Ed Miliband made a big pitch to voters today in a speech to the Labour faithful in Clydebank.
Some opinion polls are suggesting the party could face a landslide defeat by the SNP north of the border, but Mr Miliband spent more time talking about the Conservatives than the threat from the nationalists.
Not that Mr Miliband is keen on the name “Conservatives”. He avoided the term completely, while using the word “Tory” or “Tories” no fewer than 32 times.
And the Liberal Democrats’ role in the coalition appears to have been forgotten completely, with numerous references to what “this Tory government” had done.
Mr Miliband was also keen to list the policies that apparently put clear water between Labour and the Conservatives. Did his speech pass the FactCheck test?
This doesn’t mean Labour will ban all zero-hours contracts full stop. The party’s policy is to change the rules.
Employees who have worked regular hours will get the right to a fixed contract. Employers will no longer be able to require zero-hours workers to make themselves available just in case they are needed, or require them to work for just one company.
And workers who have their shifts cancelled at short notice will get compensation.
Labour have been attacking the coalition’s record on zero hours for a while – but official statistics actually make it impossible to say whether the use of such contracts has gone up or down under this government.
This isn’t quite a fair representation of the Conservatives’ plans. It’s true, as Mr Miliband says, that the independent Office for Budget Responsibility has said the spending plans set out in last week’s budget imply cuts twice as deep as anything we have experienced so far in 2016/17 and 2017/18.
But the OBR is working on the assumption that the next government will reduce the deficit purely by squeezing spending on public services.
And the chancellor, George Osborne, has specifically said that a Conservative government would do something quite different, saving money through cuts to working-age benefits and a tax avoidance crackdown, so cuts to public spending would be about the same level as in the last parliament.
It’s fair to say that Mr Miliband isn’t the only person to express some scepticism about the chancellor’s plans. Mr Osborne has not said exactly how he would achieve the massive implied cuts in welfare spending, or bring in the extra billions from tax avoiders.
It’s true that George Osborne has said he would not just pay down the deficit but run a small budget surplus in the next parliament.
But since the autumn statement, the size of the planned surplus has now been slashed from £23bn in 2019/20 to £7bn, so the chancellor has given himself a bit more wriggle-room to make less severe cuts to public spending..
Labour have an even looser fiscal target, committing to balancing the books and achieving a surplus of unspecified size at some point in the next Parliament.
Ed Balls could hit this target while spending billions more than the Conservatives – which of course means borrowing and debt would be cut more slowly.
That’s not an immediate raise. Labour’s pledge is to hit £8 an hour by 2020.
The current rate is £6.50 an hour and is due to go up to £6.70 an hour in October after an above-average rise of 3 per cent was agreed. If it continued to rise at this rate it would stand at around £8 by 2020 anyway.
The independent Low Pay Commission actually recommends what the hourly rate should be. Government can overrule the commission but rarely does. It’s not clear whether Mr Miliband would overrule the commissioners if they decided that a rate of £8 an hour would hurt the economy.
This is the size of the deficit an independent Scotland would be running, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).
The IFS thinks Scotland’s financial position will worsen as oil prices continue to fall, as predicted by the OBR.
North Sea oil accounts for a much bigger chunk of the economy of Scotland than of the UK as a whole, so the national accounts are more sensitive to changes in global prices.
The IFS’s latest estimates suggest Scotland will run a budget deficit of 8.6 per cent of GDP in 2015/16, compared to 4 per cent of GDP for the whole of the UK:
“In cash terms this is equivalent to a gap of £7.6 billion. Unless oil and gas revenues were to rebound, onshore revenues were to grow more quickly than in the rest of the UK, or government spending in Scotland were cut, a similar sized gap would remain in the years ahead.”
True. Perhaps Mr Miliband read our FactCheck from last week, which noted this and other broken promises made by David Cameron before the last election.