The Scottish National Party this morning launched its manifesto, Stronger for Scotland, in Edinburgh, with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon setting out a simple message: returning a large group of SNP MPs to Westminster will strengthen Scotland’s voice but also deliver progressive change for people across the whole of the UK.
Whilst stating (to loud cheers) that her party “will always support independence”, Sturgeon was clear that this General Election is not about separation for Scotland. Instead she set out a number of areas where the SNP wants to work with “progressive allies” to deliver real change. Once again Sturgeon pledged that her party will not engage in any deal that would put the Conservatives in power, but would seek to make a Labour-led government “bolder and better”.
The manifesto contains a number of policies which overlap significantly with those announced by Labour, including: restoring the 50p top rate of tax, introducing a Mansion Tax, repeating the Bankers’ Bonus Tax, increasing the Minimum Wage to over £8 an hour by 2020, promoting the Living Wage and abolishing the Bedroom Tax. With the SNP also agreeing on the need for extra investment in the NHS across the UK, as well as backing a significant programme of affordable house building, there is a clear policy foundation which could underpin an arrangement – however informal – between Labour and the SNP.
The nuclear deterrent remains a major point of difference however: the SNP is clear that it will never vote for the renewal of Trident, whereas Labour is fully committed to retaining Britain’s nuclear capability. However, this seems unlikely to be a major stumbling block since SNP votes are unlikely to be necessary for renewal to be approved by the House of Commons, as the Conservatives are also fully committed to retaining Trident. The SNP’s stance on this issue is more about playing to their core vote than an issue on which they can realistically expect to wield much influence after May 7th.
The other potential – and perhaps most significant – area of disagreement revealed by the SNP manifesto is on full fiscal autonomy for Scotland (or “full financial responsibility” as it is phrased in the document). The Nationalists continue to support a phased transition to fiscal autonomy, starting with full control over employment policy. Whilst Labour is committed to a Scotland Bill implementing the Smith Agreement on further devolution, moves towards full fiscal autonomy or ‘devo max’ are likely to be unacceptable to Labour’s high command.
Among the other headline commitments in the SNP manifesto are:
• An end to austerity by implementing spending increases of 0.5% per year across departments to enable an extra £140bn to be invested in the economy.
• An extra £24bn of investment in the NHS across the UK by 2020/21.
• Construction of 100,000 affordable homes per year across the UK.
• Increasing the Employment Allowance from £2,000 per business per year to £6,000.
• Opposing the £3bn cut in support for disabled people.
• Retaining the triple lock on pensions and protecting the Winter Fuel Allowance.
This SNP manifesto – which is a noticeably lighter document than we’ve seen from the other parties thus far at just 56 pages – looks like a clear pitch for the Nationalists to play a key role in supporting a Labour-led administration.
The question is, will Ed Miliband be willing to be seen to be accepting their help?
Policy-by-policy, the SNP Manifesto in brief:
• Oppose austerity and never do a deal with the Conservatives.
• A new fiscal framework which includes a commitment to reduce overall government debt and move to a position of operating budget surpluses over the medium term.
• Public sector borrowing and public sector net debt falling in every year as a share of national income. In total, over £140 billion of additional public expenditure and investment would be available during the next parliament, compared to current UK government plans.
• The reintroduction of the 50p top tax rate, a tax on bankers’ bonuses, a bank levy, a mansion tax, a crackdown on tax avoidance, the abolition of ‘non dom’ status, reversal of the married couples’ tax allowance, and a review of the pension tax relief available to the wealthiest.
• Continue to closely monitor economic activity in the North Sea and look for a prompt and effective response from the UK government so we can maximise the economic opportunity.
• Continue to push for the swift deployment of the new Oil and Gas Authority in Aberdeen.
• Additional capital investment to support sustainable and broad-based economic recovery and make the country as a whole more internationally competitive.
• Proposals for additional expenditure in the next Parliament will include substantial new infrastructure investment.
• Support steps to increase the capital available to the Green Investment Bank and will ask the next UK government to report on options including new borrowing powers for the bank.
• Seek adequate transport infrastructure investment, with a particular aim of improving transport and communication links across the north of these isles. That includes connecting Scotland to HS2 as a priority, with construction beginning in Scotland as well as England, and a high speed connection between Glasgow, Edinburgh and the north of England as part of any high-speed rail network.
• Seek additional investment to support a more rapid roll out of superfast broadband and 4G across Scotland and to support wider and affordable access to the internet in our most disadvantaged communities.
• Back investment a house-building target across the UK of 100,000 affordable homes per year.
• Make it much easier for growing businesses across Scotland to access finance and will look for an expansion of lending options, including peer-to-peer ending and making it easier for new entrants to the market, in particular to help with short term financing.
• Press for seed-fund capitalisation of the new Scottish Business Development Bank, enabling new finance and investment for Scottish business to maximise job creation and growth.
