THE combination of Covid and Brexit does not mean the economic case for independence should be torn up, Kate Forbes has told the SNP conference. 

Addressing the party faithful for the first time as Finance Secretary, the MSP said Scotland’s economy would “thrive and prosper” after leaving the UK. 

She also hit out at the Treasury, saying the Chancellor’s decision to push back his budget had left "blindfolded".

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Speaking from her home in Dingwall, Forbes told delegates: "I will always push the powers of devolution as far as they can go to build a better, fairer economy – but I cannot hide the limitations on our options.

"With no meaningful borrowing powers and limited powers over tax, devolution means UK spending decisions are still the biggest factor in deciding the size of the Scottish budget.

"For the second year in a row the UK Government has shown complete disregard for devolution by delaying their budget to March.

"Scottish Finance secretaries are well used to balancing the books with one hand tied behind our backs.

"But this year, of all years, I’m being asked to do it blindfolded too.”

She added: "The Scottish budget has an impact on all our lives – it funds our NHS, schools and other vital public services and shapes our economy.

"It should not be subject to the disinterested whims of a distant Tory Government, but that risk will always be there until independence."

READ: Every word of Kate Forbes' impassioned SNP conference speech

Next year’s election was, she said, “critical.”

“A once in a generation vote, you might say,” Forbes added.  

And, if the SNP won a majority, it would give the country a “renewed, unequivocal, unavoidable mandate for an independence referendum”

She said: “I have never been so convinced of Scotland’s need for independence. And as poll after poll shows – that view is now shared by a clear majority.

 “I am often asked: does Covid or Brexit mean we need to rip up the economic case for independence and start again?

“Or told that we couldn’t have coped as an independent country, ignoring the reality of other small independent nations around the world facing exactly the same .

“The answer to both is categorically no. Our economy will thrive and prosper with the ingenuity of our people, the wealth of our resources and the strengths of our industries.

“Our economy is big enough, inventive enough, resilient enough and rich enough, not just to protect what we have, but to grow stronger.

“While the starting point might have changed – the destination remains the same.”

In her speech, Forbes also announced that in next month’s  budget, she would set “a five-year pipeline of investment in infrastructure to boost economic growth.”

“Not pet projects like a Boris bridge to Northern Ireland, but the essential investment our economy and public services need,” she said.

It would, she said, include almost £5bn to inclusive economic growth, including £500m to extend full fibre broadband to businesses and households in rural areas and £30m to support our Islands.