Tommy Sheppard: Independent thinking is needed in election scrap

Leader Nicola Sturgeon launches the SNP's maniefsto to rapturous acclaim from the party faithful. Picture: Getty
Leader Nicola Sturgeon launches the SNP's maniefsto to rapturous acclaim from the party faithful. Picture: Getty
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The general election next week is not about whether Scotland becomes an independent county, no matter how much Ruth Davidson keeps banging on about it. The apparent Tory obsession with stopping people ever being able to reconsider this question is a smokescreen. They would rather talk about that than try to defend their record – or justify the attacks on pensioners and the welfare state which have framed their botched election campaign.

I’ll happily argue that Scotland should be an independent country any day of the week, but that’s not on the ballot paper next Thursday.

SNP Edinburgh East candidate Tommy Sheppard

SNP Edinburgh East candidate Tommy Sheppard

When the negotiations on Brexit conclude I firmly believe it would be wrong not to allow people in Scotland to vote on whether they like what emerges – or whether we would prefer to choose a different path and take power into our own hands. But that is for the future.

The truth is we have a stark choice at this election. We can vote to give Theresa May a free hand, or we can vote to strengthen Scotland’s hand in the UK with the SNP. Two days ago the SNP launched an imaginative and ambitious manifesto. It sets out how austerity can be tackled at source.

We aim to reset the financial plans for the UK, and by keeping the deficit at the pre-crash average of 2.3 per cent rather than trying to eradicate it we will create almost £120 billion over the course of the next parliament. Additional income will also come from raising the top rate of tax, restoring the levy on bank profits and ending the married couple’s allowance.

We’ll use about half of this money to cancel each and every attack on the poor and the vulnerable which is planned by the Tories. An end to the freeze on tax credits for which has cut the income for those on the lowest wages by six per cent, stopping the welfare cap and the two-child policy which forces women to prove they were raped to claim child tax credits, and restoring support for disabled people.

Moreover, we will end the cap on public sector pay and set the minimum wage at the level of the real living wage – rising to an expected £10.60 by the end of the parliament.

Why? Because people at the bottom have suffered enough under austerity and the measure of a civilised society is how we protect our most vulnerable.

We will also argue for an increase in public spending, especially on the NHS. In Scotland, health spending per capita is seven oper cent above the UK average. We argue that spending in England should increase by this amount, raising an extra £11bn into the NHS finds in excess of current plans. That would also mean an additional extra £1bn for spending here in Scotland.

The SNP will also demand a seat at the top table on the Brexit talks to make sure Scotland’s interest is not overlooked. We simply do not trust Theresa May not to sell out Scottish jobs, 80,000 of which are under threat. And we certainly know she is no respecter of Scottish opinion.

And we are getting onwith the day job. That happens every time someone gets their medicine from the chemist and doesn’t pay £8.60.

It happens every day our young people don’t get a bill for £27,000 to pay for their uni fees.

It happens when older people who need it get a care package approved and funded by the state.

But we know we can do so much better if we can change direction at Westminster, because despite the devolution in recent years, the simple truth is that the rules and the budget of the Scottish parliament are determined more by Westminster than they are by us. So whether you voted Yes or No in 2104, or Remain or Leave last year, a vote for the SNP next Thursday will ensure our voice is heard loud and clear in the difficult years ahead.

Tommy Sheppard is the SNP candidate in Edinburgh East