• Support calls for more readily available export finance and believe the steps outlined in the Scottish Government’s updated Economic Strategy, with its focus on internationalisation, will boost export opportunities for Scottish businesses and help increase the number of Scottish exporters.
• Help small businesses with cash flow and will press the UK government to introduce effective legal protections to ensure small businesses are paid on time.
• Support the creation of a Creative Content Fund for the games industry to encourage the formation of new studios and also back the retention of the Video Games tax relief.
• Reintroduction of the post-study work visa so students who have been educated in Scotland can spend 2 years working here after their studies and can contribute to growing our economy.
• Examine proposals to maintain the Annual Investment Allowance at a stable rate and consider whether it can be maintained at £500,000 and whether it can be extended until the end of the next Parliament in 2020.
• Support a phased increase in the Employment Allowance from £2,000 per business per year to £6,000 per business per year by 2019-20.
• An increase in the minimum wage to £8.70 by 2020.
• Public sector organisations should be able to bid to operate rail services, as allowed in EU law but currently prevented by UK legislation.
• Ensure the public interest is fully protected in any future disposal of RBS and Lloyds shares, including decisions on how any windfall revenues should be used.
• Investment in so-called “national” projects in London, should be subject to normal consequential funding for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and that the North of England, in particular, should see a significant increase in infrastructure expenditure.
• Support Scotland’s city authorities with proposals for new City Deals – like the one already agreed with Glasgow and Clyde Valley – and will seek the creation of a £300 million Scottish Cities Fund.
• Ensure that a share of future oil and gas and renewable energy revenues are used to create a Sovereign Wealth Fund.
• Back measures to tackle tax avoidance, including early legislation to address tax dodging and an increase in staff resources at HMRC.
• Put forward measures to strengthen anti avoidance law across the UK to ensure it is as strong as new Scottish legislation.
• Support a review of controlled foreign companies exemptions and favour a rolling review of tax reliefs as part of an ongoing programme of simplification of the tax system.
• Support calls for a global fair tax summit to agree international measures to tackle tax abuses.
• Move forward cautiously with plans to increase the higher rate threshold to £50,000, ensuring first that tax revenues are sufficiently buoyant.
Pensions and savings
• Call for the pension triple lock to be retained and will support moves to a Single Tier Pension rate of £160 per week.
• Continue to support the roll out of auto enrollment for occupational pensions and also back, in principle, proposals to give pensioners more flexibility over their pension pots.
• Work with pensioner groups to identify and target unfair, hidden pension charges.
• Continue to support older Scots, by retaining key policies such as the free bus pass and free personal care and we’ll back the continuation of the free TV license.
• Oppose the abolition of Savings Credit.
• Resist any attempts to end the winter fuel allowance for pensioners.
• Support efforts in the next parliament to end unfair and exploitative zero-hour contracts, with a time-limited consultation.
• Vote for the complete abolition of the bedroom tax.
• Reverse the replacement of Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
• Support an urgent review of the system of assessments for disability benefits.
• Will not support attempts to restrict housing benefit for 18 to 21 year olds.
• Seek action to ensure that those using pre-payment meters have access to the same lower energy prices available to those using other payment methods.
• Press the UK government to work with the business community on mechanisms to formalise the relationship between government, employer associations and employee associations with a particular focus on encouraging wider trade union participation.
• Support increased employee representation on company boards and will urge UK government to consult on how best to deliver such an increase.
• Press for the restoration of a 90 days consultation period for redundancies affecting 100 or more employees.
• Oppose Tory plans to further restrict the right to strike and support trade unions with their proposals to modernise the way strike ballots are undertaken, with safe and secure online voting to maximise participation.
• Ensure the UK matches, and supports, Scotland’s ambitious commitments to carbon reduction and that both Scotland and the UK are able to play a constructive role at this year’s UN Climate Change Conference.
• Call on the UK government to match the approach of the Scottish Government with a dedicated Climate Justice Fund.
• Seek to maximise support for offshore wind, including by seeking alterations to the current Contracts for Differences (CFD) regime.
• Allocations from the next round of CFD should be made early and projects in Scotland should be prioritised and receive their fair share of funding.
• Continue to argue for changes to ensure that Scottish renewables, and Scotland’s islands, are not penalised because of their distance from markets in the south of England.
• Press for onshore wind to continue to receive support through the lifetime of the next Parliament.
• Remove barriers that are limiting growth in the hydro sector and provide additional support for pump hydro and Carbon Capture and Storage schemes.
• Support a big expansion in community heating schemes and believe the Renewable Heat Incentive should continue beyond 2015.
• Press the UK government to make it simpler for communities to establish local energy companies and easier for community schemes to access the grid.
• Ofgem should be empowered to enforce price reductions to reflect lower wholesale costs as a result of lower oil prices. Consumers must see the benefit of lower wholesale costs in their bills, with savings of as much as £100 a year.
• The Scottish Government and UK government should have joint oversight of Ofgem.
