by George Kerevan
IF there were prizes for the best-designed, most eye-catching party manifesto in the 2011 Holyrood election, independent commentators would award it to the SNP. The Nats took a risk in delaying their manifesto launch till a week after everyone else, but today the gamble paid off handsomely.
The launch at Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama was a glitzy, polished affair that screamed professionalism and self-confidence in the SNP’s prospects for re-election. Even the hardened members of the press corps were impressed.
The event, in front of an audience of several hundred, opened with a filmed endorsement from Mark Millar, the Glasgow comic book and film writer whose superhero characters and stories are a global phenomenon. Millar praised the SNP Government for its support of Scottish business, and called for the re-election of Alex Salmond as First Minister.
The keynote address came from the First minister himself. Salmond introduced a manifesto document like no other. Tabloid-sized and printed in magazine format, it tells a story in three parts rather than giving a boring list of promises.
First, comes the SNP’s record in government. Second, comes an intimate look at the team that delivered that success. Finally, comes the vision for the next five years. Highlights include:
Freezing council tax for the next five years to boost the social wage.
A revolutionary commitment to increase the target for creating electricity from renewables to no less than 100 per cent of Scottish output but 2020, with the prospect of 130,000 jobs in the low carbon economy.
A new focus on cities as the engines of economic growth, spearheaded by the appointment of the Deputy First Minister as Scotland’s Cities Minister.
A crusade against youth unemployment, with the guarantee of 100,000 training opportunities each year, and 125,000 modern apprenticeships over the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament – all attached to real jobs.
A bill to hold an independence referendum. A second SNP Government would also have a mandate to demand a greater transfer of powers to Holyrood under the Calman legislation, including control over Corporation Tax and Excise Duties, and local responsibility for the Crown Estates Commission.
A guarantee to protect spending in the Scottish NHS and a complete rejection of the so-called reforms in England. Scotland will retain an integrated NHS.
A Scottish Futures Fund that will inject £250 million of new resources into the economy, using money saved by more efficient tendering on the replacement Forth Bridge. The windfall will be targeted on projects to encourage young talent (including a new National Football Academy) and early intervention programmes to give pre-school children a head start.
All this comes in addition to an iron commitment to retain the social and economic gains from the first SNP Government: free prescription charges, free university tuition, 1,000 extra police on the beat, the lowest class sizes ever, and record low cancer waiting times.
In his speech, Alex Salmond promised that the goal of a re-elected SNP Government would be to re-industrialise Scotland. He said Scotland could “engineer the 21st century the way it engineered the 19th and early 20th centuries”.
But Salmond’s speech also had a hard edge. He said the public sector wage freeze would last longer than a year, though a re-elected SNP administration would offer a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies. He warned that the wage bill for senior civil servants and senior NHS managers would be cut by a quarter.
In response to questions from journalists, the First Minister said the SNP was committed in principle to the idea of a local income tax but there would be no legislation in the next parliament. Instead there would be a major public consultation regarding the shape and workability of such a local income tax.
Mr Salmond promised to “do our best to kick ass for Scotland”, a reference to Kick-Ass, the best-selling book and movie by Mark Millar.
George Kerevan is an SNP list candidate in the Scottish elections