There isn’t much I agree with in the SNP’s manifesto for the Holyrood elections, so it seems peevish to cavil about the policies to which I am generally sympathetic. These are: a national care service, 100,000 new houses, abolition of dental charges, free school meals, investment in closing the attainment gap and more money for skills and training. I might quibble with the universalism of some measures because I would rather see resources redistributed from those with means to those without them. Even so, the Nationalists are making some of the right noises, if purely for their own electoral benefit rather than any late conversion to social democracy.
The obvious question, then: How do they intend to pay for it? The Scottish Conservatives estimate it would cost £95bn to fund every pledge in the manifesto for a single year. The Scottish Government budget unveiled in January outlines spending for this fiscal year of £45bn. My best guess is that they don’t intend to implement all of it. That kind of shonky salesmanship is to be expected from a government up for re-election but even if they only delivered half the policies put forward, it would mean a hefty bill.
That will be of only marginal concern to the SNP. It is already using temporary Covid-19 money from the Treasury to fund long-term, unconnected policies such as free bus passes and additional funding for councils. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns that ‘from 2022-23, the money for these policies will likely have to be found from within the Scottish Government’s “core” funding’.
Any other government would be wary of giving voters goodies it could not afford, not least while promising them a five-year income tax freeze.