Nicola Sturgeon’s speech at the SNP General Election manifesto launch

Below is the speech made by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at Perth Concert Hall as she launched the SNP manifesto. Check against delivery. 

Welcome to the launch of the SNP’s manifesto for the General Election.


This manifesto sets out a plan to end Tory cuts, protect Scottish jobs, and strengthen Scotland’s hand.


It is a manifesto with fairness, opportunity and democracy at its heart.


A manifesto for a country that is welcoming and outward-looking.


A manifesto that reflects our belief in the infinite possibilities open to the people of Scotland if we work together in the common good, to build the kind of country we know we can be.


Our pledge at this election is that SNP MPs will work every day to make Scotland’s voice heard and build a better country.


We know that decisions taken at Westminster in the years ahead will shape our country.


So now, more than ever, it is vital to have strong SNP voices standing up for Scotland.


With Labour in disarray the Tories saw a chance to tighten their grip on the whole of the UK for many years to come.


But with their true colours being exposed in this campaign, we have a real chance to keep them in check.


And let’s be clear –


Labour isn’t strong enough to do that.


Voting Labour simply risks letting in Tory MPs.


In Scotland, only the SNP can keep the Tories in check.


In this election, it is vital that we strengthen Scotland’s hand, not Theresa May’s.


Otherwise, much of what we cherish and value will be under threat.


The dismantling of the postwar welfare state, already underway, will pick up pace.


Experts are already predicting the biggest rise in inequality since the 1980s.


They say that the incomes of the poorest third of working age households will fall by 10 per cent over the next four years;


And that Tory policy will drive one million more children across the UK into poverty.


Just think about that. One million more children.


That means that by 2021, there could be more than 5 million children across the UK – a number equivalent to the total population of Scotland – living in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world.


That is shameful and our manifesto puts it at the heart of this election.


Jobs will be lost too as the Tories threaten to turn their backs, not just on the EU, but on the single market as well.


That’s why more than ever before we need strong SNP voices at Westminster, to stand up to the Tories and to stand up for Scotland.


As a country we face big challenges.


But we have made so much progress.


We mustn’t let Westminster governments drag us backwards.


In this manifesto we set out how strong SNP MPs will help to build a fairer, more equal Scotland.


And that starts with a clear alternative to continued austerity.


For the Tories, austerity cuts are not simply a policy response to a particular economic situation.


They are political dogma – an ideology.


And as well as damaging our public services, they hold back our economy – that’s why the current UK government has consistently failed to meet all of its fiscal targets.


So on the public finances, we are setting out a different approach. Our plan has three key aims:


– firstly, to balance the UK budget for day to day spending by the end of the Parliament, and after that borrowing only to invest;


– secondly, to return the deficit to its pre-crash long term average;


– thirdly, to set debt on a downward path.


These responsible fiscal targets will return the UK’s finances to a stable and sustainable position.


And, crucially, they will also free up an additional £118 billion of public investment over the next Parliament to grow the economy, safeguard public services and protect household incomes.


A clear alternative to five more years of austerity.


Hope and investment for the future – not another potential-destroying cycle of cuts.


That’s the SNP plan.


SNP MPs will also back fair tax.


In government at Holyrood, we’ve frozen the basic rate of Income Tax to help low and middle earners – that is the right approach at a time when rising inflation is making it harder for many families to make ends meet.


But we have also opted not to cut tax for higher rate taxpayers.


A tax cut for the top 10 per cent of income earners at a time when public spending is under pressure is the wrong priority – we choose investment in our public services instead.


SNP MPs will also support an increase across the UK in the Additional Rate of income tax – for those earning more than £150,000 – from 45p to 50p.


The difference between the SNP and the Tories is this:


The Tories’ plans will give tax cuts to the wealthiest while pushing more hard working people and families into poverty.


Our plans are fair to all and will lift people out of poverty – not just because it is the right thing to do, but because we know that greater equality helps our economy too.


One of the biggest scandals in recent years – and it is a scandal – has been the rise in the number of people living in poverty despite having a job.


70 per cent of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one person is working. 


Scotland already has the highest proportion of workers paid the Living Wage of any country in the UK – and that is positive.


But we need to do more to tackle low pay, falling real wages and reduced support for those on low incomes.


That’s why today I am setting out a three-point plan to tackle poverty and inequality and increase the incomes and the living standards of families across the UK.


Firstly, we will support moves over the next Parliament, working with business, to increase the Minimum Wage to the level of the real Living Wage.


That means a Living Wage, by the end of the next Parliament, that will be slightly more than £10 per hour.


Secondly, here in Scotland we will take a different approach to public sector pay.


The 1 per cent pay cap was designed to protect jobs at a time of spending cuts imposed by Westminster.


While the SNP government has taken action to soften its impact on the lowest paid – ensuring, for example, that many nurses in Scotland are paid more than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK – there is no doubt that it has been hard for public sector workers.


