The last to unveil a manifesto for the Holyrood election, the Scottish Labour leader said raising income tax was the “big choice” facing voters on 5 May, in stark contrast to the £3bn in cuts she claimed the Scottish National party would need to make.
“So one promise underpins all others in Labour’s manifesto,” she told party activists in Edinburgh. “The failure of the other parties to match our ambition in using the powers of our parliament undermines every promise in their manifestos. [It] simply isn’t credible to promise more spending on the NHS, on schools, on childcare, while accepting billions of pounds more of austerity.”
But minutes after her speech a new poll for STV by Ipsos Mori predicted that Scottish Labour could finish third behind the Tories – echoing some other polls putting the two parties neck and neck.
The poll found the Tories two points ahead of Labour in the regional vote to select 56 MSPs but one point behind in the constituency vote to choose 73 directly elected members. It forecast that this would result in the Tories taking 23 seats against Labour’s 20 – 17 seats down on Labour’s take in 2011.
Dugdale said pledging a new 50p top rate of tax from April 2017, alongside a 1p rise in rates for other bands, was the most honest option facing Scotland’s 4 million voters. She said it ensured that higher investment in schools, hospitals and job creation was affordable.
Labour would spend £1,000 per head on schoolchildren from poor backgrounds, guarantee state grants for college students, replace the council tax with a more progressive property tax and ban fracking.
It also goes further than the UK party’s policy by calling for Trident’s replacement to be scrapped – an initiative forced through by Scottish party members at its last conference. Dugdale says she backs multilateral disarmament, and supports Trident on those terms.
She said Nicola Sturgeon’s far more modest tax changes, which would mean a cash-terms cut in taxes for higher earners, would leave a substantial funding gap. The Institute for Public Policy Research has forecast that Labour’s tax plans would raise £1.2bn for Holyrood by 2021, £900m more than the SNP plans.
But that tax policy, unveiled in early February, has failed to affect her party’s dire poll standing. There has been a consistent gap of around 30 points between Scottish Labour and the SNP, with the Lib Dems and Scottish Greens also pledging to increase tax rates.
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 which, she claimed, showed that 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 that NHS spending would keep pace with English health spending had a 8.3 approval score rating and the SNP’s free university tuition fee policy had an 8.1 score.
Dugdale made a direct appeal too to the 30% of former Labour voters who backed Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum, and have largely deserted Labour since to back the SNP, 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.
“Arguments about what we can’t do have to give way to real plans for what we will do to make people’s lives better. We cannot afford to dwell on the arguments of the past when the challenges we face are so great, and the opportunities for change so exciting.”
Dugdale then risked alienating potential Labour voters who back independence by insisting she unequivocally rejected a second referendum; the manifesto only rejects staging one in the next Holyrood parliament.
“I don’t want ever to have to participate in another referendum,” she told reporters. “I believe that the question has been answered.”
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