Nicola Sturgeon said she is “profoundly concerned” about what lies ahead in next week’s autumn budget from the UK Government.
Scotland’s First Minister said the UK is in an “incredibly difficult” position, after meeting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on Thursday night at the British-Irish Council summit in Blackpool.
Speaking to reporters on Friday after the summit concluded, Ms Sturgeon said “I don’t know the detail obviously, of the statement the Chancellor will deliver later, next week, next Thursday, I like everybody else can read the signals, can read the runes of that.
“I don’t think it will come as any surprise to hear me say, I’m profoundly concerned at what we may hear from the Chancellor on Thursday.”
Mr Hunt has warned he will make “eye-watering” decisions after the economy shrank in what is predicted to be the beginning of a long recession.
This will include painful public spending cuts and tax hikes, to fill the so-called black hole in the nation’s finances.
Ms Sturgeon, who described recent political turmoil in Westminster as “sub optimal”, said she is willing to “wipe the slate clean” as she welcomed Mr Sunak’s attendance at the British-Irish Council – the first time a Prime Minister has attended for 15 years.
But she said the NHS needs more money and protecting the most vulnerable in society is essential.
She said: “My view, the Scottish Government’s view is these decisions must be taken in a way that helps, not further harms, those most vulnerable in our society.
“For example ensuring that benefits increase in line with inflation is essential to avoid further widening of the inequality gap and the erosion of the incomes of those that are at the bottom.
“We are in a very different situation right now in terms of pressures on the NHS than we have had, certainly in all of my time in politics, and I think a long time before that.
“So I’m profoundly concerned with what is lying ahead.
“We have come through a period of years of austerity, of the global pandemic that has had and is having a severe impact on those most vulnerable.”
Ms Sturgeon dismissed suggestions, given the economic issues facing the UK, that now is not the right time to push for a second Scottish independence referendum, and she blamed Brexit for much of the problems.
She added: “Many of the issues we are facing in the UK right now are UK-specific.
“Brexit is having a very, very significant impact on the UK economy and the future prospects for the UK economy.
“It’s going to be a permanent drag on our economic prospects.
“In many respects what we are living through right now tells us what happens to us when we are not in charge of the decisions that shape our own future but (are) at the mercy of decisions taken elsewhere.”