In recent weeks Scottish party leaders have clashed over their proposed policies on tax reform during live televised debates ahead of the Holyrood elections. Education is another prominent issue which seems to be dividing the parties and is expected to play a central role in the campaign discourse.
This new focus on policy may be for some a welcome break from arduous and long running debates over constitutional matters and with manifestos due in the coming week, the parties are honing their key messages.
There is a strong possibility the SNP will win an overall majority for a second time, and form a Government for the third. Indeed it is difficult to see where they would likely drop votes in any meaningful quantity.
Labour and the Conservatives meanwhile are locked in a battle for second place, one that Labour really must be seen to have won convincingly if it is to retain any legitimacy north of the border. However, the fact that it is even up for debate is more down to Labour’s demise in Scotland rather than any great national swing in support towards the Conservatives.
The smaller parties with existing seats in Holyrood, the Lib Dems and the Greens are also in a tussle, namely to be the fourth largest party and ensure they do actually win a seat. The Lib Dems go into the election with 5 seats from 2011 compared to the Greens’ 2. Any slight change in percentage of the vote share could seriously impact the electoral fortunes for either of these two parties.
Below we take an at a glance look at the 5 main party’s election pledges through the lens of the 2 prominent campaign issues; tax & education.
Leader: Nicola Sturgeon
Number of seats won in 2011: 64
Tax: Nicola Sturgeon has thus far resisted the calls to reduce the burden of austerity by taxing the richer more, leaving rates largely in line with the rest of the UK and arguing no significant changes are necessary. Instead Sturgeon argues that there is no mechanism in place to stop high earners simply moving south of the border in the event of a tax hike and that a policy of a 50p tax rate would leave Scotland worse off.
Education: The SNP has previously confirmed in an address to the Scottish Parliament that the SNP plans to double government-funded childcare to 30 hours a week as well as re-committing to free university education in Scotland. This is an area where the SNP is vulnerable from opposition criticism with official statistics showing declining levels of literacy among students leaving primary and secondary school education.
Leader: Kezia Dugdale MSP
Number of seats won in 2011: 38
Tax: Labour has committed to an immediate 1p rise in income tax setting itself apart from the SNP and Conservatives. The increase would leave higher-rate taxpayers out of pocket and give low earners a rebate. It has also pledged to scrap council tax in favour of a tax based on property value.
Education: Labour will also focus on education having been very critical of the SNP’s handling of the education system. The proposed changes to the tax system will see the additional revenue from the higher those earning more than £150,000 a year will protect schools from cuts and increase investment.
Leader: Ruth Davidson
Number of seats won in 2011: 16
Tax: While Labour, the Greens and Lib Dem are all proposing some kind of income tax increase, if only for the higher earners, and with the SNP looking on course to stick with status quo on revenue raised through taxation, it is left to the Conservative party to present a taxation alternative. They are proposing to lower income tax where possible, reducing the overall tax burden. However, this message has been dented somewhat by criticism of further proposals to introduce university and prescription fees which have dubbed ‘hidden taxes’.
Education: The Conservatives have highlighted the fall in standards presided over, as they see it, by the SNP Government. Ruth Davidson’s party have pledged that their education policy will be steered with a view to reversing this trend. During the 2nd TV debate however, the Scottish Conservative leader spoke of her intentions introduce a £1,500 annual charge for a four-year Scottish degree, arguing the SNP had paid for free university tuition by cutting thousands of college places.
Scottish Liberal Democrats
Leader: Willie Rennie
Number of seats won in 2011: 5
Tax: The Lib Dems have announced they plan to increase the basic and higher rates of income tax. Their proposals are very similar to Labour’s but have received far less publicity. They have however pledged to spend the £475 million per year raised through tax reform on education.
Education: They have argued the revenue collected from the additional income tax would be used to help fund pre school childcare, introduce a Scottish Pupil Premium to help close the attainment gap, and ensure students leave education with skills employers demand.
Co-Conveners: Patrick Harvie and Maggie Chapman
Number of seats won in 2011: 2
Tax : The Greens are expected unveil reforms to the income tax system in their manifesto with plans to raise income tax to 60p for the very highest earners. The changes would come into effect once the appropriate powers over tax rates and bands has been devolved to Holyrood in April 2017. They are also looking at scrapping council tax in favour of a ‘progressive’ system of local taxation based on wealth.
Education: The Greens argue their tax policy would raise £331 million additional funding to invest in public services than the SNP’s income tax plans. They point to this revenue when discussing public services funding. They have highlighted the pressure put on schools through the SNP’s programme of cuts and pledge to use their tax changes to make a more equal society.