Labour pledges Scottish council house building drive

Media caption,
Richard Leonard: Scotland has power to pick the next PM

Scottish Labour has launched its election campaign by pledging to fund the building of 120,000 council and social houses over the next 10 years.

The build up to the general election on 12 December has now formally begun with Westminster having been dissolved.

Richard Leonard opened his party's campaign with a new policy designed to end homelessness "once and for all".

However, decisions over house building are devolved to Holyrood, so will be taken by the Scottish government.

Meanwhile, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has written an open letter to Scots who voted Remain urging them to back her party.

The first minister said the election was "a chance to escape from Brexit", but the Conservatives accused her of trying to "weaponise" Remain votes in her bid to secure a second independence referendum.

The Scottish Parliament continues to sit during the election period, but MSPs and party leaders are also spending time out on the campaign trail for the Westminster election.

Mr Leonard launched Labour's campaign on Wednesday afternoon in Glasgow with a £10bn house building pledge.

He told activists that a UK Labour government would invest £70bn in Scotland's public services, with £10bn of it going towards the building of 120,000 new council and social homes.

He said: "Labour will tackle Scotland's housing crisis, we will provide a home for everyone - and we will end homelessness once and for all in Scotland.

"And in so doing, we will generate almost 50,000 jobs, here in Scotland - giving our young people the work and the skills they need to prosper."

However, housing, planning and local government are all devolved to Holyrood, so decisions about how to spend money on house building are taken by the Scottish government.

This means the UK government can allocate funds to Holyrood via its block grant, but cannot dictate how Scottish ministers actually spend the money.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Labour has put house building at the heart of its campaign

Speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme, Labour candidate Martin McCluskey said the party aimed to be in government at Holyrood in future and would challenge the current administration to spend the funds in the same way.

He said: "We can say this is our priority, this is where we'd place this money, just in the same way that when the [funds] come for the NHS and education we will announce how we would use that if we were in government and how we hope the Scottish government of the moment would use it.

"We have a housing crisis in Scotland, we have people who are without homes who are homeless, and that's why we're announcing this policy today."

Labour later issued extra quotes from Mr Leonard saying that "anyone who says this policy is not deliverable" was "letting the SNP off the hook", and "challenging Nicola Sturgeon to commit to delivering this programme if a UK Labour government is elected on December 12".

UK leader Jeremy Corbyn has already pledged to cut UK carbon emissions by 10% through the party's Warm Homes for All policy, although this also cuts across devolved areas.

How do UK spending pledges apply to Scotland?

Image source, PA

The early stages of the election campaign have already seen UK parties set out a range of spending plans which cut across devolved areas in Scotland.

These funding pledges would not apply directly north of the border, because UK ministers cannot dictate policy to their Scottish counterparts.

Instead, the Scottish government gets a certain share of funds spent on devolved matters elsewhere in the UK, so that Scottish taxpayers don't lose out.

But these funds - known as "Barnett consequentials" - cannot be tied to being spent on one policy or another.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Ms Sturgeon has written an open letter to Remain voters - 62% of Scots who took part in the 2016 EU referendum - urging them to back the SNP.

She said she understood that not all of them would share her view that "our best future would be as an independent country", but urged them to back her to "escape from Brexit".

She wrote: "If we sit back and do nothing, our future will be decided for us by Boris Johnson and by governments we didn't vote for.

"We must come together in this election and make Scotland's voice heard - and the best way to do that is to vote SNP."

The Scottish Conservatives said the letter was a "desperate, deceitful and duplicitious" attempt to "co-opt" Remain votes into backing for independence.

Former Scottish Secretary David Mundell said SNP MPs would be "Nicola Sturgeon's little Westminster helpers and secure another divisive independence referendum".

He added: "Voting Scottish Conservative at this election will stop Nicola Sturgeon's referendum in its tracks and ensure we get a government that delivers for Scotland."

The Scottish Lib Dems meanwhile have set themselves against both Brexit and Scottish independence, with campaign chairman Alex Cole-Hamilton saying Remain voters should "ignore the leaky lifeboat of independence" and back his party instead.

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