The SNP manifesto does not, as might be expected, place independence at its heart but instead puts pledges to “roll back the impact of Tory austerity” in Scotland centre stage.
Indeed, in launching her party’s manifesto, Nicola Sturgeon criticised Scottish Tories for “banging on so much” about independence at the expense of anything else.
The manifesto lists a commitment to hold a second independence referendum as 10th out of 10 “key pledges” and significantly delays its timing until the end of the Brexit process, when the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU are known.
It sets out a radical programme “to demand an end to austerity” that is clearly designed to keep on board SNP voters who are thinking of switching to Corbyn and to woo Labour unionists swinging towards the Tories. For the first time in its history, the SNP is fighting a defensive campaign with 53 seats at stake.
Sturgeon said her manifesto included £80bn of new spending commitments financed by £10bn of tax rises, including abolition of married tax allowance, and £118bn “freed up” by slowing down the pace of deficit reduction compared with Conservative plans.
SNP MPs in Westminster will vote against any further planned social security cuts, for an end to the freeze on working-age benefits and for abolition of the two-child cap on tax credits and the associated rape clause. The party would abolish the bedroom tax. MPs will vote to protect the triple lock on pensions and full support for the Waspi campaign by women who have lost out due to increases to the pension age. And the party would end the public sector pay freeze and increase the minimum wage to the level of the living wage.
Analysis: The pledge on social security is designed to outflank Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, which has promised only to reverse a quarter of the Tory government’s planned social security cuts. Some voters may regard the lack of commitments to take any major utilities back into the public sector qualifies this position to the left of Labour. But at the same time the SNP, unlike Labour, has a clear pledge to scrap Trident.
The manifesto says: “At the end of the Brexit process, when the final terms of the deal are known, it is right that Scotland should have a choice about its future.” It argues that if the SNP victories in last year’s Holyrood election and vote in Scottish parliament are joined by the party winning a majority of Westminster seats in Scotland on 8 June, then there will be a “triple lock” reinforcing the claimed mandate for an independence referendum.
Analysis: The manifesto clearly drops Sturgeon’s previous demand for a second referendum to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019. The SNP said previously that it wanted a second referendum when Brexit terms were known but, crucially, before the deal was signed. The new position would push the timetable back to late 2019 at the earliest.
The SNP guarantees the continuation of free university education in Scotland, no grammar schools north of the border and to match Labour’s offer of 30 hours of free childcare for two- to four-year-olds by 2021. There is an extra £750m to improve standards in Scottish schools. It calls for the UK government to increase health spending in England to Scottish levels, which are 7% higher.
The SNP would increase the NHS England budget by £11bn and deliver an extra £1bn in consequential funding for NHS Scotland over and above the £2bn SNP has committed to. The party will campaign for the return of emergency services VAT payments that would boost Scottish funding by £140m.
Analysis: The pledges match the scale of Labour’s spending, particularly on health and education, but without the specific pledges to recruit more police officers, firefighters or border guards.
At the manifesto launch, Sturgeon said Brexit was putting at risk the efforts to tackle the biggest economic problem facing Scotland, which was the decline in its population. The manifesto builds on the remainer majority in Scotland by insisting the country should have a place at the negotiating table to stay in the single market.
“The SNP will continue to seek devolution of immigration powers so that Scotland can have an immigration policy that works for our economy and society. And we will stand firm against the demonisation of migrants,” it adds.
Analysis: The SNP estimates that leaving the single market would put at risk 80,000 jobs in Scotland. The manifesto also voices anxieties about the impact of a post-Brexit immigration policy on a country that has a declining population. These include the possibility of imposing a £1,000-a-head levy on EU migrants. The SNP wants to see immigration policy devolved to Edinburgh. Concerns have been raised about the role of the English/Scottish border in such a move, but the UK points-based system already has a different shortage occupation list for Scotland.
The manifesto proposes an increase in the top rate of income tax from 45p to 50p on income over £150,000 across UK from 2018/19, the abolition of the married couple’s allowance, the cancellation of reductions in the bank levy and a new tax on bankers’ bonuses.
The party would balance the UK budget for day-to-day spending by the end of the parliament and after that borrow only to invest, return the deficit to its pre-crash average and set debt on a downward path as a proportion of GDP.
Analysis: The Scottish parliament has power over income tax rates so the SNP could already have chosen to reintroduce a 50p top rate of tax in Scotland alone. This is a modest tax-raising package compared with the scale of spending commitments, especially when coupled with pledges to continue the freeze on basic rates of income tax and opposition to any increases in VAT or national insurance.
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