Anas Sarwar's tax pledge as Scottish Labour leader fires starting gun on First Minister bid

Mr Sarwar made the comments as he launched his party’s general election manifesto

Anas Sarwar has fired the starting gun on his bid to become Scotland’s next first minister as he ruled out any income tax rises north of the border.

It came as the Scottish Labour leader launched his party’s general election manifesto at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh. The 135-page document largely echoes the proposals laid out in the UK-wide Labour manifesto published last week, but Mr Sarwar also looked to the next Scottish Parliament election in 2026.

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He said: “The manifesto we have published today of course reflects much of what the UK Labour manifesto outlined last week, demonstrating what a UK Labour government will deliver in office.

“But we know change for Scotland is a two-stage process. It begins in just 17 days when we can finally get rid of this lying, corrupt, incompetent Tory Government – but that is just the start. In 2026, we need a change of direction at Holyrood as much as we need one at Westminster today.

“The SNP has failed the people of Scotland – breaking our NHS, ruining our once world-leading education system, and tarnishing our politics by wasting and misusing your money.”

He said Scottish Labour will improve policing, reform the planning system, ban second jobs for MSPs and bring in a recall mechanism at Holyrood, as well as reducing the poverty-related attainment gap in education.

Mr Sarwar also vowed to ensure the NHS was secure for “generations to come”. He argued the country was “crying out for change”.

Asked if he could rule out any increase in income tax rates or bands in Scotland if he becomes First Minister in 2026, Mr Sarwar replied simply: “Yes.”

The Scottish Labour manifesto argues the SNP has used income tax, which is devolved, “as a substitute for economic growth, hiking taxes even higher for people in Scotland”. Anyone earning more than around £29,000 currently pays more income tax in Scotland than they would in England.

Following his speech, Mr Sarwar was repeatedly questioned about the two-child benefit cap, which limits the number of children families can claim benefits for. Scottish Labour has repeatedly called for the cap to be scrapped, but this was not included in the UK or Scottish manifestos.

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UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer previously said his party could not make “unfunded promises”. Mr Sarwar said the “honest reality is after 14 years of Tory economic carnage, we will not be able to do everything we want to do as fast as we want to do”.

Asked by a journalist if he is against the cap, Mr Sarwar said: “The short answer is yes. We were right to oppose the two-child limit, we were right to vote against the two-child limit.”

Mr Sarwar insisted fighting poverty is in the Labour Party’s “DNA”.

SNP candidate for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh Tommy Sheppard said Labour offered “no real change at all”.

He said: “It is a manifesto that doubles down on the silence of the Labour Party on the £18 billion of cuts we know Sir Keir Starmer is planning. With less than three weeks to go in this election, it’s about time they were honest with the public about the cuts to public services they are signed up to.

“This copy-paste job reminds us of how little influence the branch office has, because even when it differs from the version produced by their London bosses, we know Scottish Labour MPs will always take their marching orders from whips in Westminster.”

A poll released on Tuesday showed Labour’s lead over the SNP in Scotland has slipped from 10 points to four. The study carried out by YouGov spoke to 1,068 adults between June 3 and June 7, finding 34 per cent of decided voters backed Sir Keir’s party, compared to 30 per cent for the SNP. The last poll from the firm in May found the parties on 39 per cent and 29 per cent respectively, but the gap has since shrunk.

Elsewhere, the Scottish Tories increased by one point to 13 per cent, while the Lib Dems remained on 8 per cent. Reform UK also overtook the Scottish Greens, rising from 4 per cent to 7 per cent, while the SNP’s former coalition partners dropped one point to 6 per cent.

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The poll found that more than one third of voters who backed the SNP in 2019 will vote for another party, with 24 per cent saying they will back Labour. Meanwhile, the Tories could lose more than half their voters from 2019, with just 49 per cent saying they would back the party again, with 19 per cent turning to Labour, 18 per cent to Reform UK and 10 per cent to the Lib Dems.

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