by Paul Kavanagh
Yesterday the Conservative party launched their manifesto for the forthcoming Holyrood election. Annabel Goldie described her party’s achievements in the last Parliament to illustrate what she feels will resonate with Scottish voters, and return a blue note to Scottish politics.
At the manifesto launch at the Glasgow Science Centre, Miss Goldie claimed Conservative credit for the increase of 1000 police officers in Scotland, for the Council Tax freeze and cuts to business rates.
Headline commitments in the manifesto include a promise to maintain the freeze on Council Tax until 2013, after which the party pledges to introduce legislation permitting residents to prevent their local authority from increasing Council Tax above the rate of inflation, and a commitment to reducing management costs in the NHS by 30% and using the savings on improving front line NHS services.
In a move which is likely to prove less popular, party also commits itself to restoring prescription charges to their 2009 level of £5 per item. The Tories promise to use part the extra funding raised by the reintroduction of prescription charges to create a Cancer Drugs Fund and to extend the availablity of infertility treatment.
Other commitments include a pledge to convert Scottish Water into a publicly owned private company, which the Conservative party feels will lead to improvements in the management of the organisation.
In education, the Conservative promise to introduce a graduate tax to make up the shortfall in university funding. According to the manifesto the tax will only be payable by graduates who are earning over a certain, unspecified, amount.
The manifesto criticises the poor standards of literacy and numeracy amongst Scottish schoolchildren. The party pledges to meet this challenge by introducing more rigorous testing and by a return to the traditional Tory themes of stricter school discipline and school uniforms.
More controversially the party also proposes to introduce so-called ‘Free Schools’, the same model of education being promoted by Michael Gove in England. Gove’s proposals have prompted fierce criticism from many educationalists in England, who fear that the ‘Free Schools’ will cream off government funding and the more able pupils from more stable families, leaving council run education with reduced funding yet having to provide education for a higher proportion of more challenging or difficult pupils from less stable backgrounds. Critics claim this will lead to the creation of a two-tier public education system.
Perhaps the most controversial educational policy in the party’s manifesto is their proposal to permit children to leave school at 14. The Conservatives acknowledge that some pupils are less academically able than others, and proposes that such pupils be permitted to leave school before the age of 18 provided they enter “a monitored apprenticeship or a full-time vocational or technical training programme”. However the manifesto makes no explicit funding commitments to such projects.
Ironically for the party, the passage containing this very proposal is itself characterised by poor spelling:
We will encourage schools to introduce a more flexible curriculum structure which allows pupils to select either an academically-focussed path from S2 onwards or a more vocationally-focused path and we will work with SQA to ensure there is an examination system which reflects this. (sic)
Other spelling errors litter the manifesto, which had seemingly been rushed into publication without being properly proof read.
Leader of the Scottish Green party, Patrick Harvie, issued a scathing criticism of the policies on the Tory marketstall, saying: “The Tories have issued a manifesto from another Scotland, some delusional Scotland where tackling poverty isn’t worth a mention, where Jeremy Clarkson can write policy on transport and climate change, and where it doesn’t matter if universities are exclusive clubs for those with the money to pay. Given the slash-and-burn economics they’re delivering at Westminster, it is absolutely no surprise that the Tories have nothing constructive to say on public services, on tackling inequality, and protecting our environment. They are the deficit delinquents, still unable to grasp that whacking the Scottish economy and public only makes sense if you’re a masochist, George Osborne or Danny Alexander.
“On jobs and the economy they appear to think that slashing public services and forcing up unemployment is the answer. It didn’t work in the 1980s and it won’t work now. A Scottish Parliament where the Tories hold the balance of power would be just about the worst possible outcome in May. They have learnt nothing since the Thatcher years, they are out of touch with Scotland, and they are unfit to have any role in this country’s next government.”