SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled her party’s “transformational” manifesto, but said she could go further if Scotland was independent.
She outlined a £2.5 billion increase in NHS spending in the next five years if her party is re-elected on May 6, along with an £800 million boost in social care funding.
NHS dentistry charges will be scrapped, at an initial cost of £75 million a year and then rising to £100 million annually as demand grows, and government-supported childcare will be expanded to one and two-year-olds.
The rates of income tax will also be frozen over the next parliamentary term if Ms Sturgeon is re-elected to continue serving as First Minister.
She insisted the spending commitments in the manifesto – which total about £6 billion – are affordable, saying they come in “slightly below” the central assumptions made for the Scottish Government’s budget for the coming years.
However she said much more could be done for Scotland if the country was independent from Westminster.
The First Minister, who in the coronavirus era launched the manifesto in an online event from her own dining room, said: “(The UK Government) are using their powers to take Scotland in the wrong direction and they are pressing the accelerator.
“This will make recovery more difficult as they hurtle towards a deeply damaging destination that few people in Scotland want.
“I believe passionately that with the powers of independence we can do so much more for Scotland.
“I look around Europe and I see independent countries, of similar size to us, that are among the wealthiest, fairest and happiest in the world.
“If Denmark and Norway and Ireland can do it, then with all our resources and talent, why not Scotland?”
However Ms Sturgeon pledged she will not push for another referendum on independence until after the pandemic, saying: “That would be a dereliction of my duty as First Minister to dedicate all of my energies to leading us through the crisis.
“But it would also be a dereliction of my duty as First Minister – my duty to this and future generations – to let Westminster take Scotland so far in the wrong direction that we no longer have the option to change course.”
She said the pandemic has given Scotland the chance to “build a better nation”.
She added: “As we recover, we have the opportunity to reimagine our country.
“In this manifesto the SNP is setting out a serious programme for serious times. It is practical but unashamedly optimistic and it is transformational in its ambition.”
The First Minister’s critics have repeatedly warned against holding another vote on independence while Scotland is still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, for fear of distracting government and the public from the task at hand.
Ms Sturgeon also said there would be no basis for rejecting another referendum on the part of the UK Government if a “simple majority” of independence-supporting MSPs are elected next month.
“After this election, if there is a simple, democratic majority in the Scottish Parliament for an independence referendum, there will be no democratic, electoral or moral justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson or anyone else to block the right of people in Scotland to decide their own future,” she said.
Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson hit out at the “giveaways that the SNP have been springing out of hats” during the election campaign.
She told Radio Forth: “People aren’t daft, they wonder ‘you’ve been in government for 14 years, why are you telling us now you’ve not given enough to the NHS’.
“How cynical is this to wheel it out three weeks before an election, but not to have done the hard yards when you have been in government for 14 years.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “We are still waiting on the SNP delivering promises they made in 2007. They have a one-track mind for independence that prevents them getting anything else done.”
He said that on issues such as “class sizes, council tax, superfast broadband, delayed discharge” it had been “promise after promise broken” by the SNP, adding: “It will be even worse if the SNP get a majority.”
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon said she did not accept an SNP government would increase spending by less in an independent Scotland than has been delivered under Conservative UK governments.
Speaking to Channel 4 News, she said her party’s Growth Commission report had given a “cautious estimate” on the figures.
Ms Sturgeon added the report’s findings were also out of date due to the pandemic.
The broadcaster also asked if any economic analysis had been carried out to see what impact independence would have since Brexit.
She said: “When we put the choice of Scottish independence in a referendum, we will do what we did in 2014.
“We will set out a prospectus, we will do the analysis at that point and we will let people in Scotland decide.”