SNP manifesto 2024: John Swinney’s election policies at a glance

John Swinney
John Swinney

The SNP will face its first national election on July 4 since Nicola Sturgeon stood down as SNP leader in March 2023.

The Scottish Nationalists won 48 of Scotland’s Westminster seats in the 2019 election but polls suggest they are on course to lose at least half at the general election thanks to a combination of a resurgent Labour Party, the Scottish Government’s unpopularity and a series of scandals, including a long-running police investigation into the party’s finances.

John Swinney, who replaced the disastrous Humza Yousaf as SNP leader and First Minister, has attempted to paper over some of the party’s yawning divisions in his manifesto, which he launched at a campaign event in Edinburgh on June 19.

However, the party document was thin and amounted to only 32 pages, three of which are completely blank.

There was also no breakdown of costs for a litany of what appear to be expensive commitments on welfare and NHS spending.

Mr Swinney was not a success in his first stint as SNP leader – between 2000 and 2004 – when he was ousted after overseeing two poor election results. Although a more seasoned politician now, he lacks the popular appeal of Ms Sturgeon.

So far in the election campaign, the future of North Sea oil and gas has been a major issue in Scotland, with a succession of SNP figures struggling to give a clear answer on the new drilling.

Mr Swinney himself has come under pressure over the SNP’s handling of devolved policy areas, such as education and health.

Despite these being run from Holyrood, there is evidence that many Scottish voters are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the state of schools and the health service.

Here is a look at what the SNP has promised in its 32-page pledge and what this may mean for Mr Swinney’s chances on July 4.

John Swinney at the launch of the SNP's 2024 manifesto in Edinburgh on June 19
John Swinney at the launch of the SNP's 2024 manifesto in Edinburgh on June 19 - Jeff J Mitchell

Independence

  • “Deliver independence” in Scotland

  • Begin immediate negotiations with the UK Government

  • Devolve new powers to Holyrood

  • Support abolition of House of Lords

As had been promised, independence is emblazoned on “page one, line one” of the party’s manifesto, which states: “Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country.”

However, while it asserts that the SNP can “deliver independence”, the document sheds very little light on how this could be achieved in practice.

The SNP manifesto states that the devolved government in Edinburgh would be “empowered to begin immediate negotiations with the UK Government to give democratic effect to Scotland becoming an independent country” should the SNP win a majority of Scottish seats.

Mr Swinney has said his preferred route to independence would be a referendum, though any calls for this would be certainly rejected by the UK Government, whether led by Sir Keir Starmer or Rishi Sunak.

Interestingly, the manifesto emphasises what the SNP claims is an existing mandate for independence from the last Holyrood elections, saying it is “more important than ever for the mandate won in 2021 to be respected”.

Pressed by journalists, Mr Swinney repeatedly refused to concede that his party would lose its claimed independence mandate should it fail to win a majority of Scottish seats.

The manifesto attempts on multiple occasions to link independence to what polls suggest Scottish voters generally consider more pressing issues, such as the economy, NHS and the cost of living.

Other constitutional policies include the devolution of a swathe of new powers to Holyrood and to support the abolition of the House of Lords.


Tax and spending

  • “Full devolution” of tax powers to Holyrood

  • Endorse windfall taxes on Scottish businesses

  • Support Labour’s VAT raid on private schools

The SNP have hiked income taxes on everyone earning over £28,000 in Scotland, but would like to go further according to its manifesto.

The party is demanding the “full devolution” of tax powers to Holyrood so that more cash can be raised.

Mr Swinney said the SNP could “ensure rates and thresholds fit our progressive income tax rates” with the devolution of National Insurance.

It also appears to be endorsing a series of windfall taxes on Scottish businesses, claiming powers to impose them would “tackle the twin crises of cost of living and climate change while meeting the specific needs of Scotland”.

The party has also backed Labour’s proposal to impose VAT on private schools.

Current fiscal rules would be scrapped under the SNP and replaced with a new set of guidelines allowing more investment in public services.

However, the lack of cost details means it is hard to say how these promises would be paid for.


Health and social care

  • Demand an extra £10bn for Scottish NHS

  • End health service privatisation

  • Increase NHS pay by at least £6bn

The SNP has demanded that the UK Government pumps an extra £10 billion annually into the NHS, claiming this would “address rampant inflationary pressures and improve performance”.

In addition, the party wants the UK Government to match the more generous pay deals Holyrood has agreed with NHS workers to prevent strikes, but is now causing it financial difficulties.

This would cost a further £6 billion across the UK and result in a total boost to the Scottish Government’s budget of £1.6 billion.

