SNP manifesto 2019: Key policies explained

The SNP has launched its 2019 election manifesto, with the slogan “Stronger for Scotland”. It sets out the policies the party aims to introduce, should it win the election.

The full document runs to 52 pages. But what are the promises that will grab the public’s attention, and potentially win over voters on polling day, 12 December?

1. Stop Brexit

Keep Scotland in the EU by supporting a second Brexit referendum with Remain on the ballot paper.

About a third of Scotland’s million Leave voters at the Brexit referendum in 2016 were also supporters of Scottish independence. However, Nicola Sturgeon has come down firmly in favour of the UK remaining within the EU, or re-joining it if Scotland becomes independent.

At Westminster, the party’s MPs have backed moves towards another Brexit referendum, so long as Remain is an option on the ballot paper. That remains the position in the current election’s manifesto. If it comes to a choice for MPs between revoking Brexit and “no deal” with the European Union, the SNP says it would back revocation.

In addition, Brexit is being seen by the SNP as such a big change to the UK constitution that it warrants another vote on Scottish independence or indyref2 as it is known. Even if Brexit is thrown into reverse the SNP will still use any leverage it has after this election to secure indyref2, arguing that the Brexit “chaos” will continue for years.

2. Hold indyref2 in 2020

Ask the UK government to give the Scottish Parliament the power to hold a referendum next year on independence.

Precisely nobody will be surprised to see support for an independence referendum in the SNP manifesto. To be clear, the party already believes it has several mandates for a new poll, but hopes that a big win on 12 December will really cement its case.

This is because the big question about indyref2 is how it comes about. Nicola Sturgeon wants an agreement with the UK government before holding a vote, but has seen the Conservatives rule this out completely and Labour say it wouldn’t be on the table in the “early years” of a new government.

If Ms Sturgeon is to get a referendum on her 2020 timetable, something needs to give – and she wants the result of this election to send a big message to both potential prime ministers about “Scotland’s future being in Scotland’s hands”.

3. Increase health spending

Demand that the UK government raise health spending in the UK to match health spending in Scotland.

Health is a devolved issue meaning spending and policy are decisions for the Scottish government. The SNP has been in power in Scotland for a more than decade and has been under scrutiny over its domestic record.

But that doesn’t stop the SNP wanting to influence what happens at Westminster. Scotland spends more per head on health than any other part of the UK. This is partly to support rural services, but historically Scotland has faced a number of public health challenges.

The SNP says to get its support in the event of a hung parliament, spending on the NHS across the UK needs to increase by billions of pounds. Pushing up spending per head in the UK to the same level as Scotland would then give a further boost to the block grant from the Treasury to Holyrood. That would mean health spending in Scotland would remain proportionally higher than the rest of the UK.

4. Bring a ‘real’ end to austerity

Press the UK government to invest in public services and the economy.

The SNP could not form a majority government, so there’s no costed budget with this manifesto. That will be for the Holyrood elections in May 2021. So there are demands for additional spending, without making clear the source of these funds.

The big ask of the next chancellor is to reverse the spending squeeze over the past decade. There’s a claim in the manifesto that deficit reduction measures by the Treasury have led to £13.9bn less spending on public services in Scotland than would otherwise have been the case.

While the Conservatives plan to increase the level at which employees start to pay National Insurance, the SNP wants both to freeze that level and to devolve power over that system, so that it can be integrated with Holyrood’s income tax powers.

The other big tax and spend change would be to take the £8.5bn in tax revenue projected (by the Office for Budget Responsibility) over five years from UK offshore oil and gas, and to apply it to a “net zero fund”, to help the transition of energy use. That is a change from past SNP spending plans, which looked to oil and gas revenue to fund public services.

5. Scrap Trident

Get rid of the UK’s nuclear deterrent and spend the money on public services.

The SNP has long called for the removal of Britain’s nuclear armed submarines from Scottish waters. Nicola Sturgeon has recently stated it would be a red line for the SNP if it were to back any Labour government.

Jeremy Corbyn, too, has long been an opponent of nuclear weapons, but official Labour Party policy (restated in its manifesto) – like that of the Conservatives – is to support the renewal of Trident.

The Liberal Democrats say they’d keep Trident but reduce the nuclear posture of round-the-clock patrols with three instead of four submarines. The trouble is that the Westminster Parliament has already given the green light to build four new submarines to carry the Trident missiles at a cost of £35bn. That work is already well under way.

The SNP still believes scrapping Trident would free up tens of billions of pounds to strengthen conventional forces and to spend on hospitals and schools.

