Kate Forbes has been warned not to “waste” taxpayers’ money on another independence referendum.
The finance secretary, who announced a raft of additional public spending in her Budget, was urged to resist calls from within the SNP to start making preparations for another poll.
Scottish Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser told Ms Forbes every penny of government cash should be “devoted to tackling the pandemic and its economic consequences”.
He said: “This is not the time to waste government resources on the preparation of another independence referendum.
“All government resources need to be devoted to tackling the pandemic and its economic consequences, not wasted on constitutional divisions.
“This budget process is a chance for the Scottish Government to put aside its party political priorities and act in the national interest.”
He added: “We will reject any plans to waste precious resources, money or time on campaigning for another divisive independence referendum.
“We need a budget that is about building up, not breaking up.”
Ms Forbes fired back that the only waste going on was the time wasting of the prime minister, who has been in Scotland today talking up the importance of the Union.
She said: “In terms of talking about wasting time, I’m standing here delivering a budget investing £1.1 billion in skills, £6 billion in capital infrastructure and £3.5 billion for social security and welfare payments.
“Meanwhile, his leader is breaking the spirit of the rules on essential travel to do what? Make the case apparently for the Union because he’s running scared, after poll after poll shows support for independence.”
The row came as Labour’s acting leader, Jackie Baillie, called on the finance secretary to increase social care pay, saying that carers “deserve more than the living wage”.
Ms Baillie went on to add that they should be “properly valued and recognised by society”, before questioning Ms Forbes about a possible pay rise, asking, “if not now, when”.
Ms Forbes said the Scottish Government “recognises the contribution that they’ve made”, but is limited in what it could offer by “the UK Government’s choice to freeze public sector pay on our budget”.
More cash for councils
The finance secretary used her Budget to announce £1.1 billion of support for jobs and skills and £16 billion for health, as well as a further £869 million for tackling coronavirus – including funding for the vaccination and test and trace programmes.
Ms Forbes said the strategic framework business fund, which provides grants based on restrictions put on businesses, will continue beyond this financial year, provided funding is forthcoming from the UK Government.
Grants being paid to businesses in February will also be paid at the maximum level, regardless of the level of restrictions on firms, she said.
Councils will also see an increase in their finances, with discretionary funding doubling to £60 million and a further £200 million to compensate for a loss of income due to the pandemic.
Kate Forbes finally ‘doing her job’
North-east MP Andrew Bowie said the measures are welcome, but added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has been met with an unprecedented economic response by the UK Government, with record spending on Scotland and an extra £8.6 billion of support in this year alone.
“I have been lobbying the SNP finance secretary on getting more of that money out the door faster than they have been. The absence of meaningful support for many jobs in my own constituency has forced me to do so.
“Some of the measures announced today are welcome but are really just Kate Forbes finally doing her job and distributing the cash.”