THE Covid pandemic has heightened the need for Scotland to have the full powers of an independent country, according to the Finance Secretary. Kate Forbes said she had tried to work on a four-nations basis as much as possible during the crisis, but added: “It takes all sides to make that work.”

She said it was extremely difficult having to be dependent on decisions made by the UK Government who “may not understand” what is happening in Scotland.

Her comments come after the Chancellor announced a new emergency jobs scheme to replace furlough, which critics warned will not prevent the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs from sectors hardest hit by coronavirus.

Forbes also condemned the decision by Rishi Sunak to scrap the UK autumn budget – which she said she only learned of on Twitter – as showing a lack of awareness about the impact on devolved nations.

She told the Sunday National: “During this crisis we have tried to work on a four-nations basis as much as possible – it takes all sides to make that work.

“I have tried very hard to be constructive, but it is extremely difficult to respond to an emergency when you don’t have the full fiscal flexibilities that you need, and when you’re overly dependent on the decisions taken by another government who may or may not understand what’s going on in Scotland.

“In order to serve our communities, in order to make decisions, in order to be accountable to the people that we serve, we need to have the full raft of levers that every other government around the world is using to respond to this crisis.”

The Finance Secretary added: “Those arguments were true obviously, in the past, but they are heightened during the pandemic.

“I have no doubt that being dependent on a government who then scraps our main and only source of financial information makes my job very difficult and does not serve the people of this country.”

Westminster has rejected requests from the Scottish Government for Scotland to be given extra financial powers during the Covid crisis.

Forbes described these powers as “mind numbingly basic”, which had also been backed with cross-party support and by independent stakeholders.

“This would give us a bit of flexibility on how we use our budgets,” she said. “At a time of crisis, you need to be able to move your budgets to respond to the different needs.

“We have a fixed budget. I can’t justify whether I give money to one area by cutting it from another in a time of crisis.”

Forbes said another key ask from the Scottish Government had been for more borrowing powers to help deal with the pandemic.

“When you think about it simplistically every single government around the world, including the UK Government has overspent its budget in the region of billions of pounds,” she said.

“I am not allowed by law to overspend my budget. So therefore, I am dependent almost entirely on UK Government providing consequentials on the basis of their policy choices.

“Sometimes that works, but other times it doesn’t work either because there’s a delay in confirmation of what the funding is.

“At a time of crisis, you need to be able to move quickly and flexibly.”

The Scottish Government argued for a continuation of the furlough scheme, with estimates that an eight-month extension could save 61,000 jobs in Scotland.

However, Sunak instead last week unveiled the six-month Job Support Scheme, which will see the state and employers top up the wages of staff working at least a third of their normal hours.

The Chancellor said this was aimed at protecting “viable” roles, arguing it would be “fundamentally wrong” for people to be kept in jobs that can only exist due to state funding.

However, Forbes said that if she had the necessary financial powers she would have taken a different approach – including giving clarity on a replacement initiative much earlier than just a month before the “cliff-edge” of furlough ending, which would not be based on the idea of “viable” jobs.

“Businesses were making decisions already on letting people go. It is much too late to be announcing what was going to replace furlough,”

she said.

“It’s not for the Chancellor to determine what is or isn’t a viable job. Any replacement has got to provide support that people most in need, and those that are most in need are the ones that can’t work right now. His scheme requires you to be working.

“It needs to be flexible, to be able to turn off and on. You can look at the German and French models which are phased and can be focused on particular sectors.

“It means that it can be adapted for localised scenarios, or can be adapted for particular sectors.”

Forbes said the Scottish Government was still assessing the details of the Job Support scheme but added: “There are 217,000 people in Scotland still on furlough – that’s 15% of the workforce.

“I strongly refute the notion that is 217,000 non-viable jobs. A scheme should be incentivising employers to continue to support them, with a view to bringing them back in the long run.

“To give the Chancellor some credit, that’s why that job retention scheme bonus was a good idea because it incentivised an employer to bring their employees back into work.”

The UK Government argued the cost of the furlough scheme was not sustainable. Figures published at the beginning of September showed the bill had reached £35.4 billion.

Forbes said while it had been expensive, there was a greater cost associated with mass unemployment.

“The UK Government will be paying for either unemployment support, or to keep people in work,” she said.

“And to keep people in work is much better for our future economic recovery than bringing people out of work.

“There’s no getting around the fact that our response to Covid is expensive. You see every country around the world, investing heavily in wage support, in job retention schemes and in welfare support because, governments have the duty to protect the nation, and to suppress this virus.”

Forbes pledged she would “use every penny that we can deploy” to protect jobs in Scotland.

But when it comes to financial decisions in the near future, the cancellation of the autumn budget by Sunak has brought increased uncertainty.

Last year the Scottish Government had to prepare emergency measures after the UK budget in December was also cancelled during the chaos of Brexit.

“I am deeply unhappy, both with the decision to scrap the autumn budget and the lack of awareness about the implications for devolved governments,” Forbes said.

“This year we’ve got increased uncertainty with Covid and the end of the transition period of Brexit.

“Last year the figures were very challenging and this year they’re only going to be more challenging. But I need to give the health service the certainty of what they’re going to get. We’ve been talking about supporting frontline workers – I need to give certainty on our pay policy.

“I need to give certainty to local government, I need to give certainty to taxpayers.

“So it’s not about the UK Government disregarding the Scottish Government, it’s about the UK Government having no understanding that our taxpayers, our businesses, our residents or citizens, need to know what budget will be available next year.”

The Treasury has said it has sought to work constructively with the Scottish Government “at all stages of the pandemic” and there is nothing to stop the Scottish Parliament from passing their budget before the UK Budget.