RISHI Sunak said the coronavirus crisis shows the Union has "enormous resonance" as he resisted calls to extend the furlough scheme. 

The UK Chancellor said taking people out of the labour market for a prolonged period of time is "not good for their long-term prospects" and it cannot go on indefinitely.

He suggested business support during local lockdowns, such as that currently in force in Aberdeen, is a devolved matter for the Scottish Government. 

Elsewhere, he indicated the slower return of office workers to city centres in Scotland could have a knock-on impact on pubs and restaurants. 

Mr Sunak made the comments while visiting Scotland for the first time since becoming Chancellor, where he met new Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross.

Following a visit to generator manufacturers Peak Scientific in Glasgow, he told journalists now is not the time to discuss Scottish independence. 

He said the last few months have been a "good example of the Union working really well".

He referenced the furlough scheme and support for self-employed people, which together have benefitted almost a million people in Scotland, as well as loans for businesses and UK-wide moves to sign vaccine deals.

Mr Sunak said Scotland is one of the UK's "power brands" when it comes to tourism, and can help drive its wider recovery.

Meanwhile, UK schemes such as Eat Out to Help Out or VAT reductions for tourism and hospitality can "disproportionately benefit the Scottish economy and Scottish jobs and in doing so help drive the UK recovery". 

He said: "So to me, all of that experience shows me the Union has an enormous resonance today and hopefully people will recognise that."

Earlier, he said: "I don't think now is the time to be talking about these constitutional questions. 

"I think everyone's sole focus, and certainly my sole focus right now, is doing what we can to protect people's jobs and their livelihoods at what is an incredibly difficult time for our economy, and that's what I think everybody should be focused on. 

"Let's not focus on these divisive constitutional questions, let's focus on rebuilding for the future."

The Chancellor said the furlough scheme cannot continue indefinitely. 

The scheme has so far cost £33.8 billion, supporting the payrolls of 9.6 million workers, but will end in October.

Opposition parties are calling for the Government to extend it for the hardest-hit sectors and those plunged into local lockdown.

Mr Sunak said: "Eight months of support from start to finish is a considerable period of time for the government to be helping to pay people's wages. 

"I just don't think most people would think that's something that can go on indefinitely."

He said lots of the measures the UK Government has put in place "do benefit businesses and people for the entire year". 

He said: "It would be easy to tell people, 'It's going to be all fine and that job will be there' – that won't be true for everybody. 

"And in that circumstance having people not attached to the labour market for that prolonged period of time is not doing them any favours. 

"All the academic evidence and practical economic evidence we have on labour market outcomes tells us that. 

"People not being attached to a workplace is not good for their long-term prospects. 

"If it's not going to be the case that that job is going to be there, we are better off providing new opportunities and different types of support for those people."

Mr Sunak said the UK's four nations have "broadly" followed the same plan in tackling coronavirus.

However Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently encouraged employers to bring their staff back into offices, while in Scotland working from home is still advised.

Mr Sunak said: "Wherever we are in the UK, if fewer people are going to offices, that does have a knock-on impact on hospitality, especially in our city centres, we're seeing that.

"But I think the most important reason for people to slowly return to work is that's good for them and that's good for the companies they work for."

Elsewhere, he rejected any suggestion the UK Government is overseeing a post-Brexit "power grab", as argued by the SNP. 

He said: "I genuinely am puzzled by it. I'm struggling to see how, in any way, shape or form, what's happening could be described as a power grab. 

"I'd rather double-down on what the Prime Minister said, who described it as a power surge, which I think is absolutely right.

"We've got a bunch of powers that used to be executed in Brussels and in the EU, and those are being repatriated back to the UK." 

He said the return of powers to Scotland will confirm it has "one of the most powerful devolved parliaments anywhere in the world".

He added: "There is nothing that is currently being done by the Scottish Government that will now be done in Westminster. That's what most people would understand to be a 'power grab'. 

"I think repeatedly we've asked the SNP to provide an example of a single thing that is currently done here that will now be done down in Westminster. There just simply isn't an example of that."

The Chancellor is the fourth UK Cabinet minister to visit Scotland in recent weeks.

As he visited Glasgow, SNP Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said there was "no sense" that he understands Scotland's "urgent need for fiscal flexibilities". 

She said most of the new powers sought would not cost the Treasury a penny, and claimed Mr Sunak therefore "either doesn't care... or it's purely a political position".

SNP Constitution Secretary Mike Russell has said extending the borrowing powers of the Scottish Parliament could lead to the furlough scheme in Scotland continuing past the October cancellation date.

In response, Mr Sunak said the fiscal framework "should only be changed after a proper process; that process is due to happen, I think, next year".