Sarwar effectively starts Scottish Labour’s Holyrood campaign with tax pledge

<span>Sarwar said change was a ‘two stage process’ for Scotland after 14 years of the Conservatives in Westminster and 17 years of the SNP in Holyrood.</span><span>Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images</span>
Sarwar said change was a ‘two stage process’ for Scotland after 14 years of the Conservatives in Westminster and 17 years of the SNP in Holyrood.Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Anas Sarwar has effectively fired the starting gun on the 2026 Holyrood election campaign as he pledged not to raise income tax if he became first minister.

Sarwar told an audience of candidates and activists at the launch of Scottish Labour’s Westminster manifesto in Edinburgh, “we know change for Scotland is a two stage process” and that voters wanted to “turn the page … on 14 years of chaos under the Tories, and 17 years of failure under the SNP”.

Asked if he could specifically rule out any increase in any Scottish income tax band or rate – which are devolved to Holyrood – under a Labour government at Holyrood, Sarwar said: “Yes. Next question.”

Labour and the Scottish Conservatives have attacked the SNP government at Holyrood over the fact that people being paid more than £29,000 pay more in tax in Scotland.

Launching the manifesto at Murrayfield Stadium on Tuesday morning, Sarwar said: “Thanks to the Tories, the average mortgage is now £2,000 higher per year. And thanks to the SNP, anyone earning £29,000 a year or more pays more income tax than people in the rest of the UK. Unbelievably, the SNP now think a nurse should pay more tax, but that oil and gas giants earning billions of pounds in profit should pay less tax.”

At the last Scottish leaders’ debate, the first minister, John Swinney, justified his government’s “hard decision on increasing taxation for higher earners” by saying it funded the Scottish child payment, which it estimates will keep 60,000 children out of poverty. Swinney’s immediate predecessor, Humza Yousaf, refused to back Labour’s plan to extend the windfall tax, arguing it would cost 100,000 jobs in the oil and gas sector.

The SNP leader has insisted his party will publish the only leftwing manifesto of the campaign on Wednesday, as he attempts to woo back independence supporters who polls indicated are turning to Labour.

The Scottish Labour manifesto largely mirrors UK Labour pledges on growing the economy, cutting NHS waiting lists and more support for young people set out by Keir Starmer last week. But there is more detail on how these will impact Scotland – VAT on private school fees, for example, could deliver more than 1,800 new teachers while having the headquarters of GB Energy in Scotland would make the country a “global leader” in the transition to clean energy.

Sarwar attacked “scaremongering” from the SNP that Labour’s plans would mean a return to austerity, saying: “It is now in black and white in the UK and Scottish Labour manifesto there will be no return to austerity under a Labour government.”

In its review of the UK Labour manifesto last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies continued to raise questions about how the party would “square the circle” of its tax and spending plans in government.

Sarwar, who has been sounding increasingly confident as Scottish Labour sources brief that the party has increased its list of target seats in Scotland in light of positive polling, also promised to “reset devolution” and take it back to its founding principles with a “turbo-charged Scotland Office”.

“Too many opportunities of devolution have been squandered over the last 14 years where you’ve had two governments wanting to use devolution as a battering ram to pick fights with each other,” he added.