Race for Holyrood: Your Scottish election briefing for Friday, April 16

A light-hearted look at the Scottish election campaign trail.

Soapbox

@scotlibdems: “It's manifesto day and we will #PutRecoveryFirst.”

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The Scottish Liberal Democrats manifesto centres around a host of promises to improve education, including a pledge to fund an “urgent programme to help children bounce back” after schooling was disrupted during the pandemic.

The party also wants to raise the school starting age to seven, with a play-based education until then, and more childcare for youngsters from the age of two.

In an effort to cut class sizes, every qualified teacher will be guaranteed a job, with starting salaries set at £30,000.

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On Friday morning, John Swinney insisted tax rises were not necessary to fulfil the SNP’s manifesto pledges, which include significant spending increases across the economy. The Deputy First Minister said the policies, which include funding for a Universal Basic Income scheme, were “deliverable and sustainable” using Scotland’s current tax revenue.

But in a report on the manifesto, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found the document “does not provide” costing for various longer-term commitments, including massive spending on health, education and childcare provision.

The think-tank said paying for all of these policies in the “tight funding environment” of a post-Covid global economy will require tough decisions from ministers. It added tax rises or targeted spending cuts – not mentioned in the manifesto – would inevitably be required to balance the books.

IFS concluded: “A stated aim of not increasing income tax – the main tax currently under the Scottish Government’s control – and plans to cut business rates could make this an especially difficult circle to square.”

Leader Ratings

Anas Sarwar – 8/10

The Labour leader gave another polished performance at the STV leaders’ debate on Tuesday, but his admission earlier this week that he is not a contender for First Minister at next month’s election may have taken the shine off somewhat. He has the launch of his party’s manifesto to look forward to next week, however, which might help the party break through to more voters.

Nicola Sturgeon – 7/10

The First Minister was more like her old self during the debate, but her admission the Scottish Government had taken its eye “off the ball” on drug deaths went down like a lead balloon with viewers. Despite the remark, Ms Sturgeon will end the week on a high after widespread coverage of the SNP’s manifesto.

Douglas Ross – 7/10

The Tory leader has had an improved week of campaigning despite comments he made about Scotland’s traveller community resurfacing. Mr Ross was in better form at the STV debate, cornering the First Minister over her record in government and focusing less on independence.

Patrick Harvie – 8/10

Mr Harvie launched his party’s manifesto this week with an ambitious pledge to create more than 100,000 green jobs in Scotland. The manifesto, which also includes plans for Universal Basic Income, have garnered the Scottish Greens plenty of media coverage – which can sometimes be hard to come by for smaller parties. The general consensus on Mr Harvie’s debate performance was also positive.

Willie Rennie – 6/10

This week the Scottish Lib Dems have felt somewhat squeezed out of the campaign. A raft of big spending proposals launched by rivals left the party struggling to get noticed earlier in the week, and while the words Willie Rennie managed to get in edge-ways at the debate were fine, there just weren’t enough of them. The launch of their manifesto on Friday, however, may give them some better exposure over the weekend.

Campaign Trail

•Willie Rennie claimed on Friday the Lib Dems were seeing a rise in support from former Tory voters who are “repelled” by Douglas Ross. But the latest polling indicates that, more broadly, it is actually ex-Lib Dem voters who are switching allegiance. In the constituency vote, 23 per cent of people who voted Lib Dem in 2016 now plan to back the Tories, while just 3 per cent of 2016 Tory voters now support the Lib Dems. In the list, 17 per cent of current Tory supporters voted for the Lib Dems last time around.

•The SNP’s manifesto unveiled new proposals for a new bridge from Gourock to Dunoon. The party said the crossing, which could cost billions, would help local residents “reduce reliance on ferries”. That is just as well, since two CalMac ferries being built in the nearby Ferguson Marine shipyard – which the Scottish Government bought in 2019 – are £100 million over budget and several years behind schedule.

•Former Labour MP Paul Sweeney is standing as a candidate for the party on the list for the Glasgow Region at next month’s election. The 32-year-old, who has been open about his experience receiving Universal Credit since losing his Westminster seat in 2019, told Twitter followers on Thursday he had just attended his monthly Job Centre meeting. If all goes to plan for Mr Sweeney in three weeks’ time, that latest encounter with his work coach could well be the last.

Battleground

Aberdeen South and North Kincardine

•Winner (2016): SNP

•Second Place (2016):

•Swing to lose: 4.26%

Created in 2011 from two old Lib Dem strongholds – Aberdeen South, and West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine – the SNP’s Maureen Watt has held this seat at the past two elections. But the SNP could face a handy challenge from the Scottish Conservatives this time around.

The Tories came fourth behind Labour and the Lib Dems in 2011, but stormed into second place with a 19 per cent surge in its vote share in 2016.

Then-Tory candidate Ross Thompson shredded Ms Watt’s 2011 majority of more than 6,000 votes – down to just 2,700. But crucially, Mr Thompson’s increased votes mostly came at the expense of the Lib Dems. The SNP vote actually went up slightly between 2011 and 2016.

If Liam Kerr, the new Tory candidate for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine, wants to unseat Ms Watt, he will likely need to tap even deeper into the regions traditional Lib Dem support base.

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