Those with long memories will recall previous SNP pledges to abolish council tax, reduce class sizes in primary school to no more than 18, and introduce a cash grant for first-time house buyers – none of which have been delivered in 14 long years of SNP government in Scotland, despite a parliamentary majority at one point which would have enabled them to do just that.
A similarly cynical view might be taken to last week’s launch of the SNP manifesto for this coming election, offering a range of ambitious – and expensive – policy commitments. There are pledges to explore a four-day working week, to pilot a universal basic income for all citizens, new funding for the NHS, free dental care, a free bicycle for every child, and so the list goes on. There is, it seems, something for everyone.
But how, exactly, will all this be paid for? Analysis carried out by the Scottish Conservatives shows that the Scottish budget would need to at least double for the SNP to implement their manifesto in full, given their spending commitments total some £95 billion in a single year.
All this at a time when they are saying that rates of taxation in Scotland would not require to rise (although, of course, they made the same promise back in 2016, and swiftly broke it).
But do not just rely on Conservative criticism of the SNP’s figures. The independent and widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies states: “The manifesto does not provide information on how much these various pledges will cost altogether… but the list of policies included clearly has significant net cost. Paying for this in the context of what will likely be a tight fiscal environment in the coming Parliament would require tricky trade-offs, and potentially either (as yet unspoken) tax rises, or cuts to at least some areas of public spending.”
The same IFS has already pointed out that the SNP are utilising one-off Covid money coming in cash grants from the British Treasury to fund ongoing policy commitments. This diversion of vital resources infuriates business owners desperate for support funds, particularly when they see similar enterprises south of the Border able to reopen when they are still closed. Moreover, it is simply not sustainable in the long run, and will require – as the IFS fairly point out – either future tax rises, cuts elsewhere, or a mixture of both.