SNP leader demands tax responsibility
Sturgeon: ‘indyref will wait until Brexit talks end’
Nicola Sturgeon today accepted that any independence referendum would have to wait until the end of the Brexit negotiations.
Delivering the SNP’s general election manifesto that aimed to rebalance the burden of tax and invest in public services, she said Brexit – especially an extreme Brexit – puts Scotland’s achievements at risk.
“That is why I believe so strongly that at the end of the Brexit process – not now, but when the terms of the deal are known – Scotland must have a choice about our future; a choice between following the UK down the Brexit path or becoming an independent country.
“There is just too much at stake for Brexit simply to be imposed on Scotland, no matter how damaging it turns out to be. Our future must be decided by us, not for us.
“Last year’s Holyrood election delivered the democratic mandate for Scotland having such a choice, and the recent vote of the Scottish Parliament underlined it.
“If the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats in this election, that will further reinforce our mandate.
‘And in these circumstances, any continued Tory attempts to block Scotland having a choice – when the time is right and the options are clear – would be democratically unsustainable.
“However, that will be a choice for the end of the Brexit process.
“I want to be clear today that this election also presents Scotland with a more immediate opportunity,
In the months ahead, we must make sure that our interests are not ignored in the Brexit negotiations – a vote for the SNP will make sure that Scotland’s voice is heard.”
Ms Sturgeon, speaking to party supporters in Perth, focused her address mainly on a pledge to fight for public services, protecting pensioners, the poor and low paid.
In an impassioned attack on the Conservative party’s record at Westminster and its plans for the future, she said: “In this election, it is vital that we strengthen Scotland’s hand, not Theresa May’s.
“Otherwise, much of what we cherish and value will be under threat. The dismantling of the postwar welfare state, already underway, will pick up pace.
“Experts are already predicting the biggest rise in inequality since the 1980s. They say that the incomes of the poorest third of working age households will fall by 10% over the next four years;
“And that Tory policy will drive one million more children across the UK into poverty. Just think about that. One million MORE children.
“That means that by 2021, there could be more than 5 million children across the UK – a number equivalent to the total population of Scotland – living in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world.
“That is shameful and our manifesto puts it at the heart of this election.”
Ms Sturgeon said jobs will be lost as the Tories “threaten to turn their backs, not just on the EU, but on the single market as well.”
She added: “For the Tories, austerity cuts are not simply a policy response to a particular economic situation. They are political dogma – an ideology.
“And as well as damaging our public services, they hold back our economy – that’s why the current UK government has consistently failed to meet all of its fiscal targets.
“So on the public finances, we are setting out a different approach. Our plan has three key aims:
“Firstly, to balance the UK budget for day to day spending by the end of the Parliament, and after that borrowing only to invest;
“Secondly, to return the deficit to its pre-crash long term average;
“Thirdly, to set debt on a downward path.
“These responsible fiscal targets will return the UK’s finances to a stable and sustainable position.
“And, crucially, they will also free up an additional £118 billion of public investment over the next Parliament to grow the economy, safeguard public services and protect household incomes. A clear alternative to five more years of austerity.”
She defended the SNP government’s decision not to cut tax for higher rate taxpayers, saying it was the “wrong priority” and that her government chose instead to invest in public services.
She said SNP MPs will support an increase across the UK in the Additional Rate of income tax – for those earning more than £150,000 – from 45p to 50p. She has been criticised for adopting this position after her government resisted the same move for Scots taxpayers.
She set out a plan to tackle poverty and inequality and increase the incomes and the living standards of families across the UK. The SNP will support a living wage, by the end of the next Parliament, that will be slightly more than £10 per hour.
Following criticism on television from a nurse last week of the SNP’s wage policy, Ms Sturgeon twice said that “many nurses in Scotland are paid more than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.”
On her party’s health record in government, she said “We already have a pledge to increase the NHS budget by £2 billion by the end of this Scottish Parliament.
“But our alternative plan for the public finances would allow a further increase in frontline health spending across the UK.
“SNP MPs will call on the new UK government to increase health spending per head of population in England to the current Scottish level, which is 7% higher.
“That would increase the health budget in England by £11 billion more than inflation by 2022 and it would deliver consequential funding to support additional investment in Scotland’s NHS of up to £1 billion over and above our current commitment.”
Again turning to Holyrood matters she said the SNP will protect the winter fuel allowance and will oppose the removal of the triple lock.
“We will also be strong voices for the women who have been short-changed due to the accelerated timetable for increases in the women’s State Pension Age.
“SNP MPs will continue to give full support to the WASPI campaign in their efforts to secure fairness.”
She pledged the SNP to free university education and said that in this election the party was also campaigning to restore the post-study work visa “so we can continue to attract the best and the brightest from around the world.”
On the economy she accepted that “these have been challenging economic times – particularly given the fall in the oil price.”
But she noted that “at the end of last year, Scotland’s GDP per head was above its pre-recession level. Productivity has been growing faster than the UK. And unemployment is lower than the UK average.”
She said the party would not support further reductions to the headline rate of corporation tax, but it will support targeted reductions in National Insurance to bring down the costs employers face when taking on new workers.
And to help boost productivity it will support an increase in the Investment Allowance to encourage businesses to invest more in plant and machinery.
“Supporting our economy is vital to everything we do,” she said.