April 21, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
So there we have it. The manifesto season has closed with the SNP’s manifesto, launched by the all-conquering Nicola Sturgeon. Just as Labour’s 1983 manifesto was known as the “longest suicide note in history”, I think we can safely call this the “longest ransom note in history”. We now see what they are going to want when they take Labour hostage after the election.
There are similarities and differences with Labour’s plans. Labour want to cut the deficit every year in Parliament but the SNP is the anti-austerity party, with plans for a rise in spending (of 0.5% above inflation each year) that means they would borrow and spend £140bn more than Labour over the course of the next Parliament. The SNP claim that “every year, the deficit will fall and debt as a % of GDP will fall”, but I would bear in mind that this effectively commits them to cutting the deficit by £1 each year and then being able to say that they have met their manifesto commitment.
They both have similar plans for tax, with both parties planning to put back the 50% top rate of income tax (although the SNP have inserted a comment that this should be used ‘cautiously’, making sure tax revenues are ‘buoyant’) introducing a mansion tax on properties over £2m, using a bank levy and re-instating the bankers’ bonus tax that Labour introduced in the last year of their previous government. There is a massive difference in commitment to NHS funding, with a Labour only promising £2.5bn extra funding a year and the SNP claiming that they would add an enormous £24bn extra funding over the course of the Parliament. Of course, there is also the renewal of Trident, which the SNP have committed to vote against, whilst Labour will continue with. This latter conflict is not really an issue though, as the Conservatives will support Labour on a vote.
There was a curious attempt by the SNP, particularly during Sturgeon’s speech at the launch, to try to appeal to voters over Hadrian’s Wall. She was talking I imagine to the left-leaning voters who like the fact that the SNP might put pressure on Labour to come in their direction, particularly on spending. Maybe so, but a read of the manifesto suggests that those are little more than words, given the primary focus (as it should be, given who they are, is on the needs and wants of Scotland).
Because let’s not forget, Scotland, with 5% of the UK’s population, stands to benefit a great deal from the SNP’s policies, whilst allowing others to pay. Under the Barnett Formula, the system of ‘consequentials’ makes sure that when the U.K. raises its’ public spending, Scotland gets more. The manifesto is pretty clear on this too, pointing out for example that if NHS spending were to be raised by £24 billion over the course of the Parliament, then Scotland would get an extra £2bn a year. So, let’s not forget that suggesting an end to austerity and ‘modest spending increases’ is about lining Scotland’s pockets.
At least, you might say, they would be prepared to contribute more in tax revenue to pay for that right? Nope. The mansion tax will be mostly paid for by Londoners. Most people who would pay the 50% tax rate live in London. The banks are mainly located in London too. You could argue if you want that the SNP could use revenue from oil and gas receipts from the North Sea contribute. Only, with the massive fall in the oil price, that revenue isn’t there are the moment. There is a clue to this being so in the manifesto where it asks for public money to spend on investment in oil and gas. This replaces the private investment which is no longer there as the oil price doesn’t justify it. So, effectively, the SNP manifesto is a ransom demand on London to spend on Scotland. Or else we don’t get a functioning government.
Which comes back to the point I made yesterday. Much as their manifesto commits them to never working with the Tories, the truth is that with the seats that they are likely to win and their massive dominance now over the Scottish politician scene, the SNP are able to make demands that are likely to make even the most commitment Unionist wince. This manifesto beings a second independence referendum closer, of that I have little doubt.