Sarwar declares “pandemic election” as Scottish Labour manifesto unveiled

Sienna Rodgers

Anas Sarwar has declared, while unveiling the Scottish Labour Party’s ‘national recovery plan’ manifesto today, that the Holyrood contests taking place on May 6th amount not to a “normal election” but a “pandemic election”.

At the manifesto launch, the party leader tied his unity campaign theme to Covid, asking: “If now, during a pandemic election, we can’t put aside our old arguments and come together and work in the national interest, then when?”

Sarwar said: “Covid did not choose between yes, no, leave and remain. The aftermath is not going to choose between yes, no, leave and remain.” He urged voters to “keep that spirit of hope and optimism coming through that pandemic”.

The Scottish Labour manifesto puts forward a “national recovery plan” to guide how the country emerges from the coronavirus crisis. It is split into five parts:

  • Jobs – a job guarantee for under 25s and a new ‘Scottish skills benefit’, increasing the Individual Training Account (ITA) subsidy from £200 to £500
  • NHS – a catch-up plan for cancer screenings including rapid diagnostic centres, dedicated mental health A&Es, improved pay for NHS staff, raising carers’ pay immediately to £12 per hour, a National Care Service free at the point of use
  • Education – a personal comeback plan (PCP) for every pupil, a summer comeback pass for wellbeing, prioritising Covid vaccinations for teaching and school staff, enhanced digital training for staff and a digital device for every pupil
  • Climate – planting at least 15,000 hectares of trees a year, a statutory just transition commission, a national housing agency prioritising the environment in development, interest-free government loans for electric cars, increase in active travel spending, free bus travel to under 25s, accessible low-emission buses
  • Community – a ‘minimum income guarantee‘, a social security system that is more automated and easy to access, increase to the Scottish Child Payment to £20 a week, a £75 prepaid card that adults would be able to spend in non-food retail, a ‘third night free’ subsidy of holiday accommodation

Challenged by journalists on Scottish Labour’s commitment to “end all public sector support for fee-paying private schools”, as Sarwar sends his children to private school, the leader said he accepted the criticism but pointed to the PCP policy.

Scottish Labour has also argued that council tax should be scrapped and replaced with a “fairer alternative based on property values and ability to pay”. On taxes generally, the party has ruled out rises for those earning under £100,000.

The party says its recovery plans would be paid for by Covid-related consequentials and borrowing, with £4.2bn in funding available in the next year and the government able to borrow up to £450m this financial year and next.

Sarwar spoke to a range of Scottish voters at the launch event this morning, speaking to a single mother, two young people and football commentator Archie MacPherson who talked about his experience of NHS cancer care and Labour’s plan.

A new poll today showed that good approval ratings for Sarwar are not translating into votes, as Scottish Labour support remains at 20% for constituencies and 17% on the regional list, which would see Labour’s MSPs reduced to 17.

Asked by journalists whether Scottish Labour’s message around unity is reflective of the country as it really is rather than as he wishes it to be, Sarwar replied: “The political bubble is getting this election campaign wrong rather than the public.”

The leader added that “too much of this election campaign has been framed in this way [around independence]” and accused Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross of wanting only to “speak to the half of the country that agrees with them”.

Sarwar told journalists that Scottish Labour has recently given the impression of being a “central belt party”, not one for the whole of Scotland, and he is determined to show that its recovery plan is also for coastal, rural and island communities.

Making his pitch to voters, Sarwar said: “More than 10,000 families in Scotland are coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. Many more are worried about their cancer diagnosis, their children’s mental health, or whether they have a job to go back to.

“The challenges ahead of us are huge and they require us to work together. And the truth is that the politics of division has only delivered more poverty and greater inequality. We can’t afford our politics to go on like this for the next five years.

“I’m calling time on the old politics. Scotland deserves better. Just imagine what we could achieve if we come together and focus on what unites us, not what divides us. We have a politics that speaks to 100% of people in Scotland”.

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