Ahead of the start of the general election campaign today, the SNP set out a tranche of conditions aimed at “delivering fairness” if the party holds the balance of power after the general election on 7 May.
Party leader Nicola Sturgeon demanded key roles in powerful Westminster select committees and deputy leader Stewart Hosie said the SNP would want advance sight of a minority Labour government’s Queen’s speech, even if the parties do not agree on a formal coalition.
Polling yesterday showed the SNP retains a massive lead over Labour in Scotland and remains on course to make sweeping gains; however Labour insists it has not given up hope of winning a UK-wide majority.
Mr Hosie told delegates at the party conference in Glasgow that the Nationalists would back Labour’s proposal for a 50p top rate of tax on those earning £150,000 or more.
He also said SNP MPs would vote to increase the minimum wage to £8.70 by the end of 2020, and would “vote for a tough tax-dodgers Bill”.
He pledged that the party would “prioritise an immediate scrapping of the bedroom tax” and would “vote to end the use of zero-hours contracts”.
But he also stressed the SNP would not support the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system, which is based in Scotland on the Clyde.
Mr Hosie said: “At this election there is a real alternative. A vote for the SNP is a vote to say ‘enough is enough’ to Tory, Labour or Lib Dem austerity cuts.
“A vote for the SNP will give the people of Scotland the power to achieve real change in Westminster. And we need real change – not just to say no to austerity but to deliver economic decision-making to Scotland.”
Mr Hosie said the SNP had opposed the coalition’s decision to scrap the 50p tax rate. Labour increased the top rate from 40p to 50p towards the end of its term in power but the current government brought it down to 45p.
Mr Hosie said: “We still think that those with the very broadest shoulders should bear a slightly larger share of the burden. In the next parliament, SNP MPs will support the re-introduction of the 50p tax rate for the very wealthiest.”
Earlier, Mr Hosie had said there should be talks ahead of a minority government’s Queen’s speech.
“If Ed Miliband is seriously saying he could run a minority government without speaking to the SNP, if the polls are to be believed, that is a very dangerous tactic. It would be high handed and arrogant for there not to be negotiations.”
Ms Sturgeon said if the SNP is elected, the party would expect to hold positions in Westminster’s influential select committees, including those covering areas such as health and education which are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
The First Minister said: “If the SNP is elected in numbers, if they were to be a significant force in the House of Commons, then it is absolutely right that that is recognised in the decision making of the Commons.
“We would want to take our part in select committees; we would want to take part in the democratic arrangement in the House of Commons.”
She added: “If we see the continued privatisation of the NHS in England, that has a direct knock-on effect on how much money we have got in Scotland to spend on our NHS. So on these matters, it is not only perfectly legitimate for SNP MPs, indeed all Scottish MPs, to vote on these matters – I would say it is vital we vote on these matters to protect Scotland’s budget.”
She also hit out at the Conservatives who have been running advertising campaigns in England raising concerns about the prospect of former first minister Alex Salmond holding the balance of power.
“I think it is outrageous for these Westminster politicians to be throwing their hands up in horror,” she said. “Scotland wants to make its voice heard at Westminster and we will pursue progressive policies that I know will have significant support in other parts of the UK as well.”
Despite her predecessor’s emergence in recent weeks to insist that the SNP could “lock out” a Conservative minority from No10, Ms Sturgeon insisted she will be in charge of negotiations with Labour. A coalition with the Conservatives has been explicitly ruled out by the SNP.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Alex Salmond is an enormous asset and the SNP is a team. He will be a big voice in Westminster.
“I think you can see by the reaction of both the Tories and Labour that Alex Salmond frightens the life out of them and long may that continue.
“I am the leader of the SNP, I will lead negotiations, I will lead my party and hopefully I will continue, as First Minister of Scotland even after the Scottish Parliament election next year, to lead my country.”
Political opponents last night hit out the SNP move on the 50p tax rate. Labour finance spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “Notably there was no mention of the £7.6 billion of cuts that would be inflicted on Scotland by the SNP were they to follow through with full fiscal autonomy.”
Scottish Conservative enterprise spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “This is an anti-business move which would harm job and wealth creation in Scotland.”
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