The SNP manifesto: key points
Nicola Sturgeon today set out the key parts of the SNP election manifesto of things it would do within its next five-year term if re-elected in May.
- Abolish NHS dentistry charges
- Increase social care funding by more than £800 million over the next parliamentary term
- Increase health spending by £2.5 billion
- Invest more than £33 billion in infrastructure in the next five years
- Freeze income tax rates and bands, and alter thresholds by no more than inflation
- Start work on ‘minimum income guarantee’ – a form of universal basic income – that would become a Citizens’ Basic Income if independent
- £10million funding to companies to pilot a four-day working week.
- Government-funded childcare expanded to one and two-year-olds
- A new independence referendum
Scots were told to brace themselves for tax rises or spending cuts today if Nicola Sturgeon introduces the SNP’s eye-watering manifesto plans for tens of billions of pounds of spending increases.
The First Minister, who is widely expected to win a majority at the Holyrood elections in May, pledged to give Scots free trips to the dentist, plough billions more into the NHS and infrastructure and set up pilot schemes for a four-day working week and a universal basic income.
But the colossal cost of her plans if she takes the SNP into its third decade of power in Scotland are certain to raise serious questions over how it will all be paid for.
At the same time as pledging to open the public sector cash taps wide open she also vowed to freeze income tax rates and bands for five years if re-elected.
Tonight a respected think tank suggested that cuts or increased levies would be needed elsewhere to underwrite the programe in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
David Phillips, associate director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), said: “The SNP’s manifesto continues with a trend of greater universality in public service provision – providing services free to everyone, rather than using means-testing to focus support on those with the lowest incomes.
‘The plans set out would also mean substantial gains for certain groups of households: many families with, particularly younger, children; households that would benefit from the exemption of all 18 to 21 year-olds from council tax; and those paying for home care, for example.
‘Paying for all of these pledges in what could be a tight funding environment over the next few years will require tricky trade-offs though: tax rises or spending cuts in at least some other areas.
‘The tougher fiscal situation an independent Scotland would face in at least its first few years would make the challenge of delivering these commitments even harder.’
The IFS also poured cold water on the SNP’s pledge to spend billions more on the NHS in Scotland, suggesting it could amount to lower spending that that planned for England.
‘The SNP commits to increasing front-line health spending by at least 20 per cent (or £2.5 billion) over the next parliament, even if the Barnett consequentials resulting from increases in spending on the English NHS are less than this,’ it noted.
‘That would represent a real-terms increase of around 2.1 per cent per year, over and above expected inflation – similar to the average annual real-terms growth in Scottish health spending over the past five years, but slower than the 3.4 per cent per year promised to NHS England in its most recent long-term funding plan, and slower than what previous analysis – produced prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which will likely add to medium-term healthcare pressures – has suggested might be needed to keep pace with demographic and cost pressures.’
The SNP made a similar pledge to freeze income tax at the 2016 election, only to U-turn and increase it by a penny the following year.
Ms Sturgeon’s opponents rounded on her manifesto today, attacking the party’s record after 14 years in power and blasting the SNP’s focus on a new independence vote.
Scottish Tory leader Douglass Ross said: ‘It is a list of future broken promises. They won’t deliver because, just like the last 14 years, they’ll be distracted from the task at hand.
The First Minister (pictured today) pledged a ‘transformational’ spending rise in the wake of the pandemic, despite admitting than public health spending is already at ‘record levels.’
Scottish Tory leader Douglass Ross (pictured left, today in Edinburgh) said the SNP would be remembered for ‘promises made, that have never been delivered’
The controversial formula that hands Scotland more cash
What is the Barnett Formula?
It is a system used by the UK Government to figure out how much funding should be given to the other home nations when it decides to spend more or less on something in England.
It was devised by the former Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury Joel Barnett back in 1978.
While it has no standing in law it has now been used by the Treasury for more than 40 years to calculate funding figures.