• Oppose UK withdrawal from the EU and will propose that, in any future referendum there should be a double majority requirement. Each of the four constituent nations of the UK would have to vote for withdrawal before the UK as a whole could leave the European Union.
• Vote against staging an in/out EU referendum, ensuring Scotland can continue to take advantage of international opportunities.
• Believe there should be a greater role for devolved administrations in the Council of Ministers and more direct engagement in devolved policy areas, across the full range of European institutions.
• Will seek a Cooperation Agreement between the UK government and devolved administrations, which will include formal agreement on speaking rights for Scottish ministers and direct Scottish input into the development of UK policy on key EU issues.
• Support free movement within the EU and Scottish participation in the European Arrest warrant.
• Will seek an explicit exemption for the NHS and Scottish Water, as part of a general public sector exemption, from the terms of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
• UK government should devolve legislative powers to the Scottish Government to control the growth and impact of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
• Scotland should have full responsibility for the regulation of gambling.
• Will seek new powers to effectively regulate payday lenders in Scotland’s communities, building on the recommendations of the Smith Commission and going beyond proposals set out so far by the current UK government.
Government and constitution
• Continue to work with others, across the political parties, to deliver a system that gives real power to voters to remove MPs who have forfeited the trust of their electors.
• Support the Single Transferable Vote, a system that makes sure every vote and every part of the country counts.
• The House of Lords should be scrapped and replaced with a fully elected second chamber.
• Believe 16 and 17 year olds should be given the vote in UK general and European elections and will work with future governments to secure this change.
• Support strict rules on lobbying but believe that campaigning charities should be allowed straightforward access and restrictions on their activities as ‘non-party campaigners’ should be removed.
Equality and human rights
• Take forward proposals to ensure 50 per cent female representation on public boards in Scotland.
• Press for the same step to be taken for UK wide public bodies and encourage the new UK government to work with the private sector to increase the number of women represented at the most senior levels in our major companies.
• Support the tightening of the law on maternity discrimination, with legislation introduced within the first year of a new UK government.
• Demand that regulations to compel employers of more than 250 people to publish annual gender pay gap information, starting in 2016-17, are consulted on and brought into law.
• Demand that VAT on sanitary products is removed.
• Bring forward an Equal Pay (Scotland) Bill to finally deliver equal pay law that works for women in Scotland.
• Support calls to establish a Race Committee to advise the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
• Ask the UK government to conduct an early review of the current immigration detention system and regime, in order to deliver a fairer and more effective system.
• Oppose scrapping the Human Rights Act or withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights.
Scottish Government powers
• Integrate skills and employment policy, with an extension of powers for the Scottish Parliament.
• Prompt devolution of the Work Programme and Work Choice.
• Maintain free university education in Scotland.
• Seek to secure additional funds to improve access to finance for growing Scottish companies.
• Maximise investment in Scotland’s infrastructure using capital spending, new borrowing powers and innovative new finance mechanisms.
• Press for the UK Government to adopt the Scottish Government’s public sector pay policy, ensuring all staff covered by the Government are paid the Living Wage.
• Work to further promote the Living Wage in the private sector, for example through procurement policy.
• Seek to ensure that the UK matches Scotland’s ambitious commitments to carbon reduction and play a positive role in the UN Climate Change conference in Paris.
• Seek the full devolution of responsibility over all food levies to promote Scotland’s food and drink sector.
• Support a Treasury review of alcohol taxation to better reflect alcohol content, to support Scotland’s whisky industry.
• Urge the UK Government to deliver a simplified Common Agricultural Policy from the European Commission.
• Seek to deliver a ‘future-proofed’ infrastructure, establishing world class digital connectivity across Scotland by 2020.
• Pressing for all court fines to be retained in Scotland to boost investment in crime reduction measures.
• Seek to almost double the number of free hours of childcare to 30 hours per week.
• Seek extensive new powers over welfare.
• Continue to pass on any new Barnett consequentials from further health spending in England to additional health spending in Scotland.
• Support an ambitious programme of health and social care integration.
Delivering Home Rule for Scotland
• Seek to deliver the strongest possible package of devolution to Scotland.
• Ensuring that the Smith Agreement is delivered in full without being watered down.
• Ensuring there is no “effective veto” for UK Ministers on the exercise of various new powers.
• Support the “wholesale” devolution of welfare to Scotland.
• Devolve additional taxes to Scotland to generate economic growth, deliver more employment opportunities and support family incomes.
• Devolve decisions on wages and employment policy to Scotland.
• Seeking the powers for Scotland to establish its own constitutional framework, including human rights, equalities and the place of local government.
• Giving the Scottish Parliament the right to directly represent its own interests in the EU and internationally.
• Seek the power to use targeted tax incentives to encourage higher levels of investment in capital or R&D.
• Seek the economic powers to support a “fully cohesive industrial strategy”, focused on boosting manufacturing and innovation.