SNP manifesto: Key policies analysed

John Swinney

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has launched its 2024 election manifesto, in which leader John Swinney said a vote for his party would "intensify" the pressure to secure Scottish independence.

The document sets out the party's plans if it was to form a government.

Here are the most eye-catching points, analysed by BBC correspondents.

Trigger Scottish independence talks

The SNP says independence is its goal, within five sentences of its manifesto. This stands in sharp contrast to its main Scottish rival, Labour. In 2014, Scots voted by a margin of 55% to 45% to remain part of the UK - but recently, the SNP have been pushing for another referendum.

Much to its frustration, the Conservative UK government refused to allow it. And it looks like Labour would take the same approach, as their Scottish manifesto makes clear they support neither independence nor another referendum.

So, if Sir Keir Starmer wins this election, that door looks to remain closed.

But the SNP has other ideas. John Swinney says if the SNP wins a majority of the 57 Scottish seats up for grabs he would trigger independence talks.

At the last general election, the SNP won 48 seats, with 45% of the vote. So that seat target looks within reach. But would that count as a mandate for independence or another referendum? It's likely that would set the scene for more of what we're used to - a standoff between Holyrood and Westminster.

Boost NHS funding

Mr Swinney blames Westminster for not funding the NHS adequately and is calling for the next UK government to boost spending by £10bn a year, with £1.6bn of that coming to Scotland.

Politicians know how deeply voters care about the NHS and that’s why they put it front and centre of their manifestos. But it is quite difficult to understand how these pledges will become reality because health is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and this is a Westminster election.

Like all parts of the UK, Scotland is experiencing record waits for NHS treatment, delays getting people out of hospital and enormous pressure on social care.

But for the past 17 years it has been the SNP government in Holyrood making decisions about healthcare priorities, and opposition parties accuse the Scottish government of years of mismanagement.

If you can step away from the politics and ask experts, they say whomever is in charge, be it Westminster or in Holyrood - the NHS is in need of fundamental reform.

The manifesto also proposes a bill to "keep the NHS in public hands", in order to prevent "further privatisation".

Health policy is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Stand against spending cuts

John Swinney pivoted his campaign to being "the left-wing choice", targeting those who might otherwise vote Labour or Green.

His manifesto vows to "stand firmly against the Westminster consensus on continued cuts" and instead demand investment in public services.

Much of the new SNP leader’s campaign rhetoric was already focused on the implied cuts to public spending from the choices made by Labour and Conservative to limit borrowing and constrain themselves on tax rises.

The claim of an £18bn per year cut to public spending came from the Institute of Fiscal Studies in April, and would apply to spending after five years.

While those numbers have changed and are less clearly defined, the SNP can still point to analysis of Tory and Labour manifesto budget plans by the IFS and the Institute for Government, which indicate neither is being straight with voters about the difficult choices for public spending.

However, the IFS and others have also looked at the SNP’s plans for independence. They imply very difficult decisions for an independent Scottish government on taxation, spending and borrowing.

Scrap the two-child limit on benefits

The two-child limit, which affects Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit, has become a totem of this campaign.

Rivals to Conservatives and Labour have chosen to highlight the two-child limit, with the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens arguing it should be removed. Labour has said it would like to remove it, but only when fiscal conditions allow.

The policy means a Universal Credit payment or Child Tax Credit of, typically, £3,455 for each first and second child, but nothing for any further children born after 5 April 2017. Child Benefit continues to cover all children, but is clawed back from higher earners.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates the two-child limit currently affects 550,000 UK households with nearly two million children, and that will rise to 690,000 households and 2.6 million children by the end of the new Parliament.

Half are single parent homes, and more than half have a working adult. The impact is on the poorest households, it says.

The cost of removing the two-child limit, or the saving to the Treasury from having introduced it, is this year £2.1bn, rising to £3.4bn billion after five years.

Ceasefire in Gaza and scrap Trident

SNP foreign policy comes in two parts: its intentions for what the UK should do now and what Scotland should do were it to become a separate state.

Much is familiar.

SNP MPs would ask the Westminster government to push for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages held by Hamas.

It would also urge the government to halt UK arms sales to Israel and recognise Palestine as an independent state, immediately.

