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Three manifesto pledges the SNP could actually implement in Scotland

And one the Home Office would probably block. 

By Julia Rampen

The Scottish National Party has launched its manifesto for the 2017 general election, in a bid to “strengthen Scotland’s hand, not Theresa May’s”. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned the party faithful that “we can’t afford a Tory government with a free hand to do whatever it likes”.

But while the SNP is promising a strong opposition at Westminster, in Scotland it is a party of government, and has been for 10 years. So could SNP policy pledges begin at home? Here are some to watch:

1. Income tax

In 2013, the Coalition chancellor George Osborne cut the top rate of tax from 50p per pound to 45p. The SNP says it supports a return to the 50p rate.

Could the SNP do it at home?

In 2016, income tax powers were devolved to Scotland. So in theory, rather than blethering about it, the SNP could simply hike taxes for the richest Scots.

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The SNP says the reason it hasn’t done this is because there is a risk top earners will simply avoid paying the tax – and it would back the rise if it happened across the UK as a whole.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale tweeted: “SNP say they don’t have mandate for 50p tax rate – but they supported it in 2015. Won 56/59 seats on it…so what changed.”

2. Pensions

The SNP want “pension justice for women born in the 1950s”, i.e. women who say they were caught out by the state pension age changes. It also vows to protect the triple lock on pensions.

Could the SNP do it at home?

Under the Scotland Act 2016, Holyrood has new welfare powers, meaning the Scottish government can create new benefits as long as it pays for them.

Scottish Labour has already pledged to do this. Its 2016 manifesto for the Scottish Parliament included a plan to top up the pensions of women affected by the changes.

But the SNP say it is impossible, because state pensions are controlled by Westminster. Which is handy, because not everyone thinks redistributing taxpayer money indiscriminately to baby boomers is a good idea…

3. Annual investment allowance

The SNP want to “support extension of the Annual Investment Allowance, which encourages firms to invest in plant and machinery”, as well as provide support to the oil and gas industry.

Could the SNP do it at home?

With a bit of imagination, yes. The Scottish government could divert funds from other parts of its budget to create grants for firms, including those in the oil and gas sector. It already has a training transition fund for oil workers who have been made redundant.

4. Post-study work visa

The SNP manifesto calls for “a post-study work visa, to help attract and retain the skills and talent Scotland needs”.

Could the SNP do it at home?

In 2005, the Labour-Lib Dem coalition then running Scotland introduced the Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme. Designed to reverse Scotland’s population decline, it gave international students one year to find work in Scotland after completing their studies, and a two-year visa extension overall. The scheme was later rolled out across the UK as a whole, but was abolished by the Coalition government.

Although the original scheme was initiated by the Scottish Executive (as the Holyrood government was then known), as an education policy, it got the green light from the Home Office – a relatively simple task given Labour was in power at the time, and did not have a draconian immigration policy.  

Now, the SNP faces a Home Office controlled by a hostile Tory administration, which has explicitly called for a reduction in immigration. 

However, the Home Office quietly began trialling a similar scheme at four English universities in August 2016. It could be extended to similar universities in Scotland. And of course there’s the remote possibility that immigration powers could be devolved as part of the Brexit negotiations, in which case – post-study work visas for all!