THE SNP will have to water down the pensions promises made in its last independence manifesto if it gets to hold a second referendum, with the cost of offering an inflated state pension likely to be an additional £60 billion over the next 50 years.

In the lead up to the 2014 vote the SNP said that pensioners in an independent Scotland would receive state payments of £160 a week from April 2016, almost three per cent higher than the £155.65 paid by the Westminster Government at that time.

Taking into account promises made by the administrations in both London and Edinburgh to increase the state pension by at least 2.5 per cent a year, the £160 would have to increase to £176.60 a week from 2020 if voters are to be presented with a comparable deal as part of a second referendum campaign.

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By the same measure the UK payment by 2020 would be £171.81.

The total cost of providing that would be around £8.9 billion in the first year and would rise significantly over time.

Murray Wright, a senior consultant at actuarial business JLT Employee Benefits, noted that at the time of the last referendum the Department for Work and Pensions calculated that for every pound offered over the Westminster state pension the additional cost to Scotland would be £12.7bn over 50 years.

If the SNP was to match the offer made in 2014 the Scottish state pension would be £4.79 a week higher than the one in the rest of the UK, making the total extra cost over 50 years £60.8bn.

Malcolm Paul, chairman of JLT Employee Benefits Scotland, said in order to honour such a commitment the SNP would have to make cuts elsewhere.

“A gap of £4 costs about £1bn per annum in the long term,” he said. “It’s sneaky because it builds up and with an ageing population it will increase quite rapidly. Even a small monetary addition adds up in the long term to a significant pot of money.

“The question is how will that be funded? What will they not spend it on to be able to spend that extra £1bn?”

Political economist John McLaren, an honorary professor at Glasgow University’s Adam Smith Business School, said that to make increased pension payments fiscally neutral the SNP would have to consider raising the state pension age more quickly, something it is opposed to.

“Scotland’s population is ageing faster than the UK’s, which would push the [Scottish] Government towards raising the pension age more quickly in Scotland than in the UK to make up for the greater percentage of non-working population,” he said.

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This would be problematic for the SNP, which said in its 2014 manifesto that it agreed with increasing the state pension age to 66, but that “the Westminster Government’s plan for a rapid move to 67 is a concern”. This is because life expectancy in some of the most deprived parts of Glasgow is as low as 67.5, while it is as high as 83.3 in Kensington and Chelsea, one of the wealthiest parts of England. As state pensions operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, meaning they are paid out of the current year’s tax take, stalling the rise would put an increased burden on the working population.

Steven Baxter, head of longevity innovation and research at actuarial business Hymans Robertson, said that at the moment for every person receiving the state pension in Scotland there are three people of working age paying the taxes to fund that pension.

As the proportion of the population over 65 is growing more quickly than the proportion under 65, that ratio will have fallen to 2.5 to one by 2050, assuming the state pension age has risen to 68 by that point. If, however, Scotland was to maintain the state pension age at 66 it would fall further, with just 2.2 taxpayers supporting every pensioner. Mr Paul said that rather than trying to address Scotland’s longevity issue by keeping the retirement age lower, which would have a detrimental effect on those in work, the Government should make the pensions savings the age rise is designed to tackle and address life-expectancy issues at the other end.

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“This whole thing about not increasing the state pension age because we don’t live as long as people in the rest of the UK is not treating the fundamental problem – it’s treating the symptoms rather than treating the ailments,” he said. Instead, they could give financial assistance via tax relief to employers to run wellness programmes in their businesses.

“One of the issues if you look at what’s gone on with longevity is childhood obesity – [those children] will get older and will have problems caused by obesity. [The Government] should be trying to address that at source rather than trying to treat the symptoms when people have it later in life.”