Ross will set out a new economic plan for the country on Monday.
The new Scottish Conservative leader is expected to outline proposals which focus on transport and infrastructure investment, as well as boosting employment and Scotland’s economic recovery from Covid-19.
Ross said: “The programme for government this week must focus on how we recover from this crisis, protect jobs and rebuild Scotland’s economy from the brink.
“It should be a programme to invest in infrastructure and connect communities across the country, leaving nowhere behind.”
The Tories will call for a fully integrated transport system, with an Oyster card-like payment method that would work across all public transport networks, as well as faster rail links between Glasgow and Edinburgh and Aberdeen and Inverness connections with the central belt.
He added: “Scotland has been too divided for too long, not only constitutionally but economically too.
“We need a massive acceleration of infrastructure projects to bring people across Scotland closer together.”