Scotland politics

Scottish election: BBC poll shows Scots' top priorities

Chemotherapy treatment, a police officer, a microbiology lesson and workers on a construction site
About 1,000 people in Scotland were asked what policies should be prioritised

Cutting cancer treatment waiting times and maintaining the number of police on the streets are the top two priorities for Scotland in the Holyrood elections, according to a poll for BBC Scotland.

The ICM survey also suggested strong backing for free university education.

The BBC poll asked people to rate 25 issues taken from manifestos and party policy statements.

The lowest ranked went to the Tory policy of letting 14-year-olds leave school to train for a trade.

Second lowest priority was given to the plan to build a new bridge across the River Forth.

The idea of combining Scotland's eight police forces into a single national force was also in the bottom three, despite the plan being suggested to save money for frontline policing.

Aspects of the poll were welcomed by the main political parties.

For the poll, ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,004 adults by telephone between 5 and 8 April.

Interviews were conducted across Scotland and the results were weighted to the profile of all Scottish adults.

So far, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Tories and Scottish Labour have published their manifestos.

The SNP is due to make its manifesto public later this week.

However, all the main parties, plus the Scottish Greens, have made their general pledges known in BBC Scotland's issues grid guide.

In terms of parties, the top-ranked policy was in the Labour manifesto; to cut the waiting time for suspected cancer cases to see a specialist from four weeks to two.

Other parties also had policies which were designed to cut health waiting lists or shorten waiting times.

The SNP cites boosting police officer numbers by 1,000 as one of its key justice achievements in the last parliament.

However, the Scottish Conservatives claimed credit for the policy, saying they lobbied for the police number increase in return for backing the SNP's budget.

The third ranked policy, that of retaining free university education, was supported by the Liberal Democrats as well as the SNP and Labour. Only the Tories proposed a graduate charge.

More than one party will claim ownership of the policy which is ranked fourth - that of spending more money on apprenticeships for unemployed young people.

Below that, the next focus is upon the council tax - a hugely contentious issue in these elections.

Poorest pensioners

Placed fifth in the poll was a Conservative policy of cutting the council tax for all households where all the adults are pensioners.

In sixth place comes a policy now effectively backed by all the major parties: a council tax freeze for the next two years.

Below that, in seventh place, lies the Lib Dem policy of scrapping the council tax for the poorest pensioners.

Turning to the bottom of the poll, it seems voters do not accord high priority to the idea of replacing the council tax with a local income tax. That comes in at number 21.

That has been contentious in these elections although the parties advocating it, the SNP and the Lib Dems, now say that it would have to await the further devolution of income tax powers which means effectively deferring it for a further Holyrood election.

Ranked at number 22 is the SNP idea of holding a referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country.

That relatively low ranking may be partly explained by the present focus on immediate economic concerns.

In practice, the SNP have tended to major on other issues while stressing their determination to bring forward a referendum bill if they are re-elected.

Reacting to the poll, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: "This shows Labour is right to focus on the things that really matter.

"Now the Tories are back, we need a Labour government in Scotland fighting for what really matters to families: faster cancer treatment, keeping frontline policing, no tuition fees and making jobs and apprenticeships a priority."

SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon, added: "Our manifesto will commit to further progress on shorter waiting times, and, crucially, our £30m Detect Cancer Early initiative will aim to increase the number of cancers diagnosed at an early stage by 25%.

"The poll also supports SNP policy on a range of issues, including the 1,000 extra police we have delivered, our commitment to free education, the record 25,000 modern apprenticeship places we have put in place this year, the council tax freeze, the abolition of prescription charges, energy and minimum pricing."

The Lib Dems' George Lyon, whose party opposes a single, national police force, said: "This poll confirms the public are worried about the loss of police officers on Scottish streets.

"Local, visible and community-based policing would be eradicated under these plans."

The Tories' David McLetchie said of the poll: "Our priorities of lower taxes, more police and creating jobs are right in tune with Scotland's priorities.

"This poll shows Annabel Goldie's common sense approach and straight talking about the issues that matter is in tune with people in Scotland.

"If it had not been for the Scottish Conservatives, there would not be so many extra police making our communities safer. The SNP tried to get away with 500 but we forced them to deliver 1,000."

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