The next Scottish Government should appoint a dedicated minister to deal with the country’s coronavirus recovery and replace the deputy first minister, the Scottish Lib Dems have said.
Party leader Willie Rennie insisted “every minute of the next Parliament must focus on the climate emergency, creating jobs, mental health and education” as he unveiled the proposal on Wednesday.
He said the new post would directly replace that of the deputy first minister, and would mean a senior politician being tasked specifically with working on the pandemic recovery across all spheres of government.
The party argues the switch, which would see civil service staff and resources moved away from planning an independence referendum, would free the first minister to continue to lead weekly briefings and take day-to-day decisions on the pandemic.
While the SNP appear to be on track to be returned as the largest single party at Holyrood at next week’s election, Mr Rennie said Lib Dem MSPs would “force the government to put recovery first and ditch the wasteful independence plans”.
“Liberal Democrats offer a choice at this election to appoint a recovery first secretary with a mission to steer the health, education and jobs through to recovery,” he said.
“The alternative is a constitution minister under the SNP who will spend their time on plans for a divisive referendum.
“The Liberal Democrat recovery first secretary will use the civil service expertise currently earmarked by the SNP to write their replacement 670-page white paper on independence.
“We know that top civil servants will be used to draw up the plan for independence.
“They will be skilled negotiators who will have to sort out the arguments between the different factions of the nationalists about the currency, central bank and whether to rejoin the EU.
“This talent should be used instead to plan a recovery that balances the needs of the health service, education and business.”
The intervention comes days after Nicola Sturgeon conceded a newly independent Scotland would likely need a trade border with England.
The UK’s decision to leave the single market and customs union has intensified the question of a post-independence border between the two nations.
Ms Sturgeon has said an independent Scotland would seek to rejoin the EU but this could see a trade barrier created between Scotland and England as an effective border between the UK and the trading bloc.
The SNP leader said she will do what she can to “keep trade flowing easily across the border” but admitted there would be challenges for cross-border businesses “because of the absurdity of Brexit and the Tory Brexit obsession”.
“It is bad enough that the SNP spent valuable time in the last year writing their independence legislation,” Mr Rennie said. “It will be much worse if they waste precious moments after the election on independence rather than recovery.
“We can make this stop. A growing number of Liberal Democrat MSPs elected at this election can force the government to put recovery first and ditch the wasteful independence plans. Now is not the moment.”