By John Knox
The party manifestos are more than just a list of policies, they try to outline a general philosophy.
Thus Labour’s 75 page manifesto is called A Future, Fair for All and it emphasises what the government can do to get the economy going again and sustain public services.
The Conservative manifesto, on the other hand, places the emphasis on what citizens can do for themselves. It’s a 130-page Invitation to Join the Government of Britain.
The Liberal Democrats take up Labour’s theme of “fairness” and, in 108 pages, spell out what it means for individuals as taxpayers and consumers.
The SNP manifesto argues the case for Scottish independence in the long run but, in this election, it wants as many “Scottish champions” elected as possible to protect public services in Scotland from what they say are £30b worth of cuts coming from the other parties over the next five years.
The Conservatives say they will reverse Labour’s planned 1p rise in National Insurance contributions. That will cost £6b, which they say would be paid for by efficiency savings. They also want to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m and to give married couples a £150 a year tax break.
Labour have already introduced a higher 50 per cent tax rate on earnings of over £150,000 a year. The party says it won’t extend VAT to food or children’s clothes or books or newspapers but, like the other parties, it has not ruled out a general increase in VAT.
The Liberal Democrats say they would raise the threshold for income tax to £10,000 a year, lifting 3.5 million out of income tax altogether and making most earners £700 a year better off. It would cost £17b a year, to be paid for by a mansion tax, a 1 per cent levy on houses worth over £2m, closing tax loop holes for the rich and taxes on fuel and air passengers.
The SNP want control over taxation to be given to the Scottish Parliament. North Sea oil revenues, they say, should be put into a special Scottish Oil Fund for future investment in public services and infrastructure.
Labour have promised to halve the £167b budget deficit over four years, starting next year, once the economic recovery is under way.
The Conservatives want to start reducing it immediately, saying an urgent plan to cut the deficit is the way to restore confidence in the economy. They say this can be done by using half of the £12b efficiency savings they expect to make by re-negotiating public contracts and a pay freeze in the public sector next year for everyone earning more than £18,000.
The SNP say public spending should be maintained next year to help Scotland climb out of recession. They say if the government is looking for efficiency savings, they should start by scrapping Trident and ID cards.
Labour also want to limit public sector pay rises to 1 per cent or below.
The Liberal Democrats want a cap of £400 on any pay rises for public sector workers. They say £15b worth of savings will have to be made if the government is going to get to grips with the deficit.
Labour say they will maintain spending on the NHS, schools and the police in England but will have to look for cuts in other services. They have however outlined a new National Care Service for England which will provide free personal care for the elderly. They are consulting on how it should be paid for but have ruled out an earlier idea of a “death tax.”
The Conservatives have promised to protect the NHS from cuts but elsewhere there will have to be savings, notably a complete review of incapacity benefits.
The Liberal Democrats say the Child Trust Fund will have to be scrapped and tax credits will have to be targeted on the very poor.
On schools, south of the Border, all parties want better individual support for struggling pupils. Labour want failing schools to be taken over by their more successful neighbours and the Conservatives want parents to be given more encouragement to run their own independent schools.
In Scotland, none of these reforms to the public services apply. The SNP say they will try their best to protect public services from cuts but they warn that the Scottish budget will probably be cut by £500m a year, whoever wins the election – unless there is a strong contingent, of 20 or so SNP MPs at Westminster and a finely balanced parliament. They have pledged to keep free personal care and the guarantee of a maximum waiting time for NHS treatment of 18 weeks.
Labour say maintaining public spending is the best to save jobs and create new ones. It wants to expand the youth training schemes and to guarantee that anyone coming off welfare benefits and into work will definitely be better off.
The Conservatives say reversing the planned increase in National Insurance contributions is the best way to save jobs. They want the government to do less and free the private sector to create new jobs.
The Liberal Democrats argue that thousands of jobs could be created in the renewable energy industry. For example, they would establish a £400m fund to help shipyards diversify into building off-shore wind turbines.
The SNP agree that “green jobs” should be a priority, saying 25,000 jobs could be created in off shore wind, wave and tidal power. They are committed to creating 50,000 apprencticeships and to keeping free university and college education.