Why is it so controversial?
The amount of money handed out to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the form of a block grant from Westminster is calculated based on population and what powers have been devolved from Whitehall.
In theory this should mean that spending should go up and down equally.
But the calculations are complicated and Scotland started with higher spending per head when the formula was first used which means that discrepancy is baked into the system.
The formula was only ever supposed to be temporary and even its architect said in 2014 that it was ‘unfair and should be stopped’.
‘Nicola Sturgeon will take her eye off the ball on everything else and focus on her top priority – a reckless referendum that she will demand the day after the election, if the SNP get a majority.’
On plans for a new referendum he added: ‘This is a manifesto to create a new crisis at the earliest opportunity, when we’re going to be tackling the health and economic crisis for years to come. If they get a majority, the SNP will put a referendum roadblock in front of Scotland’s recovery.’
And Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar added: ‘The SNP has been in government for 14 years. Nicola Sturgeon has been First Minister for seven years.
‘One in four children are growing up in poverty. We have fewer teachers and a litany of broken promises on the NHS. Scotland deserves better.’
Scotland has income tax-raising powers under the devolution settlement 20 years ago and like other devolved administrations also receives money from the Westminster Government under the Barnett Formula, which has been criticised as too generous to Scotland.
Last month it was revealed that the Scottish government is spending 30 per cent more on public services per person than England thanks to its generous funding deal.
But while Income Tax might be frozen, experts warned that Ms Sturgeon would have to raise other levies or make service cuts elsewhere to have any chance of funding her plans – and independence might make it harder.
The First Minister also continued on her collision course with Westminster as she confirmed plans for a new independence referendum within five years. Ms Sturgeon has already made plain her desire for there to be another ballot on the future of the UK before the end of 2023.
She blasted Boris Johnson for refusing to grant a rerun of the 2014 referendum saying there would be ‘no democratic, electoral or moral justification’ to stopping a fresh vote if Holyrood gained an overall majority in favour of independence.
Setting out her party’s manifesto today she set out a shopping list of expensive taxpayer-funded changes that she would introduce in what is expected to be her five-year term.
The staggering potential cost of a four-day week
A four-day working week is a superficially attractive vote-winner but one that its critics say comes with a staggering hidden cost.
Labour was the first mainstream party to push the idea, with Jeremy Corbyn putting it in his 2019 manifesto that helped push the party to an historic defeat.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the Labour conference that year that average full-time hours could be reduced to 32 per week within a decade ‘with no loss of pay’, saying that people should ‘work to live, not live to work.’
But it sparked an internal party row over whether it would apply to the NHS.
The manifesto pledge on the four-day working week stated: ‘Labour will tackle excessive working hours. Within a decade we will reduce average full-time weekly working hours to 32 across the economy, with no loss of pay, funded by productivity increases.’
But shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth appeared to water down the policy as he said there would be a ‘commission and a review in 10 years’ time looking at’ the viability of a shorter working week.
The Centre for Policy Studies think-tank warned that the consequences for the public finances were likely to be significant, possibly as high as £17billion.
Paul Johnson, director of the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the additional costs could ‘easily’ be £15billion a year.
‘It’s impossible to put a precise number on the long-run costs to the public sector of reducing full-time hours to 32 hours a week with no loss of pay,’ he told the Times at the time.
However, earlier this month it was revealed that more than a million British companies employing three million workers could move to a four-day working week after the Covid crisis.
A study by the charity Be The Business said 18 per cent of firms were considering the idea to boost employees’ productivity.
And five per cent of small and medium-sized businesses – some 300,000 – have already brought in the change, analyses by the Autonomy think tank said.
Around 22,000 staff at PwC have been told they can spend around half their working hours at home and end shifts early on Fridays in the summer.
The company said the ‘deal’ would allow workers to spend on average 40 per cent to 60 per cent of their time on remote working, if they choose.
