Nicola Sturgeon has insisted Brexit is still the “biggest challenge on the horizon” – despite being told by Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson she should look closer to home for why the country is stuck in an economic “slow lane”.
With a year to go until the UK formally leaves the European Union, the differing stances of the two party leaders were highlighted at First Minister’s Questions.
Ms Sturgeon, the SNP leader, cited a report by the economic think tank the Fraser of Allander Institute as showing “Brexit remains the biggest challenge on the horizon”.
But the Conservative insisted it was time the First Minister “stopped simply blaming Brexit and looked to herself to get Scotland’s economy moving”.
Ms Davidson hit out, saying: “Here’s where we stand – Scotland is economically underperforming now, she says that Brexit is to blame but there is still a year to go and we have had 10 years wasted an SNP government.
“This is their record: the lowest rate of business growth in the UK, productivity in Scotland at the lowest level in eight years and, for the next three years, the weakest projected economic growth of any country not just in the OECD but in the EU.”
The Conservative stated: “If strategies and press releases were enough to grow the Scottish economy we’d be steaming ahead by now. But as it is we are trapped in an SNP slow lane.”
While she claimed the First Minister “blames Brexit for everything”, Ms Davidson suggested “might it not just conceivably be possible that our problems lie slightly closer to home”.
Challenging the SNP leader on the economy, Ms Davidson said growth in Scotland was a third of the rate it is in the UK as a whole.
But Ms Sturgeon responded by accusing the Conservative of attempting to “ignore the elephant in the room that is Brexit”.
The First Minister said: “It simply is not credible to come here and say you’re really, really concerned about economic growth when you know, as Ruth Davidson does, what the figures show that the impact of Brexit is going to be.”
Leaving the EU without a trade deal, forcing Britain to revert to World Trade Organisation rules, would mean an 8.5% hit to Scotland’s economy, Ms Sturgeon said, the equivalent of more than £2,000 per person.
Even if the country was able to stay in the single market, by being part of the European Economic Area, she said growth would be reduced by 2.7% – or about £700 per person.
Ms Sturgeon blasted back, saying: “It is the Tories that are taking us out of the EU and as long as that is the case they have no credibility coming here to talk about economic growth and everybody out there knows it.
“Scotland’s economy is strong and we are determined to make it even stronger. But we do that against the challenge of idealogically obsessed Tory Brexiteers who want to rip our country out of the EU against our will, that is the reality.”
“Ruth Davidson, particularly today, which marks a year to go until her party drags us out of the EU against our will, has no credibility on the economy for as long as she supports a hard Brexit.
“She can’t lecture others on economic growth when she is supporting a policy that all of the experts say will hit growth in this country by more than £2,000 per person. So Ruth Davidson’s credibility on the economy is zero.”