The leader of the Scottish Conservative has said Boris Johnson made a “mistake” by rejecting calls for a second lockdown and extending furlough.
Douglas Ross said that the prime minister should have listened to the scientists on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) committee.
Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Ross said the furlough scheme should be available for any part of the UK if it were to go into lockdown.
“The furlough scheme should be extended to Scotland if we go into those lockdown conditions and I think it’s the right thing for the UK government to do, and that’s why I’m stressing very strongly, very clearly and very publicly, to say this is an absolute must for Scotland,” he said.
Challenged about the prime minister’s previous opposition to another nationwide lockdown, Ross replied: “I’ve said that I don’t think anything should have been ruled out and it probably was a mistake of the prime minister to rule out a national lockdown, because if this virus has shown us anything it’s that you can’t rule anything out given the way it develops and how cases can go up and come back down again.
“We thought in August that in Scotland and across the UK that we’d really got on top of this virus and here we are, a few months later, clearly back into a situation where there is a concerning level of people being infected from the virus and sadly being still admitted into ICU and losing their lives as a result of Covid.”
Insisting he has not changed his position over the job retention scheme, Ross added: “I supported furlough when we were in lockdown in Scotland and across the UK and I still support furlough.
“It’s been a vital tool to protect almost a million jobs in Scotland and I want that tool to be available, should Scotland have to take the difficult decision to go back into national lockdown.”
The Moray MP sidestepped a question about whether the UK government is handling the response to the pandemic well, but said the re-imposition of lockdown had been a “difficult decision” for the Cabinet.
Ahead of his keynote speech to the Policy Exchange, Ross called for UK government to “immediately” guarantee the furlough scheme will be extended in Scotland if the country is forced into a second lockdown.
Ross is expected to argue that devolution has been “found wanting” during the coronavirus crisis and the pandemic has “exposed its weakest points”.
He will say: “The Covid-19 crisis has put the structures for interaction between the UK government, devolved administrations and indeed the English mayoralties to the ultimate test.
“And I think that even the most committed defender of the current system would admit that they have been found wanting.”