And at a time of rising inflation, it is increasingly unsustainable.


Of course, pay rises must be affordable – but they must also reflect the real life circumstances people face and enable us to attract and retain staff in our public services.


So for next year and in future years, we will not assume a 1 per cent cap.


Instead, we will set a remit for discussions with trade unions, and for our evidence to pay review bodies, that is based on a proper consideration of the impact of inflation – with a view to reaching fair outcomes that strike the right balance between affordability and the cost of living.


Thirdly, the policies in this manifesto will restore fairness to our social security system.


Make no mistake – the Tories have sought to undermine faith in the welfare state itself.


They have set out, deliberately, to stigmatise those on benefits.


Of course, no-one should be allowed to abuse the system.


But their rhetoric is cover for the hardship they are causing to those who work hard and struggle to get by on low incomes.


Children, the elderly, women, the disabled – even the bereaved – are bearing the brunt.


There are £9 billion in social security cuts still to come over the next 4 years.


Not surprisingly, the Tories want to press ahead with every penny.


What is surprising is that Labour is pledging to reverse less than a quarter.


So let me be clear – SNP MPs will stand against all of the further planned cuts to social security, because they will punish the disabled and those who work hard to make ends meet.


We will also support the reversal of the two-child cap on tax credits.


And we will campaign tirelessly against the immoral Rape Clause that goes with it – a policy that shames every Tory candidate who supports it.


We will demand reversal of the cut to Employment and Support Allowance that is removing £30 per week in vital support from disabled people.


And we will oppose the freeze on working age benefits – a policy that is set to reduce the incomes of the poorest in our society by 6 per cent.


The reason we stand against the Tory assault on social security – on the poor, the disabled and the vulnerable – is this.


These cuts strike at the very heart of how we see ourselves as a nation and our shared ambition for the future.


They are unfair and they are designed to divide.


Of course, a growing gap between rich and poor is not the only divide that Tory policy will create.


Their manifesto also seeks to set young against old.


The utter chaos that engulfs Theresa May’s plans for a so-called ‘dementia tax’ makes me prouder than ever that the Scottish Parliament introduced free personal and nursing care for the elderly.


Those assessed as needing personal and nursing care in Scotland receive £249 a week – just under £13,000 a year – towards the cost of their care.


That significantly reduces the burden on the personal assets of someone who has to fund their own care.


So let me make clear today that the SNP will always protect free personal and nursing care.


It is concern for fairness in old age that drives this policy.


And SNP MPs will be strong voices for fair pensions.


The Tory manifesto is nothing short of an assault on pensioners – from the dementia tax, to the removal of the winter fuel allowance and the ending of the triple lock.


To every older person in Scotland, I say this.


It is clear that the Tories think they can take the votes of many older people for granted – and their manifesto makes clear what they will do if given the chance.


If you don’t want them to have a free hand to remove your hard-won protections, make sure you elect strong voices who will stand up for you.


The SNP will protect the winter fuel allowance and with pensioner poverty once again on the rise, we will oppose the removal of the triple lock.


We will also be strong voices for the women who have been short-changed due to the accelerated timetable for increases in the women’s State Pension Age.


SNP MPs will continue to give full support to the WASPI campaign in their efforts to secure fairness.


It seems clear that the Tories are planning to cut deeper to cover the impact of their planned extreme Brexit.


But these cuts are hurting the low paid and pensioners and they are damaging our public services – that’s why we will stand against them.


Over the past ten years, the SNP has prioritised the health service and we will continue to do so.


Our NHS – like health services across the world – faces real challenges.


But patient satisfaction is at record levels.


Our hospital A&Es are the best performing in the UK.


Many nurses in Scotland are better paid than anywhere else in the UK.


And we have integrated health and social care.


We already have a pledge to increase the NHS budget by £2 billion by the end of this Scottish Parliament.


But our alternative plan for the public finances would allow a further increase in frontline health spending across the UK.


SNP MPs will call on the new UK government to increase health spending per head of population in England to the current Scottish level, which is 7 per cent higher.


That would increase the health budget in England by £11 billion more than inflation by 2022 and it would deliver consequential funding to support additional investment in Scotland’s NHS of up to £1 billion over and above our current commitment.


And for our police and fire services – who have served us so well over the past week, as they always do – SNP MPs will demand that a Tory government returns the £140 million of VAT that it has so unfairly and shamefully taken away from our emergency services.


For Scotland’s young people and families, we will continue to extend free childcare.


We are investing £750 million in a special fund to raise standards in our schools.


And the SNP is committed to always protecting free university education.


In this election we are also campaigning to restore the post-study work visa so we can continue to attract the best and the brightest from around the world.


And we are working to ensure that our universities don’t lose out on vital European funding.


