The Scottish Conservatives have launched their manifesto for the Holyrood elections, pledging to “rebuild Scotland” and stop another independence referendum.
Leader Douglas Ross said creating jobs would be his party’s priority in the next parliament but warned the country’s efforts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic would be “crippled” if the SNP continue to focus on independence.
The manifesto contains plans for £500 grants to help unemployed Scots to retrain.
He also announced plans to abolish Scotland’s higher rate of income tax “when public finances allow”, increasing the threshold from £43,663 to match the UK Government’s level of £50,270.
The revised income tax threshold would increase the take-home pay for 1.1 million of Scotland’s highest earners, the Scottish Conservatives have said.
A total of 15 proposed Bills have also been unveiled, including a “Victims Bill” to end automatic early release, introduce whole life custody sentences and end the not proven verdicts that are unique to the Scottish justice system.
Speaking at the launch of the manifesto in Glasgow, Ross said: “Independence will be the SNP’s priority.
“If they are elected with a majority, they will take that mandate as free rein to drive forward their obsession at the earliest opportunity.
“We cannot trust the SNP to deliver our recovery.
“We cannot rebuild Scotland, while we are crippled by the threat of an independence referendum.
“So we need to take that threat off the table.”
On the health service, the Tories said they would guarantee the NHS Scotland budget would increase either by the level of Barnett consequentials or 2% more than inflation every year – whichever figure is higher.
According to current estimates, this would increase the health service’s annual funding by more than £2bn by 2025-26.
A further £600m should also be allocated this year for “tackling the backlog of operations and treatment” exacerbated by the pandemic, Ross said.
The Scottish Conservatives have also pledged to increase mental health funding to 10% of the frontline health budget during the next parliament alongside expansions of community-based programmes such as cognitive behavioural therapy, social prescribing, exercise referral schemes and peer support.
Outlining education policies, Ross said: “We would invest £120mn this year into a catch-up premium for every school child and set up a national tutoring programme for those children in most need of support.
“And over the Parliament we will give £1bn directly to schools for tackling the attainment gap.
“To end the SNP’s cuts to teacher numbers, we will recruit an additional 3000 teachers.
“We would allow every primary school child a free school lunch and breakfast because – as the son of a school cook – I know the importance of nutritious meals to a child’s learning.
“And we would roll out wraparound childcare, to allow kids to take part in exciting out-of-school activities and support their parents to keep a full-time job when their child starts school.”
The Prime Minister’s aides have refused to confirm whether Boris Johnson will campaign in Scotland ahead of the Holyrood elections.
As Ross set out the party’s manifesto, Downing Street advisers said coronavirus restrictions made campaign visits more “challenging”.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said: “The key thing here is that because of Covid, the pandemic is making these visits more challenging than they would be otherwise.
“But rest assured we will update you in the usual way as and when a campaign trip is going to be made by the Prime Minister.”
Commenting on the Scottish Conservatives’ proposals, SNP depute leader Keith Brown said: “Today’s Tory manifesto shows that behind their rhetoric, these are the same-old Tories – completely out-of-touch, planning tax cuts for the rich and austerity for everyone else, and only interested in widening the gap between rich and poor in our society.”