She insisted the spending commitments in the manifesto – which total about £6 billion – are affordable, saying they come in ‘slightly below’ the central assumptions made for the Scottish Government’s budget for the coming years.
However she said much more could be done for Scotland if the country was independent from Westminster.
She pledged to make dental care free to ensure that ‘cost is not a barrier to accessing health care’, and promised to pour billions into frontline NHS and social care.
She also outlined plans for a ‘minimum income guarantee’ that would become a ‘Citizens’ Basic Income’ if Scotland became independent, and a £10 million cash pot for firms to pilot a four-day week.
A spokesman for Boris Johnson today said the UK Government had ‘no plans’ to introduce a four-day week.
Setting out her independence ambitions in her virtual address this morning, the SNP leader said: ‘I look around Europe and I see independent countries, of similar size to us, that are among the wealthiest, fairest and happiest in the world.
‘If Denmark and Norway and Ireland can do it, then with all our resources and talent, why not Scotland?’
She added: ‘After this election, if there is a simple, democratic majority in the Scottish Parliament for an independence referendum, there will be no democratic, electoral or moral justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson or anyone else to block the right of people in Scotland to decide their own future.
‘I believe passionately that with the powers of independence we can do so much more for Scotland.’
But she added: ‘Whether or not Scotland becomes independent won’t be decided by me or by the SNP or even by the Scottish Parliament.
‘It will happen only when a majority of people who live here in Scotland are persuaded to vote for it.
‘Scotland’s future will always be Scotland’s choice.’
Ms Sturgeon referenced Labour’s hero Nye Bevan as she outlined plans to axe dentistry charges in Scotland, having previously made prescriptions free.
Mr Bevan quit the Attlee government in 1951 after it introduced fees for dental work and prescriptions, and she said: ‘The iniquities of these charges are still with us today.
‘The choice of what treatment to receive – or indeed whether to receive any treatment at all – can depend on how much someone is willing or able to pay.
‘That is harmful for patients who don’t access the treatment they need. But it also puts pressure on other parts of the NHS.
‘In the year before the pandemic struck, almost 4000 people attended A&E for dental health reasons.
‘Many of these attendances – and a great deal of pain besides – would have been prevented with an earlier visit to the dentist.’
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: ‘We agree that we need transformational change – but after 14 years of SNP mismanagement we can have no faith in the SNP to deliver it’
‘Emotional’ Nicola Sturgeon, 50, gets first AstraZeneca jab under Scots vaccine rollout
Nicola Sturgeon said she was ’emotional’ after receiving her first Covid-19 vaccine today.
The First Minister paid tribute to NHS staff involved in the rollout after getting the AstraZeneca jab – known as a ‘jag’ in Scotland – at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow.
She said it would help to bolster her defence of the under-pressure treatment, which has caused concerns over some rare instances of blood clots.
‘It was totally pain free, I didn’t feel a thing,’ she said.
‘The lovely woman who vaccinated me made it all really easy.
‘I guess like many people I felt quite emotional because it’s so important this vaccination programme in helping us all get back to normal.’
Earlier the Scots Tory leader Douglas Ross has said Ms Sturgeon would still have ‘some time yet’ to wait for her jab if Scotland were independent and in the EU.
Last night he said the roll-out of the jab in the UK, which has been carried out far faster than in the EU, was the reason she was able to be innoculated so soon.
He said: ‘It is our way out of this pandemic, the positive roll-out of the vaccine scheme is allowing us to look forward rather than backward.
‘I think people across Scotland recognise we are only able to do that because we are part of a strong United Kingdom.
‘If Nicola Sturgeon had her way, she would take an independent Scotland back into the European Union and there would be well over a million-and-a-half fewer doses of the vaccine available in Scotland.
‘And it would be some time yet before Nicola Sturgeon was due to get her vaccine rather than just a matter of hours.’
But a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) pointed out that for every £1 per person available for public services south of the border this year, there is £1.30 allocated north of the border – with the difference almost all explained by the Barnett formula used in the calculation.
