Scottish Labour’s manifesto launch setting out plans to heavily tax the rich has been overshadowed by a poll suggesting Labour could come third behind the Tories in Scottish elections for the first time in more than a century.
Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, said her party’s plan to raise income tax to 50p for the wealthiest earners represented the “big choice” facing voters on 5 May, and she claimed the Scottish National party would need to make cuts of £3bn.
She said putting up taxes to fully fund public services and offset deep cuts in Treasury funding was an honest solution to the central challenge facing Holyrood’s parties.
“One promise underpins all others in Labour’s manifesto,” she said. “[It] simply isn’t credible to promise more spending on the NHS, on schools, on childcare, while accepting billions of pounds more of austerity.”
An Ipsos Mori poll for STV found that the Scottish Conservatives were two points ahead of Labour in the regional vote to select 56 MSPs, and one point behind in the constituency vote to chose 73 directly elected members.
Echoing other polls putting the two parties neck and neck, Ipsos Mori’s projections suggest the Tories would take 23 seats and Labour 20 – the latter 17 seats down on its tally in 2011.
The SNP is on track for a second successive majority government, forecast to win 71 seats with 51% of the constituency vote, and the Scottish Greens are predicted to leapfrog the Liberal Democrats for the first time, winning a record nine seats.
Already down to one Scottish MP in Westminster after the SNP’s general election success last year, Labour could be left in third place in Scotland for the first time since December 1910, with its lowest vote in the post-war era, the poll forecasts.
Dugdale had hoped that delaying her manifesto launch until the penultimate week of the campaign could give Scottish Labour a late surge. The STV poll will resurrect questions about her election strategy and speculation about potential leadership challenges.
She told the Guardian she had no plans to resign and did not believe Labour would come third. “It is not going to happen. Even if it did, I have said right from the beginning that I’m in this for the long haul. The party gave me a mandate of 72% of the vote to lead this party for the long term,” she said.
Anas Sarwar, who resigned as Scottish Labour’s deputy leader in December 2014, and who is seen as a favourite to succeed Dugdale, denied claims he was eyeing up a leadership bid.
He said it was “ludicrous” to suggest he would do so. “I am 100% Team Kez Dugdale. She’s a phenomenal leader of the Labour party. [She] has been setting the agenda in Scottish politics and that’s something the entire movement is proud of,” Sarwar said. “My support for Kez is loyal and unconditional; I’m 100% supportive of her.”
Neil Findlay, a leftwing MSP and key figure in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign in Scotland, and another potential candidate for Scottish Labour leader, has also unequivocally backed Dugdale.
Launching the manifesto, Dugdale said introducing a 50p top rate of tax from April 2017, alongside a 1p rise in rates for other bands, was essential to guarantee the higher investment needed in schools, hospitals and job creation.
Scottish Labour would spend £1,000 a head on schoolchildren from poor backgrounds, guarantee state grants for college students, replace council tax with a more progressive property tax and ban fracking.
The manifesto goes further than the UK party’s policy by calling for Trident’s replacement to be scrapped – a stance forced through by members at the Scottish party’s last conference.
Dugdale said Nicola Sturgeon’s far more modest proposed tax changes, which include a cash-terms cut in taxes for higher earners, would leave a substantial funding gap. The Institute for Public Policy Research has said Labour’s tax plans would raise £1.2bn for Holyrood by 2021, £900m more than the SNP plans.
Dugdale insisted that the tax plan was very popular. She cited a series of opinion polls showing more than 50% of Scots favoured a 50p top rate, and a BBC Scotland survey that she said showed her higher tax plan was the most popular policy of all those on offer.
However, the BBC poll said the 50p tax plan was only the most popular tax policy, with a 7.3 approval rating; guaranteeing NHS spending kept pace with English health spending had a 8.3 approval rating and the SNP’s free university tuition fee policy had an 8.1 score.
Dugdale made a direct appeal to former Labour voters who backed Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum and have voted SNP since, urging them to put constitutional debates to one side.
“[However] people voted in the past, I believe most are now united in one wish: that we use the powers we have now, that we use them to deliver real change now, not to wait and wait for a distant promised land,” she said, in a reference to SNP pledges about the benefits of independence.
Dugdale risked alienating potential Labour voters who still back independence by saying she unequivocally rejected any calls for a second referendum. Her party’s manifesto rules out calling one in the next Holyrood parliament.
“I don’t want ever to have to participate in another referendum,” Dugdale said. “I believe that the question has been answered.”
This article was written by Severin Carrell Scotland editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 27th April 2016 16.27 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010