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.”