Labour say they have saved the banks from collapse and taught the bankers a lesson with a levy on bonuses. The SNP say the Royal Bank and the Bank of Scotland should be returned to independent Scottish ownership as soon as possible.The Conservatives would impose a “Robin Hood tax” on bank profits and would also try to sell off government shares in the banks as soon as possible to ordinary savers. The Liberal Democrats want to break up the banks, dividing them into retail High Street banks and riskier investment banks.
Labour have created a £2b green investment fund to encourage firms in the renewables industry. Like the Conservatives they want to see a new generation of nuclear power stations. The Liberal Democrats are against new nuclear and say the money should be spent on renewable energy and energy conservation instead.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have plans for a new high speed rail link – to replace air travel – between London and the North of England but disagree on the route.
The SNP say they have passed the most progressive climate change legislation in the world. They oppose new nuclear power stations, saying Scotland should put its money into becoming the “renewables powerhouse” of Europe.
The Green Party says none of this will achieve Britain’s agreed target of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
Defence and foreign policy
Both Labour and the Conservatives want British troops to stay in Afghanistan until the Afghan army is able to take over responsibility for security. The Liberal Democrats say we should start talking to moderate Taliban leaders now. The SNP want a review of our role and strategy in Afghanistan, including the option of early withdrawal.
The Conservatives want a complete defence review but they have promised to renew Trident. Labour also want to renew Trident and build two new aircraft carriers. The Liberal Democrats say renewing Trident is a waste of £100b and they say Britain should be cutting its number of nuclear warheads.
The SNP want to get rid of Trident altogether.
None of the parties are placing much emphasis on the European Union. The Liberal Democrats are the most positive towards it, even wanting a referendum to decide, once and for all, whether Britain should play its full part in Europe or not. Labour did not think the recent streamlining of the EU was fundamental enough to hold a referendum. The Conservatives remain sceptical, promising a referendum on any future reforms. The SNP say Scotland should be an independent member of the EU and thus better able to defend its special interests in energy, farming and fishing.
On overseas aid, Labour say they have doubled Britain’s aid budget to 0.5 per cent of GDP. That’s well short of the 0.7 per cent target agreed, internationally, 40 years ago. All parties are still committed to that target. The Conservatives say they will protect overseas aid from the cuts but they will carry out a review of how the £9b budget is spent.
All parties have promised to clean up parliament after the expenses scandal. The Conservatives say they will give local voters the right to sack their MP mid-term if he or she misbehaves. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats both say they want to reduce the number of MPs from the present 650. Labour have promised to introduce fixed terms of parliament.
Labour have also suggested a referendum on a proportional voting system, the single transferable vote. Here they will have the Liberal Democrats’ support.
Labour have promised to introduce the Calman reforms to devolution, including more tax powers for the Scottish Parliament. The Conservatives say they will come up with their own devolution proposals.
The SNP welcome more powers for the Scottish Parliament but are planning a referendum on outright independence.
The Greens: They want a big switch from economic growth towards a “sustainable” economy: more energy conservation, investment in renewables, local food production, better railways, no more road building. They oppose the public sector cuts, saying taxes should go up instead. They also want a basic “citizens income” for everyone to try to close the gap between rich and poor. They have about 300 candidates standing across the UK, 20 in Scotland, where there is a separate Scottish party.
UK Independence Party: also fielding around 300 candidates, 20 in Scotland. The party wants Britain to withdraw from the EU.
Scottish Socialist Party: wants Scotland to become an independent Socialist republic. 10 candidates standing.
Trade Union and Socialist Coalition: led by Bob Crow of the RMT. It wants no cuts and no privatisation. About 40 candidates are standing across the UK, including Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow.
British National Party: wants a stricter limit on immigration and wants “British jobs for British workers.” Running 300 candidates UK wide, 14 of them in Scotland.
Alliance for Democracy: an alliance of the Christian Party, the Jury Team and English Democrats. Contesting 360 seats across the UK, one in Scotland, in the Western Isles.