LIBERAL Democrats say Scotland can “be the best again” by putting a penny on income tax to end education cuts, banning fracking, guaranteeing civil liberties and handing more power to local communities.
Launching the party’s manifesto for next month’s Holyrood election, leader Willie Rennie invoked the memory of the late Charles Kennedy, saying the document marked a return to the “positive, uplifting agenda” seen under Mr Kennedy’s leadership.
Speaking at Jungle Adventure soft play centre in Easter Road, he said: “Our programme for Scotland is ambitious and progressive. We are offering the biggest investment in education since devolution, new plans for mental health services, new laws to guarantee our civil liberties and new investment so we can exceed our climate change targets.”
The Lib Dems’ flagship policy, a “penny for education”, involves adding 1p to income tax for those earning over £21,500 to raise around £500 million each year.
This would include giving schools thousands of pounds of additional funding through a “pupil premium” aimed at raising standards and closing the attainment gap.
The party also plans to double free childcare to 1140 hours a year for all three and four-year-olds, and will seek to do the same for all two-year-olds, with £100m of additional funding. It has further promised to restore college budgets and protect local authority education funding.
On health, the Lib Dems want to invest £500m in mental health services over the next five years, and treble the £45m primary care fund the Scottish Government is operating this year.
The manifesto also includes plans for radical drug policy reform, with drug use to be treated as a health issue. It proposes a presumption against short prison sentences of less than 12 months, decriminalisation of prostitution, and the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.
The Lib Dems want to “bring democracy back into Scottish policing”, raise the salary threshold for graduates repaying student loans from £17,495 to £21,000 and keep the named person scheme “under review”.
Mr Rennie said: “I think our agenda actually fits with the modern public mood in Scotland. People see the value of a long-term plan to deal with the prison population, to deal with crime, to deal with drugs, to deal with prostitution.
“We want to try and help people and that’s why having a longer-term liberal approach to things, I think, chimes with people in Scotland now.”