Welcome to The Conversation’s Manifesto Check, where academics subject each party’s election manifesto to unbiased, expert scrutiny. Here is what our experts had to say about the Scottish National Party’s top policies. Follow the links for further analysis.
David Bell, Professor of Economics at University of Stirling
The publication of the SNP’s 2015 general election manifesto marked a huge change for the party. This manifesto – unlike its predecessors – sets its sights beyond the Scottish border. It seeks to promote “positive change for the benefit of ordinary people, not just in Scotland, but across the UK”. It makes the case for more “progressive politics”, and positions the SNP to the left of the Labour Party.
Specifically, the manifesto argues for an end to austerity: the SNP proposal is for a 0.5% annual increase in public spending over the course of the next parliament, rather than the reductions in spending which George Osborne laid out in his March 2015 budget.
The SNP claims that increased spending would still lead to a reduction in the deficit as a share of GDP, based on a Treasury costing of the policy, which was proposed by the Scottish government in March 2015. Under the SNP strategy, the deficit would be 2% of GDP by 2019-20. This stands in contrast to the latest UK government forecast, which predicts of a surplus of 0.3% of GDP by the same time based on the current approach.
Some economists, among them Simon Wren Lewis, Jonathan Portes and Paul Krugman, argue that the coalition government’s focus on deficit reduction is unhealthy in the long term for the UK economy. So the SNP can reasonably claim that its proposal to end austerity has significant intellectual support.
On the other hand, the SNP case is based on forecasts made by the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), whose record has been, at best, mixed. The International Monetary Fund suggests that the OBR’s deficit forecast for the end of the next parliament is too optimistic. And the UK is in the middle of a retirement boom, which will undoubtedly add to the pressures on public finances.
Read more here.
Karen Bloor, Professor of Health Economics and Policy at University of York
The Scottish National Party’s manifesto makes relatively few pledges on health. This is, of course, because policy on health care and the NHS in Scotland are devolved to the Scottish parliament, and are essentially none of Westminster’s business. The UK parliament can affect the overall budget for the NHS, and could amend the formula used to distribute funds to the four constituent governments, but they cannot influence how NHS money is spent in Scotland.
There are major differences between the NHS in Scotland and England. In Scotland the purchaser-provider split has been abolished, and health boards are responsible for planning and delivering services. Prescriptions are free, personal care is free for over-65s, and guidelines on new treatments are provided by SIGN, not NICE.
These differences should create opportunities for well-designed evaluation and policy analysis. But in practice, efforts to undertake such studies have been “plagued with difficulty” due to data collection differences and political reluctance. Perhaps, as so often in relation to political reaction to policy evaluation, there is “safety under the cloak of ignorance”.
Read more here.
David McCollum, Lecturer in Geography at University of St Andrews
The SNP’s 2015 manifesto does not contain any surprises in terms of immigration policy – or many immigration policies at all. What it does do is acknowledge the contribution that migrants make to Scotland (“Diversity is one of Scotland’s great strengths”) and specifically, it calls for the reintroduction of the Post-Study Work (PSW) visa.
This deserves a cautious welcome. For some time, the higher education sector has protested that the UK’s approach to immigration is harming British universities and also the country in general. This is particularly pressing in Scotland, where the higher education sector makes a sizeable contribution to the economy and international students constitute a larger share of the student body than in the UK as a whole.
In addition, the importance of international students in Scotland’s higher education sector is set to grow: Scotland’s ageing population means we can expect a decline in the number of young people, and therefore potential students, growing up there.
A re-introduction of the PSW visa, which was abolished by the UK government in 2012, would have echoes of the 2004-2008 Fresh Talent Initiative, which allowed international students to remain in Scotland for a period of up to two years after graduating. A re-introduced PSW would serve the interests of Scotland’s higher education sector and economy more broadly. Offering international students the chance to work after graduation could give Scottish universities at a competitive advantage over their counterparts in the rest of the UK.
Read more here.
David Bell receives funding from the ESRC, but this article does not represent the views of the research councils. The Conversation's Manifesto Checks are produced in partnership with Nesta and the Alliance for Useful Evidence.
David McCollum receives funding from the ESRC's Centre for Population Change, but the views expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect those of the research councils. The Conversation's Manifesto Checks are produced in partnership with Nesta and the Alliance for Useful Evidence.
Karen Bloor does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. The Conversation's Manifesto Checks are produced in partnership with Nesta and the Alliance for Useful Evidence.
Authors: The Conversation