The SNP manifesto promises “a fairer, more equal Scotland” and a “clear alternative to continued austerity”.
But does it pass the FactCheck test?
A manifesto for Scotland?
This is one of the more confusing manifestos of this election, as it flips between discussing policies set by the government in Westminster and those under the control of the Scottish Government.
For instance, the SNP are promising “the continuation of free university education in Scotland”.
But it is constitutionally impossible for their MPs in Westminster to do this, because education is a devolved issue in Scotland.
Only members of the Scottish Government can make this promise – but they are not the ones being elected in this election.
Whole swathes of this manifesto discuss issues that are simply not at stake in this general election.
‘Responsible’ public finances?
The SNP pledge to balance the current budget – so that government spending equals the money brought in by taxes – by 2021-22.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the plans “imply a net increase in taxes”, but most of the money will have to come from more government borrowing.
The SNP put it differently, saying their plans would “free up” £120 billion of extra public spending between 2017-18 and 2021-22. That language disguises what is actually just more borrowing and more debt.
The SNP seems to be the only party openly flouting one of the “golden rules” of managing public finances: that governments should only borrow money to fund long term investment in the economy, rather than just plugging holes in tax revenues.
Labour and the Tories have both said they’ll follow that rule from this year if they’re elected. But the SNP say they’ll only bring it in from 2022.
How effective would the 50p tax be?
The SNP want to raise the additional rate of income tax (i.e. on earnings over £150,000) from 45 per cent to 50 per cent from 2018-19.
They want to make sure this is a UK-wide, because “there is a risk that an increase in the additional rate … in Scotland alone would lead to a loss of revenue”.
At first glance, that makes sense. People on higher incomes have access to the means to avoid, and even evade, taxes. If Scotland sticks its neck out with a 50p additional rate and the rest of the country doesn’t, those top earners could simply divert their money to other parts of the UK, and the Scottish taxman will lose out relative to the rest of the country.
But even if the 50p rate was rolled out nationwide, can we guarantee that it would bring in more money for the UK Exchequer?
The last time the top rate of tax was this high was 2009, when the Labour government announced a new additional rate. It was expected to raise £2.5 billion for the Treasury, but data from HMRC published in 2012 shows that the change probably brought in much less than originally predicted because of “forestalling”. Top earners heard about the change in the 2009 Budget and brought forward their self-declared income to avoid paying the 50 per cent rate the following year.
Given that the ultimate revenue is partly down to human behaviour, all anyone can do is make an educated guess.
Are the SNP really anti-austerity?
Although it’s an opposition party in Westminster, the SNP already has control of the devolved Scottish parliament (albeit as a minority government).
It has responsibility over key areas such as tax, health, and education and social services. But the party’s actions have not always tallied with the rhetoric.
During the last General Election the IFS claimed the SNP’s plans would mean a longer period of austerity than any other party was proposing.
In government, the SNP have failed to protect services from what their manifesto calls “damaging Tory cuts”.
In some cases, they have gone along with the austerity or even gone further than the Conservatives.
Healthcare spending in England increased by 9.2 per cent in real terms between 2011/12 and 2015/16, according to the Treasury. In Scotland, meanwhile, the SNP oversaw an increase of just 3.7 per cent in Scotland.
The manifesto says the SNP will “commit – as we always have done – to implementing the recommendations of the pay review body”. Labour’s manifesto, by comparison, unequivocally promises to “scrap the NHS pay cap”.
And, unlike Labour, the SNP has no plans to increase tax for big business. They plan to increase public subsidies paid to the oil and gas industry, but could not tell FactCheck what the cost to the taxpayer would be.