The manifesto calls for the government to scrap Trident, the UK's nuclear deterrent which is based in Scotland.

The party also wants to maintain military support for Ukraine and spend 0.7% of national income on foreign aid.

Rejoin the EU

The party wants to rejoin the European Union and the single market, and "reverse the damage of Brexit". But that only looks likely to be an option if Scotland becomes independent. And there are lots of questions, even if that were to happen.

An independent Scotland could claim to be in line with most European single market and customs rules, making accession easier than other candidate nations.

But it currently does not have its own central bank or currency that EU accession requires.

Nor, under current estimates, would it meet the usual budget deficit limit that EU members are supposed to adhere to.

The other key economic problem with that policy is what happens at the border with England. Brexit has shown how difficult it can be to be on the perimeter of the EU.

If the river Tweed and Cheviot hills mark that boundary, Scotland would face more friction in trading with England and Wales, which currently form, by far, its biggest "export" market.

Transition to a green economy

The SNP remains firmly on the fence when it comes to issuing new oil and gas licences for the North Sea.

Having previously proposed a presumption against new exploration, it has rowed back by saying applications should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and subject to a climate compatibility test.

It's worth pointing out that such a test applies already and only covers greenhouse gas emissions from the production process, not from burning the oil and gas which is then sold - ultimately, after refining - to consumers.

The party's bigger focus is on transitioning to a green economy and it is demanding a revival of Labour's abandoned commitment to invest £28bn per year in developing such a sector.

More immediately the SNP is calling for the UK government to match its £500m "just transition fund" for Scotland's oil and gas heartlands.

And it says that while it supports a windfall tax, it shouldn't be a "raid" of the north east of Scotland - where the oil and gas sector is based - but should be a wider tax which is "balanced across companies."

Attract more foreign migrants

The SNP policies on immigration are a reminder of how different the issue looks in Scotland compared with England.

Rather than promising to reduce numbers (as Labour and Conservative parties have), the SNP wants Scotland to have the powers to attract more foreign migrants.

Currently, immigration and visa policies are controlled by the UK government.

The manifesto says that if border controls were shifted to Holyrood, the SNP would reinstate free movement from the EU and issue visas with much lower barriers.

The stated reason is that Scotland’s working age population is expected to shrink and the dependency ratio between workers and pensioners is projected to rise to more challenging levels than in England.

South of the border it is estimated that in 10 years’ time there will be 317 pensioners for every 1,000 workers. In Scotland it is projected to be 333.

Tackle drugs deaths

Scotland has the highest rate of drug deaths of any European country.

The SNP manifesto promises to tackle the “drugs deaths crisis” by decriminalising drugs for personal use. This is something the party announced that it wanted to do 12 months ago.

Coupled with drug treatment rooms, this would mean Scotland having a very different approach to the rest of the UK.

Or it would have – it argues - if drugs policy could be devolved.

The SNP wants Scotland to have responsibility over drugs and not just health, in order to turn the drugs death crisis around.

But Labour and the Conservatives have made clear they don’t agree with this point, or the policy to move towards decriminalisation.

They argue the SNP could and should have done more while in power to tackle the high number of drug deaths.

Devolve broadcasting powers

Broadcasting is currently reserved to Westminster, and the SNP says that restricts its ability to reflect “the needs of and priorities of Scottish audiences”.

The manifesto calls for a fairer share of spending on production in Scotland.

Sport is obviously on the nation’s mind with Scotland playing in the Euros, and the SNP continues its long-running call for major sporting events to be shown on free-to-air channels.

Like broadcasting, this is not in its gift and it must persuade the SFA and UEFA to give up lucrative contracts.

The pledge does include the caveat that any arrangement would have to ensure "no financial detriment to the game while guaranteeing parity of access for all”.

It also wants BBC Alba - the Scottish Gaelic TV channel - to receive the same level of funding for Gaelic television as S4C does for Welsh language broadcasting.

Unlike some of the other manifestos, there’s no specific section devoted to culture, media and sport. Is this because the SNP believes its handling of cultural matters on home turf needs no adjustment?

Those who continue to campaign for increased public support and fear further cost cutting across the sector may beg to differ.

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