Nicola Sturgeon will today set out plans to increase NHS spending by £500 million as she unveils the “most ambitious programme for government ever” in Scotland.
Higher income tax rates north of the Border being proposed by SNP next year will help fund the spending, the First Minister will announce as she publishes the SNP’s manifesto in Edinburgh.
The SNP leader is to warn that the forthcoming election is not a “game of chance” but about who forms the next government of the country. Ms Sturgeon is expected to say: “The manifesto we are publishing today is bold, ambitious and reforming. It sets out a clear plan for government and a clear path to a better future. It is, above all else, a manifesto for the next generation.”
The document states that the Scottish Parliament should be able to stage a second independence referendum if there is “clear evidence” most Scots want this – but it stops short of an unqualified commitment to a second vote. The SNP holds a comfortable lead in the polls over all its main rivals ahead of the vote on 5 May, with Labour and the Tories left to battle it out for second place. The Nationalists’ sweeping popularity among Scots means they are poised for an unprecedented third successive term in office at Holyrood.
But Ms Sturgeon who is bidding to win power as First Minister for the first time, after inheriting the office when Alex Salmond quit 18 months ago, will tell Scots today there is still “much more still to achieve”.
The SNP has been stung by recent criticism of its record on health spending after a recent Audit Scotland report that NHS budgets have fallen 0.7 per cent in Scotland since 2009, while rising south of the Border under a Tory government. GPs in Scotland have warned of a recruitment crisis, while nursing leaders say morale among staff is plunging.
But the First Minister is to underline her commitment to the “most cherished” service.
“We had already pledged - and planned – to protect the NHS budget in real terms in every year of the next parliament,” she will say.
“However, by making the decision not to give higher rate taxpayers the tax cut proposed by the Tories, we are able to go further. I am confirming today that over the next parliament, a re-elected SNP government will increase investment in the NHS by £500 million more than inflation.
“This pledge of above inflation investment is a clear sign of our commitment to our most cherished public service. But we all know that more investment in the NHS is not enough – to make our NHS truly fit for the future, we also need to change the way it delivers services.”
George Osborne set out plans to increase the threshold for the 40p higher rate of income tax from £43,000 to about £45,000, effectively cutting tax for middle earners. The SNP won’t implement this north of the Border, meaning Scots face higher taxes than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK for the first time.
Mrs Sturgeon she will warn Scots that the vote in just 14 days time is about who should form the next government of Scotland and who should be the next First Minister. It comes amid growing concern that a majority could slip through the SNP’s fingers if voters get complacent about their victory and give their second vote to other pro-independence alternatives like the Greens or the socialist RISE alliance.
“It is not a phoney battle for second place or a game of chance with the electoral system,” Ms Sturgeon will add.
“It is about choosing a government and a First Minister to lead the country forward for the next five years and into a new decade.
“The job of the government and First Minister elected on 5 May will be to stand up for Scotland at every turn, make our public services fit for the future, grow our economy and create opportunity for every child regardless of their background.
“The manifesto we are publishing today is bold, ambitious and reforming. It sets out a clear plan for government and a clear path to a better future. It is, above all else, a manifesto for the next generation.”
Ms Sturgeon addressed the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) in Dundee yesterday where she unveiled that councils and private firms that engage in “unacceptable workplace practices” will face penalties if she is re-elected. Local authorities that delay implementing equal pay for women will also be penalised, the First Minister told the STUC in Dundee.
Companies that engage in trade union blacklisting, use zero-hours contracts or evade tax will be forbidden from tendering for public contracts, she added. The SNP will abolish fees for employment tribunals, making it easier for employees to challenge adverse decisions from their employers.
Ms Sturgeon has also pledged to introduce “a better and fairer” benefits system that abolishes “target-led assessments” and means testing, and awards long-term benefits without the need for continued assessment.
Political opponents last night slammed the SNP’s record on health spending over the past five years.
Labour’s public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “The SNP claim they will invest more in the NHS, but refuse to guarantee that services like emergency care at the Vale of Leven and the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital in Livingston will be protected.”
Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “People should be very wary of similar SNP spending promises now.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said that healthcare issues have been allowed to drift down the agenda.
He added: “Their record on ignoring the pressures facing the NHS over the past nine years has started to catch up with them.”