The party is also saying it would introduce a “keep the NHS in public hands bill” to protect the health service.

Despite being fully devolved, the SNP has begun warning that only a vote for the nationalists will protect the NHS from privatisation.

Opponents have seen this as a sign of desperation from the SNP, particularly as waiting times in Scotland have spiralled to record levels and performance is deteriorating.


Welfare

  • Scrap two child benefit cap

  • Offer free food and energy to low-income groups

  • Demand full compensation for WASPI women

At his manifesto launch, Mr Swinney repeatedly attacked Labour over its refusal to promise to scrap the two child benefit cap introduced in 2017.

The SNP manifesto says the policy has caused “unnecessary suffering” and must go.

While the party has not included costs in its manifesto, independent researchers have estimated that scrapping the policy, which limits benefit payments to two children in a household, would cost £3.4 billion per year.

The manifesto also appears to include a vague commitment to effectively offering free food and energy for low-income groups.

It backs legislation introducing an “essentials guarantee” to ensure “everyone can afford basic necessities like food and utilities”.

The SNP is also demanding “full, fast and fair compensation” for WASPI women, who claim they were wrongly disadvantaged over pension changes.


Defence and foreign affairs

  • Scrap Trident nuclear deterrent

  • Recognise Palestinian state

  • Increase international aid budget

  • Raise minimum military age to 18

The SNP’s flagship defence policy is to scrap the Trident nuclear deterrent.

It says the money saved from retiring Britain’s nuclear submarines could instead be spent on “conventional defence and public services”.

The party also wants the UK to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and immediately recognise Palestine as a state.

The UK’s international aid budget should be increased to 0.7 per cent, according to the SNP, while the minimum age for joining the UK military should be raised to 18.

The party does not put forward a policy on what proportion of GDP should be spent on defence, against the NATO target of 2 per cent.


European Union

  • Re-enter the single market

  • Restore free movement for EU citizens

  • Rejoin the EU following as independent state

The SNP wants to “reverse the damage of Brexit and re-enter the single market restoring free movement for EU citizens”.

However, it appears to concede that the UK will not be rejoining the EU, instead emphasising a “vision for an independent Scotland in the EU”.

The manifesto states that Brexit has been a “disaster” for Scotland and wiped billions from the Scottish economy.

But, there is no detail about how Scotland would meet membership requirements even if Scotland were to achieve independence.

Scottish civil servants have estimated that it could take nearly a decade for a Scottish state to gain entry, from the point of leaving the UK, in what would be a lengthy and highly complex process.

There is also nothing about how trade barriers would be created with the rest of the UK – by far Scotland’s largest market – or inevitable border checks would be overcome.


Immigration

  • Return of free movement from the EU

  • Powers to issue work permits to foreigners

  • Introduce post-study and family visas

  • More welcome regime for asylum seekers

Scotland’s working age population is expected to shrink over the coming decades, creating a demographic timebomb with fewer working people to pay for services for a larger number of elderly pensioners.

The SNP favours a much more liberal immigration policy than the UK Government, including the return of free movement from the EU.

It also wants Holyrood to have powers to issue work permits to foreigners, based on the distinctive needs of the Scottish economy. New working visas, five-year post-study visas and family visas with much lower barriers than the UK currently uses would be introduced.

The SNP has called for a much more welcome regime for asylum seekers and his government has argued that an independent Scotland would allow them to work and claim benefits.


Energy and environment

  • Introduce climate compatibility assessments on fossil fuels

  • Bring in climate reparations

  • Invest £28bn in green economy

The 2024 manifesto does not restate the SNP government’s existing position that there should be a “presumption” against new oil and gas developments in the North Sea.

However, it does not fully endorse them either, instead saying there should be an “evidence based approach to oil and gas”.

Any further extraction of fossil fuels must only go ahead following a “robust climate compatibility assessment”, though there is no detail on what this would entail.

The SNP wants Labour to resurrect its abandoned plan to invest at least £28 billion a year in the green economy and Mr Swinney’s party rules out any new nuclear power plants in Scotland.

The manifesto endorses the idea of climate reparations and calls for more investment in “loss and damage”.

This is where richer countries, who have historically emitted the most greenhouse gases, make payments to developing countries hit by climate change.

It demands that “the UK Government must provide a new contribution to the new Loss and Damage Fund which is truly additional to existing commitments”.


Can you vote for the SNP in England?

The SNP have only ever fielded candidates in Scotland and will not be contesting any seats in England or Wales.

Standing candidates outside of Scotland runs counter to the party’s central aim of negotiating another independence referendum.