George Osborne’s planned cuts to tax credits is “the most iniquitous policy since Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax” and is “causing alarm” in households across the country, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has said.
In her closing speech to the party’s conference in Aberdeen, Scotland’s First Minister attacked the controversial policy and warned David Cameron that his “arrogant” and “patrician” attitude to Scotland could provoke a second independence referendum.
In a sustained personal attack on the Prime Minister, Ms Sturgeon provoked the biggest cheer of the day when she described him as “pig-headed”, a reference to allegations about Mr Cameron's university days made in a recent book co-authored by the Tory peer Lord Ashcroft.
The SNP leader said the Government’s planned cuts to tax credits were “nothing short of scandalous” and would have a “staggering” impact in Scotland, with around 200,000 working families with children standing to lose an average of £3,000 a year.
Under the plans, which have already been voted through by parliament, the earnings level above which tax credits are withdrawn will be lowered from £6,420 to £3,850 and the rate at which the benefit is lost as pay rises will be increased.
Giving a detailed example of the “human impact” that the policy could have, Ms Sturgeon said a couple with two children living in a council house who both earned just above the minimum wage stood to lose more than £2,000 – the equivalent of their basic rate of income tax rising to 90 per cent.
“Can you imagine if the Chancellor had told people before the election that he was going to increase the basic rate of income tax to anywhere near 90 per cent?” she said. “But he thinks it’s acceptable to do the equivalent of that to some of the lowest paid people in our society – and not even mention it in his manifesto. Well, it is not acceptable.”
Continuing her attack on the Tories, the SNP leader accused Mr Cameron of treating Scotland with “disdain” since the country rejected independence last year. In a jibe which met with roars of laughter from the crowd, she added: “The Prime Minister’s attitude to Scotland betrays the worst characteristics of his government – arrogant, patrician and out of touch. Pig-headed, some might say.”
Ms Sturgeon then issued a clear warning to Mr Cameron on the possibility of a second independence referendum. “I have a message for the Prime Minister today…ignore Scotland at your peril,” she said. “Know that people are watching and listening. And remember this: it is not you who will decide the future of Scotland, it will be the people of Scotland.”
In her previous speech to the conference on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon dampened supporters’ expectations about another referendum, saying she would not call one in the next five years unless there is “strong evidence” that a clear majority of the country supports breaking away from the Union.
Yesterday she sought to reassure voters who may be wary of backing the nationalist party at next year’s Scottish Parliament election, arguing that the SNP’s vision for the country was “not about flags and anthems” but about building “a strong economy and a safe society”.
In the first of a series of policy announcements, Ms Sturgeon said that if the SNP is elected next year, an extra £200 million will be channelled into the Scottish NHS to create a new network of elective treatment centres, carrying out various procedures such as hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery.
She also promised to use new welfare powers being devolved through the Scotland Bill to increase the carer’s allowance so the benefit is of the same level as that provided to jobseekers. The policy, which will cost £40m a year, will provide carers with an extra £600 annually. Changes to childcare were also promised, with increased flexibility for parents and more teachers for nurseries in deprived areas.
Seeking to capitalise on her popularity among both Yes and No voters, Ms Sturgeon concluded her speech with a personal appeal to the electorate, arguing that people’s choice at the Holyrood election came down to “who you trust most”. She added: “Trust us – trust me – to always do the best for you, for your family and for your community.”
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