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Scottish Futures Fund

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Alex Salmond launched the SNP manifesto today with a promise to keep the council tax freeze in place for another five years.

The council tax pledge, which will cost £210 million a year within three years, was at the heart of a glossy, 40-page manifesto which promised to build on the work the SNP Scottish government has achieved over the last four years.

It also included an ambitious promise to use renewables to meet all of Scotland’s energy needs by 2020.

The top ten priorities in the SNP manifesto were:

* To freeze the council tax for the whole of the next parliament, not just the two years already promised.
* To protect the NHS budget and to make progress on cancer treatment waiting times.
* To keep the 1,000 extra police officers created by the last administration.
* To work to win new job-creating powers for the Scottish parliament.
* To hold an independence referendum in the lifetime of the next parliament.
* To increase Scotland’s renewables target to 100 per cent by 2020, ensuring 130,000 plus jobs are delivered in the low-carbon economy.
* To create 100,000 training opportunities each year including 25,000 modern apprenticeships.
* To keep university education free.
* To deliver a £250 million Scottish Futures Fund, using savings from the new Forth Bridge.
* To invest in early years education and a school-building programme to cut the number of pupils in crumbling schools by half.

Mr Salmond claimed his policies were fully costed and most of the spending plans would be funded through public sector efficiency savings of 3 per cent a year.

He argued that his preference was for an SNP majority government after 5 May – but, acknowledging that the electoral system made that unlikely, Mr Salmond said his next preference would be for another SNP minority administration.

In doing so, he effectively ruled out the prospect of any sort of coalition, either with the Greens, the Lib Dems or the Tories.

Mr Salmond said: “We are committed to another five years of the council tax freeze because it has given a much-needed boost to households during tough times. It is a central part of our social democratic contract with the people of Scotland.”

And he added: “This is a manifesto full of ambitious policies designed to take Scotland forward to a successful future – including a referendum on independence so that at long last the people have the right to choose Scotland’s future.”

But Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray responded: “This is an ‘everything is fine manifesto’, but everything isn’t fine. Ten thousand people joined the dole queue in the last year, families are feeling the squeeze, and youth unemployment is in crisis.

“This smacks of complacency. The SNP haven’t woken up to the fact that this election is being fought in the backdrop of a Tory government that is cutting too far and too fast.”

Liberal Democrat campaign chair George Lyon said: “With little else to offer the electorate, the SNP have had to fall back on rehashing the same old tired lines on independence, ignoring reality and instead promising the electorate that Scotland would become a mini nirvana if Scotland was to become independent.

“The SNP will always put independence before the needs of the Scottish people. But Scottish Liberal Democrats are different. We have real solutions for Scotland.”

And Derek Brownlee for the Conservatives said: “Promising to increase NHS spending, give hundreds of millions more to universities and now a council tax freeze are expensive pledges, and the SNP needs to spell out how these can be delivered. Until they do, people will find these promises unbelievable.

“The SNP have broken so many promises in the past four years – unless they show us the money, there is nothing to guarantee these pledges will ever be met.”

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snp1First Minister Alex Salmond has launched a £50m fund to invest in green transport technology. The Future Transport Fund is part of the Scottish Futures Fund, and will invest in projects which improve connectivity whilst reducing CO2 emissions.

Mr Salmond launched the fund on a visit to the University of Dundee Centre for Renewable Energy. DUCRE is engaged in a range of diverse renewable energy and environmental research including electrical vehicles.

Commenting on the launch of the fund, Mr Salmond said:

“In our first term, the SNP Government led the world with the most ambitious climate change targets ever introduced – legislating to reduce harmful emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 with our Climate Change Act. A re-elected SNP Government is committed to investing in the technology to make this ambition a reality.

“Transport is a major source of CO2 gases and accounts for a quarter of Scotland’s total emissions. Through the Scottish Futures Fund, the SNP will invest £50m in improving connectivity and innovation in transport.

