Welcome pledges, but more detail needed: Scottish Labour manifesto

Hew Edgar

Policy Manger (Scotland) (RICS)

Scottish Labour has launched an election manifesto which emphasises unity, and opposition to a second referendum on Scottish independence and a “hard Brexit”.

Edinburgh Castle Scotland

Download and read Scottish Labour's manifesto

Stressing Scottish Labour’s pro-union credentials, this manifesto builds on Labour’s UK manifesto pledges in many places calculating the Barnett consequentials that Scotland would receive if a Labour Government at Westminster made a UK-level investment. However, there are times when it is unclear whether a pledge is for the UK, Scotland, or both, and there is a distinct lack of detail in many places on how various pledges will be delivered.

Empowering devolved nations & regions

Key to this manifesto is Labour’s commitment to introduce a "presumption of devolution", where powers transferred from the EU will go straight to the relevant region or nation. This will mean Holyrood could have a greater level of accountability and responsibility through gaining jurisdiction over more issues, such as, farming, fishing and rural development. It is hard to ascertain how this could work within the UK setting in practice without further detail, particularly when we consider that Labour will seek continued EU market access. However, it is reassuring that Labour have pledged to maintain rural structural funding after Brexit.

Recognising rural & remote communities

Scottish Labour have made a welcome pledge that a "rural-proofing" process of all laws, policies and programmes in Scotland will ensure the impact on rural and remote communities is considered, and this is welcome. This echoes our recommendation to all political parties and should be seen as a guide to how the next UK Government should negotiate the UK’s Brexit deal. Indeed, if a future Labour Government does follow through on its pledge to scrap the Conservative’s Brexit White Paper, it is important that party policymakers read our five strategic priorities for negotiating Brexit.

Scottish Labour have recognised the need to tackle Scotland’s rural infrastructure deficit, and their pledge to invest in broadband, housing and transport in rural and remote Scotland is positive (much in line with our recommended Rural Infrastructure Investment Plan); rural broadband coverage being the focal point of their universal superfast broadband by 2021 pledge.

Infrastructure & investment

Labour have stated that they "will invest in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland", but have not provided much detail on where, what and how. Indeed, their proposed National Transformation Fund (NTF) will create a Scottish Investment Bank, with a funding pot of £20 billion that will be used to support business growth and the economy, and create jobs — this ambiguity leaves a lot to be desired.

As well as restating Labour’s desire to renationalise railway franchises as contracts come to an end, they have also pledged to complete the HS2 high-speed rail line from London to the north and midlands, and then on to Glasgow and Edinburgh. They will aim to deliver rail electrification and expansion across the country — again, further detail would be welcome.

By increasing corporation tax for large corporations, a Labour government will steer the increase in revenues to developing a more skilled workforce. This will be required if Scotland’s housing and infrastructure deficits are to be tackled

Slight issues on housing

Labour is committed to delivering 60,000 affordable homes, but there is no detail on what investment will be used, what role the planning system will play or what prioritising brownfield sites will mean. These are key questions for professionals in this sector.

We have long held the view that a holistic approach is needed to the housing crisis in Scotland, but there is little in this manifesto to suggest as such. Indeed, the guarantee to extend Help-to-Buy until 2027 — and the pledge to offer "first dibs" on new homes to first time buyers — will only perpetuate the current problem of demand for housing stock outstripping supply, and market dynamism, respectively.  

As a means to provide greater security for private renters, Scottish Labour will introduce controls on rent rises and new consumer rights for renters. Pending more detail, this latter policy could aid tenants — the notion is a good one. The former, however, could have the opposite effect for tenants as rent controls deter investment into the sector from large- and small-scale landlords. A consequence of this potential loss of investment is a heated market with higher rents (before the controls come into force) due to the reduction in private rented supply.

To assist local council revenue generation, Scottish Labour will scrap council tax, and allow local authorities to bring in new taxes, such as a tourist tax and land value tax. We favour a property-based tax at a local authority level; land value tax, whilst appearing reasonable and attractive on paper, can have practical problems, primarily through the lack of comparable data upon which to accurately set the values.

Scottish Labour are very keen to re-establish themselves in Scotland, having fallen behind the Scottish Conservatives in the last two national polls (both the Scottish parliamentary election and local election). Many of the manifesto’s pledges are good in theory, but require more detail if they are to work in practice.

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