But critics of the SNP position warn that scrapping Trident would hit the local economy on the Clyde where the submarines are based. They also argue it could jeopardise Britain’s position as a recognised nuclear power and permanent member of the UN Security Council.

6. Protect the NHS

Introduce a bill to protect the health service from privatisation and future trade deals.

The future of the NHS – and its part in any post-Brexit trade deals – has already been a major battleground in this election.

Although the Scottish government is responsible for running the health service in Scotland, there have been concerns that after Brexit, trade negotiations between the UK and US could lead to American companies bidding for contracts and pushing up the cost of drugs.

The SNP’s NHS Protection Act would enshrine in law that the NHS is protected as publicly-owned and operated with its services publicly commissioned.

The SNP says it will stop the health service becoming a lever in any kind of international trade deal. Crucially the legislation says any trade deal would require the consent of all the devolved parliaments and assemblies to ensure it did not impact on the health service.

However, the Conservatives have strongly denied the NHS would ever be used as a bargaining tool. Expect to hear more about it during the campaign.

7. Tackle the drugs crisis

Devolve drug classification powers to Holyrood.

Scotland has a drugs death crisis. There is an escalating number of drug deaths in Scotland – in 2018 a record total of 1,187. The death rate in Scotland is the worst in the EU and three times higher than the UK as a whole.

The SNP has voiced frustration that some radical solutions cannot be explored. At present, drugs policy is reserved to Westminster under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. The SNP manifesto wants the power to allow a consumption room in Glasgow where users could inject or smoke their own illegal drugs. But this has been put on hold because the Home Office refused permission for Scotland’s senior law officer, the Lord Advocate, to grant legal protection for it.

The SNP argues the proposal would connect hard-to-reach users with drug treatment services and help cut the death toll among older addicts. It’s a high-profile pledge but they acknowledge it’s just one part of an issue that will require long-term action.

8. Tackle the climate emergency

Demand the UK government matches Holyrood’s climate change targets.

While some parties have been throwing around new dates for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, the SNP has not. But then the ink is barely dry on Scottish legislation which set 2045 as the new target year.

Instead it commits its MPs to push the new UK government into helping Scotland achieve that target through accelerating the deployment of carbon capture, usage and storage – a key technology for tackling the ‘climate crisis’ – and matching Scotland’s 2032 date for all new cars to be electric.

It also wants taxation reformed to support “greener choices”, like making our homes more energy-efficient.

But the SNP insists Brexit must not be allowed to derail the train carrying us towards net-zero. And – unsurprisingly – suggests that the key to going even further in addressing climate change is… independence.

9. Increase paternity leave

Up the provision of paid leave for parents and encourage dads to take more time off.

All the parties are making some kind of offer to new parents. The SNP’s goes further than most.

Nicola Sturgeon says its offer would be a “game changer”- a new 12-week use-it-or-lose-it period of “daddy leave”.

Parents are currently entitled to convert up to 50 weeks of their 52-week maternity leave to shared parental leave but take-up by dads has been “stubbornly low”. The SNP is offering to extend this to 64 weeks with 12 weeks ring-fenced for fathers to encourage them to take the time off with their new babies.

In addition it is offering to increase statutory pay and introduce stronger protections against redundancy for new parents.

How the SNP could introduce this is open to question. Parental leave is covered by employment law and this is decided by Westminster, not Holyrood, so the SNP would need to win the support of other parties or introduce a private members’ bill to deliver this proposal.

10. Devolve more transport powers

Give Holyrood power over train services to build better, greener public transport.

Can shifting power from Westminster to Holyrood help deliver cleaner, greener public transport? The SNP thinks so.

It says rail passengers would get a better deal if the Scottish Parliament controls both track and train – that is the train operator, Scotrail, and Network Rail, which maintains the lines, signalling and many stations.

Right now, Network Rail is ultimately controlled by Westminster. The SNP wants that to change.

Why? Bitter experience shows passengers get fed up with delays caused by repair and upgrading works – and often blame Scotrail, regardless of whether it is its fault.

Closer working between track engineers and train operators, the SNP argues, would make planning easier – and reduce disruption for commuters.

The SNP has rejected Labour’s railway nationalisation plans. A single, GB-wide company would, it says, strip powers away from Scotland.

But it has left open the option of a public sector operator running Scotrail services in the future.

It has made this case before, but political horse-trading after this election could give it the breakthrough it wants.

What do the other parties offer?

Here’s a concise guide to where the parties stand on key issues like Brexit, education and the NHS.

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BBC News – UK Politics

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