What Rishi Sunak's Tory party manifesto says about Scotland

Rishi Sunak’s manifesto focuses on Union-wide cuts to National Insurance

Rishi Sunak appears to have entered the last-chance saloon for saving his premiership – but it is clear that chasing votes in Scotland is way down the pecking order for the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister launched the Conservative manifesto on Tuesday, while a specific blueprint from the Scottish Conservatives will also be published before the election.

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Much of the 80-page document had already been drip-fed. It was likely hoped by revealing policies early, it would close the chasm in the polls between the Tories and Labour. In truth, Mr Sunak’s campaign has, so far, been a disaster.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after launching the Conservative Party general election manifesto at Silverstone in Towcester, Northamptonshire (Picture by James Manning/PA Wire)Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after launching the Conservative Party general election manifesto at Silverstone in Towcester, Northamptonshire (Picture by James Manning/PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after launching the Conservative Party general election manifesto at Silverstone in Towcester, Northamptonshire (Picture by James Manning/PA Wire)
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Mr Sunak admitted that people were “frustrated with my party” and “frustrated with me”. But he claimed his was the “only party putting bold action on the table”.

One of a now long list of gaffes the PM has endured during the campaign is his insistence that Labour will hike taxes by around £2,000 – despite Treasury officials disputing that figure. By the same measure, analysis has found the Conservative plans would see taxes rise by more than £3,000. But Mr Sunak is sticking to his guns and trying, to very limited success, to make the election about his and what he claims is in Labour’s tax plans.

The manifesto has very little surprises, with Mr Sunak focusing on taxation – some of which impact Scots.

There is a pledge to cut another 2p from employee National Insurance and a commitment to “have halved it from 12 per cent at the beginning of this year to 6 per cent by April 2027”. The party claims this is “a total tax cut of £1,350 for the average worker on £35,000”.

Mr Sunak’s campaign against National Insurance includes a vow to “cut taxes to support the self-employed by abolishing the main rate of self-employed National Insurance entirely by the end of the Parliament”.

Some Tories have talked about targeting cuts to National Insurance, which contributes towards welfare and NHS funding, over income tax as a Union tax cut. It appears this strategy is key to Mr Sunak’s plans.

For Scotland-specific policies, you need to flick to page 75 of the 80-page manifesto.

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From the go, the Prime Minister stresses that “we believe governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now have the right balance of powers to deliver for people there”, drawing a line on any more devolved powers. That ball is now very much in Labour’s court when the UK party reveals its manifesto on Thursday. We are also still waiting for the Scottish parties to unveil their plans for north of the Border.

There are funding commitments for Scotland, with a pledge to “continue to directly invest in communities across Scotland” and “protect the UK’s internal market and the integrity of our United Kingdom”. This has been a particular irritation of SNP ministers.

The Tories have pledged to extend the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, a post-Brexit fund for another three years, with £540m each year divided up by the devolved nations. Funding for towns the Conservatives claim have missed out on levelling up cash had already been announced.

But the fact the fund is only running for another three years has proved controversial. Even more so due to the funding being cut to push money into Mr Sunak’s attention-grabbing National Service plans that have been roundly criticised and opposed by pretty much all demographics.

The prosperity fund being cut is quite a controversial thing in itself – with Scotland set to lose millions of pounds. This financial year, the fund, including multiply funding, allocated £124m to Scotland. That annual funding is due to be wound up by 2028 to pay for the Tories’ National Service plans.

Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has also thrown shade over the National Service plans, claiming the numbers don’t include the cost of training and accommodation, warning the bill will be "double" what Mr Sunak has proposed.

The Conservative manifesto claims “the SNP remain focused on the constitution while Scotland has moved on”, adding the Tories “will continue to oppose this – the 2014 vote was decisive”.

There is a pledge to “press for the permanent removal of tariffs on Scotch whisky with the US government”, but no commitment to eradicate the barrier. The Tories have vowed to “continue laying the groundwork for nuclear projects to be taken forward in Scotland”, despite the Scottish Government being clear it will block any development.

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Also to be filed in ‘more stuff to upset the SNP’, the manifesto commits to “support for road and rail improvements and ferry services”. Transport is very much devolved to Holyrood, but the Conservatives have tabled “guaranteed investment to improve pinch points on the A75, providing £5m for the evaluation of proposals to extend the current Borders Railway from Tweedbank through Hawick and on to Carlisle”.

A big problem for the Tories is stopping the public looking at the polls and having no belief that Mr Sunak has any chance of forming the next government, making his manifesto look a bit desperate. The SNP’s Drew Hendy said “the Tories really should have spared themselves the bother of producing a manifesto plan because we all know the public plan is to boot them out of office in a matter of weeks”.

On its own, the Tory manifesto will do little to convince voters to give Mr Sunak another chance in Downing Street. It might put pressure on Sir Keir Starmer to set out his tax plans when his Labour manifesto is revealed later this week. It certainly heaps pressure on the Scottish Tories to offer tangible things that Scottish voters will get excited about.

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