The IFS also said the Scottish Government has chosen to use some of its temporary coronavirus funding to pay for permanent spending commitments – raising concerns that will cause problems when the crisis eases.
The briefing note said the Holyrood administration had received an additional £9.5billion from the UK Government in Covid-related funding.
The First Minister pledged a ‘transformational’ spending rise in the wake of the pandemic, despite admitting than public health spending is already at ‘record levels.’
The SNP manifesto for the May 6 Scottish Parliament election contains a pledge to boost frontline NHS spending by at least 20 per cent – a move which would see frontline spending rise by more than £2.5 billion by the end of the next Holyrood term.
Ms Sturgeon’s party has also promised voters a £10 billion programme on investment in NHS facilities, combined with a minimum 25 percent rise in mental health spending and the establishment of a National Care Service.
But Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: ‘The promise of new funds for our NHS is to be welcomed and we agree that we need transformational change – but after 14 years of SNP mismanagement we can have no faith in the SNP to deliver it.
‘We must remember that as health minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s actions saw a cumulative total of £1 billion withheld from the NHS.
‘The fact of the matter is that we simply cannot trust the very party that has run down our NHS so badly to oversee its recovery.’
The SNP leader will tell voters this morning how the coronavirus pandemic has ‘turned life as we know it upside down’.
She said: ‘As we recover, we have the opportunity to reimagine our country. Not to return just to how things were – but to build a better nation.’
In a manifesto that she will claim is both ‘practical’ and ‘unashamedly optimistic’, the First Minister insisted her party has a ‘transformational ambition’.
‘In this manifesto the SNP is setting out a serious programme for serious times,’ she said.
In an effort ‘to capture the sense of possibility and hope for a better country and better world’, she will say it has the NHS at its heart.
‘If the SNP is re-elected we will use our experience to undertake a full-scale post-pandemic remobilisation of the NHS,’ the SNP said..
‘Today I am pledging a transformational increase in frontline health spending.
‘Investment in the NHS is already at record levels. But the pandemic has placed exceptional pressures on our NHS – and that requires an exceptional response.
‘Over the next Parliament, we will increase frontline NHS spending by at least 20 per cent.
‘This will deliver an additional £2.5 billion for frontline health services – and is almost double what an inflation-only increase would amount to.’
The SNP is also promising to set up fast-track cancer diagnostic centres in every health board area, with Ms Sturgeon also pledging to increase Scottish Government investment in mental health services by ‘at least 25 per cent’.
Every GP practice in the country will have access to a dedicated mental wellbeing link worker, she added, saying this will create a network of 1,000 additional staff.
Ms Sturgeon went on to say the ‘same vision’ must be shown for social care services as for the NHS, vowing: ‘In the next term of parliament, we will establish a National Care Service.
‘The National Care Service will improve standards, ensure enhanced pay and conditions for workers and provide better support for unpaid carers.
‘It will allow us to introduce a national wage for care staff – to whom we owe so much – and enter into national pay bargaining for the sector for the first time.’
Ms Sturgeon also said: ‘This will be a major change which requires major investment. So we will increase public investment in social care by 25% over the course of the parliament, delivering over £800 million of additional support for social care.
‘Because we believe that social care, just like health care, should be provided on a truly universal basis, free at the point of use, we will also remove charges for non-residential care.’
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross warned the SNP would ‘break’ its headline promises by focusing instead on a second independence referendum.
In a TV debate, Ms Sturgeon conceded her administration had taken its ‘eye off the ball’ in terms of the the drugs death crisis, with Mr Ross claiming this mean she ‘let thousands of people needlessly die because of her government’s inaction’.
He warned: ‘Now she’s preparing to take her eye off the ball again and demand another divisive independence referendum when we’re still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘The Scottish Conservatives will keep holding the SNP to account when they break headline promises and focus on another referendum, instead of Scotland’s recovery.’