Scottish Labour has pledged to spend £4.5bn on a Covid recovery plan, offering guaranteed jobs and £75 high street gift vouchers, as the party steps up attempts to become the main opposition at Holyrood.
Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour’s recently-elected leader, said his party wanted to transcend the bitter constitutional battle between the Scottish National party and the Tories by focusing instead on a national recovery plan.
Launching his party’s much-delayed manifesto, Sarwar accused Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, of fighting a negative campaign focused on attacking Labour because the Tories fear coming third in the May elections.
“They want it all to be about the division, they want it all to be about the old arguments,” Sarwar said. “Douglas Ross and Nicola Sturgeon are only interested in appealing to the half of the country that agree with them on the constitution, whereas I’ve launched a recovery plan which is for all of Scotland, because Covid didn’t choose between yes, no, leave and remain; the aftermath is not going to choose between yes, no, leave and remain.”
With their support in Scotland slumping following Boris Johnson’s election as party leader and prime minister, the polls suggest the Scottish Tories could lose their coveted position as Holyrood’s second largest party.
Most recent polls show the SNP polling as low as 46% on the constituency vote after an historic peak of 58% last October, with some suggesting Labour is closing the gap on the Tories after Sarwar’s election as Scottish leader. A YouGov poll for the Times on Thursday found Sarwar’s approval rating had doubled, with 39% of voters thinking he was doing a good job, up from 18% in March.
Sarwar said Labour’s goals were to overtake the Tories to regain its previous position as Holyrood’s main opposition party, and to prevent Sturgeon winning a majority of seats on 6 May.
Despite an Ipsos Mori in early April showing only 15% of Scottish voters believed combating the impacts of Covid was a priority issue, with 49% putting the constitution first, Sarwar said the pandemic was the foremost issue facing the devolved parliament.
“We’ve a choice in this campaign: we can either give all the power and all the control to one political party, meaning we don’t focus on the national recovery; we instead focus on their priority,” he told reporters on Thursday.
Labour’s proposals, forecast to cost £4.5bn over the next year, include spending:
£500m a year on building 120,000 new zero-carbon rental homes over the next decade.
£147m this summer on providing free sports, arts, transport and activities to school children, with £131m on a tutoring school catch-up programme.
£300m to deal with the huge backlog in operations, cancer treatments and medical appointments delayed by the pandemic.
£341m on offering every adult a £75 voucher to spend in high street shops.
£400m on ensuring full employment and retraining, including giving everyone under 25 or unemployed, who is not already on an employment scheme, a job in the public sector.
Despite accepting the SNP would again become Holyrood’s largest party, Sarwar refused to discuss Labour’s stance on holding a fresh independence referendum after the election. He said no votes had yet been counted. Labour was entitled to campaign before the election on its priorities, and let other parties argue about theirs, he said.
The polls suggest the pro-independence Scottish Greens will win several more seats, producing a pro-independence majority in Holyrood. Keir Starmer, the UK Labour leader, has previously said Westminster would then find it hard to block calls for a referendum. An Ipsos Mori poll this week found two-thirds of Labour voters UK-wide agreed.