Political leaders have focused on their plans to help businesses recover from coronavirus as restrictions were eased across Scotland.
Non-essential retail reopened for business after the latest lockdown, with bars, restaurants and cafes also getting up and running again – although they still have some restrictions in place.
The Tories, however, insisted plans to lift the remaining restrictions could be speeded up “safely” – saying dozens of businesses backed their calls for faster reopening.
The row over the speed at which lockdown should be lifted came as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said this latest relaxation of the rules was “another big step forward in our recovery from the pandemic”.
She stressed: “After a long winter for all of us, I know that people across Scotland are keen to get out there and support their local businesses as they reopen – and I would encourage them to do so, safely.”
The First Minister highlighted SNP plans for a £25m tourism recovery fund, hailing the sector as being “one of Scotland’s crown jewels”.
But she said it was also “one of the sectors hardest-hit by Covid-19”, adding that the £25m fund would help people on low incomes or those who have caring responsibilities enjoy short breaks in Scotland.
Sturgeon also stressed: “As we look toward Scotland’s long-term recovery, we need to decide whether to leave the key economic levers in the hands of Westminster, or if we can take better decisions about our future in Scotland.
“Over the last year, our ability as a government in Scotland to tailor the Covid restrictions and the support available to business to the needs of Scotland has been vital in getting the country to this point.
“It has been essential that the powers have been in Scotland’s hands, and that must also be the case as we move into recovery.”
Labour has also set out its plans to help the tourism sector, with its Great Scottish Staycation scheme, which would allow people to have a third night free of charge in holiday accommodation.
The initiative would operate in the off-peak season, contributing £50 per person to the cost of a third night’s accommodation, capped at a maximum of £100 per room.
To help high street stores, Labour is also proposing to give every adult a £75 pre-paid card, to spend in non-food businesses – with the scheme stipulating that the money could not be spent online.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “This last year has been the toughest of our lives, but with some restrictions now lifting we have cause for hope for the future.”
He insisted: “Our bold plans could bring about an economic revival that would reinvigorate our high streets, boost our economy and deliver jobs for the people of Scotland.
“We need to focus on our national recovery, not go back to the old arguments. That’s why Scottish Labour is ambitious about our economic recovery and is committed to building a fairer, better Scotland.”
But Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross hit out at the SNP’s “anti-business approach”.
The Tories said more than 50 businesses had already backed their call for restrictions to be eased at a faster pace, arguing that bars and restaurants should be able to sell alcohol indoors from today.
Ross, who visited a bar in Edinburgh, said: “It’s fantastic to see businesses finally start to reopen after the incredibly difficult year they’ve battled through.
“The success of Scotland and the UK’s vaccine scheme means we can afford to safely speed up the easing of restrictions, and dozens of businesses have backed our calls to bring forward those reopening dates.
“But we can’t afford any more of the SNP’s anti-business approach. It is stifling Scotland’s economy and costing jobs.”
He also claimed the “uncertainty” of a second independence referendum would impact on firms, saying: “Just as businesses start to get back on their feet, the SNP want to cut them off at the knees and put jobs at risk.”
Sturgeon, however, insisted that “Scotland cannot afford for our recovery to be determined by Westminster”, as she called on people to “elect a first minister and a government which is absolutely focused on Scotland’s recovery, and ensure that Scotland’s recovery is in Scotland’s hands”.
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