Policies such as expanding free childcare, closing the attainment gap in schools and free university tuition are designed to help young people achieve their goals and create a fairer society. 


Making sure we have a strong economy is also vital to the futures of our young people.


Jobs and the economy are central to this manifesto.


These have been challenging economic times – particularly given the fall in the oil price.  


But at the end of last year, Scotland’s GDP per head was above its pre-recession level.


Productivity has been growing faster than the UK. 


And unemployment is lower than the UK average.


And on the greatest economic issue facing Scotland – reversing population decline and growing the number of people of working age who live here – real progress has been made.


Progress that is now put at risk by Brexit.


In government we have a £6 billion infrastructure programme.


And we’re taking 100,000 business premises out of paying business rates.


In this election, we won’t support further reductions to the headline rate of Corporation Tax. That is not the right priority at this time.


But we will support targeted reductions in National Insurance to bring down the costs employers face when taking on new workers.


And to help boost productivity, we will support an increase in the Investment Allowance to encourage businesses to invest more in plant and machinery.


Supporting our economy is vital to everything we do.


We live in a world where technological and economic transformation is happening at a pace we haven’t seen before.


We have the potential in Scotland, more than most countries on earth, to take advantage of the opportunity this change presents.


Our food and drink industry is a multibillion pound success story.


We have unrivalled energy resources.


Our universities are among the best in the world.


We are world-leaders in the industries of the future like life sciences, financial services, and financial technology, creative industries, space technology and sustainable tourism.


Our natural resources, our long-standing reputation for innovation, our educated workforce and our internationally-recognised brand give Scotland a head-start.


The European Single Market, already the world’s biggest, represents a massive opportunity for these areas of Scottish strength:  in the digital economy, the services sector, energy, retail, the green and knowledge economy, the single market is still a work in progress, with huge potential still to be unlocked.


That means a huge, potential economic prize for Scotland.  


It means a world of opportunity for our young people.


But Brexit – especially an extreme Brexit – puts all of that at risk.


That is why I believe so strongly that at the end of the Brexit process – not now, but when the terms of the deal are known – Scotland must have a choice about our future; a choice between following the UK down the Brexit path or becoming an independent country.


There is just too much at stake for Brexit simply to be imposed on Scotland, no matter how damaging it turns out to be.


Our future must be decided by us, not for us.


Last year’s Holyrood election delivered the democratic mandate for Scotland having such a choice, and the recent vote of the Scottish Parliament underlined it.


If the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats in this election, that will further reinforce our mandate.


And in these circumstances, any continued Tory attempts to block Scotland having a choice – when the time is right and the options are clear – would be democratically unsustainable.


However, that will be a choice for the end of the Brexit process.


I want to be clear today that this election also presents Scotland with a more immediate opportunity,


In the months ahead, we must make sure that our interests are not ignored in the Brexit negotiations – a vote for the SNP will make sure that Scotland’s voice is heard.


A majority of people in Scotland voted to remain in the EU – but even many of those who voted to leave have real concerns about the extreme Brexit being pursued by the Prime Minister.


To be taken out, not just of the EU, but also of the single market, puts 80,000 Scottish jobs at risk – it poses a real danger to our farmers and fisherman, our universities, our food and drink businesses, to almost every sector of our economy.


That is why the Scottish Government published compromise proposals that would keep Scotland in the single market.


These proposals were brushed aside by the Prime Minister.


But this election offers people the opportunity to give them democratic legitimacy and make it impossible for the Prime Minister to continue to ignore Scotland’s voice.


So my message to all voters in Scotland is this: whether you voted Leave or Remain last year, or Yes or No in 2014, vote SNP on 8 June to give me a mandate to demand a place for Scotland at the Brexit negotiating table, so we can work to keep Scotland in the single market.


Now more than ever it is vital to have strong SNP voices standing up for Scotland at Westminster.


A vote for the SNP on June 8th will strengthen Scotland’s hand against Tory cuts.


It will strengthen Scotland’s hand against an extreme Brexit.


And it will strengthen Scotland’s right to make our own decisions.


The fact is we can’t afford a Tory government with a free hand to do whatever it likes.


We must have strong voices, standing up for our interests and defending the values we hold dear.


You know that Tory MPs will be a rubber stamp for whatever Theresa May wants.


Just as you know that, in Scotland, voting Labour risks letting in Tory MPs.


Only the SNP is strong enough to keep the Tories in check.


And only SNP MPs will stand up for Scotland


Whether on Brexit, austerity or the future of our public services, this is a manifesto to make Scotland’s voice heard.


It is a manifesto for prosperity and opportunity.


A manifesto to tackle inequality.


A manifesto to protect jobs and build the fair society we know is within our grasp. 


And a manifesto to ensure that Scotland’s future will always be in Scotland’s hands.


I am proud to present it to the Scottish people today.


Read the manifesto in full here.