“The fund will deliver economic as well as environmental benefits by encouraging Scottish firms specializing in low carbon transport technologies.

“The low carbon economy offers us a huge chance to reindustrialise Scotland with the development of innovative projects from our universities to our industries. Low carbon transport firms like Axeon here in Dundee are part of that opportunity for the future.”

Mr Salmond also commented on the Foreign Office statement that former Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa has left the UK for Qatar, saying:

“Mr Moussa Koussa was interviewed by Scottish police last Thursday as a potential witness in the Lockerbie investigation. He has not been under Scottish jurisdiction, and therefore the Crown Office has no power over his movements.

“However, we have every reason to believe that the Scottish authorities will be able to interview him again if required.”

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Also, as Labour leader Iain Gray attacked First Minister Alex Salmond in the Times yesterday, SNP Business Convener Bruce Crawford said:

“Iain Gray’s remarks are laughable – if he can’t even speak to Glaswegians protesting against Tory cuts, he is clearly incapable of standing up to the Tories.

“Labour’s record of standing up for Scotland is pitiful. The SNP led the protest against the Tory Budget’s smash and grab raid on Scotland’s North Sea revenues – and when it came to the vote in the House of Commons, Labour MPs betrayed Scotland and sat on their hands.

“And Iain Gray’s examples are ludicrous – the last Labour Government failed to hand over Scotland’s near £200 million Fossil Fuel Levy, while the SNP have consistently pressed the issue and led the debate to build a Holyrood majority demanding Scotland’s money.

“And if it had been left to Labour’s Andy Kerr, Scotland would have lost the £1.5 billion that he left tied up in the UK Treasury’s End Year Flexibility.

“The SNP Government agreed a Joint Declaration with the Welsh and Northern Irish administrations protesting against the UK Government’s unilateral decision to write off EYF stocks. And thanks to John Swinney’s financial acumen, we got Scotland’s money out before the Treasury closed the bank, leaving only £23 million – far less than the £150 million each that the Welsh and Northern Irish lost.

“John Swinney is the most effective Finance Minister that Scotland has had – all that Iain Gray has demonstrated is that he has no knowledge or understanding of these issues.”

Meanwhile, Stuart McMillan, the SNP’s candidate for Greenock and Inverclyde, welcomed the decision of three Court of Session judges to reject an appeal by the insurance industry to overturn a law brought in by the SNP Government which gives victims of an asbestos-related illness the right to claim damages.

Welcoming yesterday’s decision Mr McMillan said:

“The SNP Government and Kenny MacAskill acted swiftly to address the injustice faced by pleural plaque sufferers. The decision of the House of Lords was outrageous and I am pleased that action was taken by the Justice Secretary to ensure that the ruling has no affect in Scotland.

“Those who are suffering from work related illnesses, particularly those caused by asbestos, should have the right to seek compensation and it is quite right they can still do so in Scotland.”

snp1Finance Secretary John Swinney has sent a message to all SNP election candidates. In it he sets out the SNP Government’s approach to driving up efficiency in government over the past four years, and his plan to “make taxpayers’ money work even harder” in the next Parliament.

Mr Swinney said:

“Over these past four years the SNP has demonstrated a clear capacity not only to manage Scotland’s money effectively, but more importantly to manage it more effectively than any previous administration.”

In the lengthy and detailed message to candidates, Mr Swinney reviewed the SNP’s financial track-record since their election in 2007, and promised to continue with the process of simplification, saying “we will take every opportunity to reduce costs and bureaucracy and improve service delivery.”

The Finance Secretary also confirmed that a re-elected SNP Government would invest £50 million in tackling fuel poverty and meeting Scotland’s climate change targets.

The Warm Homes Fund – part of the Scottish Futures Fund which sees £250 million of savings from the Forth Bridge invested in projects for Scotland’s future – will help communities and individuals affected by fuel poverty to heat their homes in a way that is greener as well as cheaper.

Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has welcomed the results of a BBC poll where voters were asked rank policies in order of importance.

“This is an excellent poll, confirming that the SNP’s policies for a re-elected government are the priorities of the people,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“The SNP Government have cut cancer waiting times – one of Labour’s biggest failures in office. Within 18 months of taking office, we met the cancer waiting times target which the previous administration failed even to come close to, we have met it consistently since, and made it tougher along the way.”

Ms Sturgeon believes that the poll confirmed support for SNP policy in a number of areas, saying “The poll also supports SNP policy on a range of issues – including the 1,000 extra police we have delivered, our commitment to free education, the record 25,000 Modern Apprenticeship places we have put in place this year, the Council Tax freeze, the abolition of prescription charges, energy, and minimum pricing.”

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snp1The SNP yesterday launched the second part of the £250 million Scottish Futures Fund with a £50 million investment in improving scotland’s digital connections. The fund will support five futures projects providing a step change in investment in key areas paid for by savings secured by the SNP Government from the Forth Replacement Crossing project.

The Next Generation Digital Fund will see real investment over the next four years in delivering Next Generation high-speed broadband and ensuring no one is excluded from Scotland’s digital future.

The Next Generation Digital Fund follows confirmation yesterday of a £50 million Sure Start fund to support Scotland’s youngest children.

On a visit to Border’s Biscuits – an internationally successful business trading on the internet – Mr Salmond said:

“Scotland must be positioned to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by the digital age.

“The Scottish Futures Fund is our bridge to the future. As we build a physical connection from Edinburgh to Fife with a new Forth Crossing so we build the infrastructure of the future with real investment in high speed broadband and mobile technology.

“Access to high-speed next generation broadband is essential not just for our new industries but for our traditional businesses and our rural communities.

“And we cannot allow anyone to be left behind. 99% of Scotland has access to the internet but in some areas there is a digital divide between rich and poor and old and young. We must put that right.”

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Mr Salmond also commented after it was confirmed that officers from Dumfries & Galloway police, supported by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, interviewed former Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa in relation to the ongoing investigation into the Lockerbie atrocity. The First Minister said:

“I am pleased that Dumfries & Galloway police have had access to Moussa Koussa as requested, and no doubt officers will question him again if required as part of their ongoing investigation.

“It is very important for the integrity of the process that the police and Crown authorities are given the freedom to pursue their investigation without unwarranted speculation on the substance of their inquiries.”

And it was good news for the SNP in Wick, where they gained a council seat in a sensational breakthrough, achieving swings from all London-led parties in the Wick ward by-election for Highland Council. The by-election was held on Thursday and the result announced yesterday morning, and shows the winning candidate – Gail Ross – achieving almost 50 per cent of the vote on first preferences.

The ward lies in the Scottish Parliament constituency of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross where the SNP’s Rob Gibson is in contention with the Lib Dems who notionally hold the seat.

The SNP vote rose from 17 per cent in May 2007 to 47 per cent yesterday, whilst the Lib Dems lost over a third of their vote, falling from 16 per cent to 10 per cent. The swings from each of the London parties to the SNP was 12.2 per cent from Labour; 17.8 per cent from the Lib Dems; and 15.0 per cent from the Tories.

First Minister Alex Salmond, who campaigned in Wick for Gail Ross on Monday, said:

“This is a major SNP breakthrough in a Lib Dem constituency – and a disaster for the Lib Dems. It follows the personal endorsement of John Farquhar Munro, the big momentum of the SNP’s campaign locally and nationally, and the struggling campaigns of our opponents.

“To achieve such big swings against all the London-led parties is hugely encouraging – particularly in what has been a Lib Dem heartland. We are taking nothing for granted but this result will be a real morale boost not only in the north of Scotland but across the whole country.

“The final result reflects the national political contest – the coming Scottish Parliament election is a two-horse race between re-electing an SNP Government with a positive vision and Alex Salmond as First Minister, or a totally negative Labour party.”

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