SNP Manifesto Is Party's 'Most Ambitious' Ever

Nicola Sturgeon is to hail the SNP's manifesto for Holyrood as the "most ambitious programme for government'' the party has ever published.

The First Minister and SNP leader will launch the document as her party bids for its third term in power at the Scottish Parliament.

The manifesto, to be launched in Edinburgh, will pledge to increase NHS funding by £500 million more than inflation over the five-year course of the next parliament, with Ms Sturgeon describing this as "part of a package of investment and reform to equip the NHS for the future''.

The SNP will also commit to "baby boxes'' full of essentials to parents of all newborns and set an ambitious new target to cut emissions by 50% by 2020 as part of the fight against climate change.

However, the manifesto will not include a specific pledge to hold a second referendum on independence.

Ms Sturgeon has already said Holyrood should have the right to stage another such ballot "if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people'' or if there is a "significant and material change'' in circumstances, such as Scotland being taken out of the European Union against the wishes of voters north of the border.

Ms Sturgeon will describe the SNP package as "brimming with ideas and policies to move the country forward'', adding it is ``the most ambitious programme for government that we have ever published ahead of a Scottish election''.

She will state: "This election is our opportunity to focus on the kind of country Scotland can be and who can provide the leadership to make it a reality.''

Voters in Scotland go to the polls on May 5, with the election being the first time Ms Sturgeon has put herself forward to be the country's first minister.

She will say: "The decision voters will take in just 14 days' time is a simple one - who should form the next government of Scotland and who should be the next First Minister.

"That is what this election is about. It is not a phoney battle for second place or a game of chance with the electoral system - it is about choosing a government and a first minister to lead the country forward for the next five years and into a new decade.

"The manifesto we are publishing today is bold, ambitious and reforming. It sets out a clear plan for government and a clear path to a better future. It is, above all else, a manifesto for the next generation.''

On NHS spending, she will say that not increasing the threshold at which people start paying income tax at 40p - as Chancellor George Osborne plans to do - will allow a future SNP government to provide additional cash.

"We had already pledged - and planned - to protect the NHS budget in real terms in every year of the next parliament,'' the SNP leader will say.

"However, by making the decision not to give higher rate taxpayers the tax cut proposed by the Tories, we are able to go further.

"I am confirming today that over the next parliament, a re-elected SNP government will increase investment in the NHS by #500 million more than inflation.''

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "Under the SNP, too many healthcare issues have been allowed to drift down the agenda.

"Their record on ignoring the pressures facing the NHS over the past nine years has started to catch up with them.''