Sturgeon Sees Chance to Reshape Scots Economy on Virus Outbreak

Alastair Reed
·3-min read

(Bloomberg) -- Scotland has the opportunity to reshape its economy as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, according to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, even as she reiterated her warning that Scots are likely to face an extended period of restrictions on movement and social contact.

“When things come apart – when the kaleidoscope of our lives is shaken – there is an opportunity to see them put back together differently, and see a new way of doing things,” Sturgeon wrote in the Herald on Sunday newspaper. “We can start to think together, and work together, to decide the kind of Scotland we want to emerge from this crisis.”

Reform of Scotland’s 170 billion-pound ($210 billion) economy could be accelerated as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, which like in the rest of the U.K., has led to tough restrictions on the movement of people and the ability of businesses to keep operating, Sturgeon wrote in the Glasgow-based newspaper. The country’s chief economist, Gary Gillespie, estimates that Scotland’s economy could shrink by 12% this year, and he has warned that not all businesses would be able to survive the lockdown.

“Before this crisis, we were focused on our mission of making Scotland a greener, fairer and more prosperous country,” Sturgeon wrote. “That has not changed. But the place from where we are starting has.”

Sturgeon, who leads Scotland’s pro-independence government, didn’t mention separation from the rest of the U.K. in her editorial in the Glasgow-based newspaper. There have been signs in recent weeks, however, that the Edinburgh-based government is starting to diverge from the rest of the U.K. in its handling of the crisis.

The Scottish government last week published its 24-page strategy detailing how it intends to ease restrictions on people and reopen the economy. At the time, Sturgeon said Scotland would go its own way if it deems that to be appropriate. Plans could include lifting restrictions on a geographical basis or for different groups of the population, it said.

The U.K. government, which has set out five tests for lifting the nationwide lockdown, hasn’t yet produced a detailed strategy because of concern doing so would encourage people to ignore the restrictions.

“It is important to be clear at the outset that the current lockdown remains vital – it is only because of it, that we are now seeing some progress against the virus,” Sturgeon wrote. “These restrictions may need to continue in the current form beyond this three-week period.”

More than 10,000 people have so far tested positive for Covid-19 in Scotland, with 1,230 confirmed as having died from the virus. Separate figures, which include deaths that are suspected of being related to the illness, show the number of fatalities at more than 1,600.

“We still all face major challenges. Challenges in navigating the uncertainties that the virus has created, as well as rebuilding our economy and public services,” Sturgeon wrote. “But we can go further than rebuilding, and look seriously at social and economic reform.”

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