THE manifestos of all three of Scotland's biggest political parties are disconnected from "fiscal reality", a leading economic think tank has said. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said paying for the billions of pounds-worth of promises made by the SNP, Tories and Labour would likely mean hiking taxes or cutting spending in other areas. 

It accused Scotland's politicians of failing to level with voters. 

Paul Johnson, director of the IFS, said the manifestos all made "strikingly big promises... without any serious attempt to provide costings or to say how they would be paid for". 

The think tank said the Scottish Government's budget is likely to be tight in certain areas from next year, even before the parties' new spending plans are accounted for.

It said the SNP and Conservatives will "almost certainly" have to spend more on the NHS than they have budgeted for, in order to meet their pledges and keep pace with demand, while Labour has failed to provide figures after 2021/22.

David Phillips, an associate director at the IFS, said: "There is some consensus between the SNP, Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour in the manifestos they have presented. 

"All aim for an expanded welfare state including doubling the Scottish child payment, universal free school meals for primary-school children, increases in carer’s allowance, and expansions of free childcare. 

"Investment priorities are also similar, including a focus on social housing and energy efficiency, albeit with different scales of ambition – and different price tags.

"Overall visions are quite different, though. The SNP and Scottish Labour envisage what they might think of as a Scandinavian-style future – with a smorgasbord of new entitlements for Scottish residents. 

"In contrast, the Scottish Conservatives’ public services and benefits offer, while an increase on what is there today, is less expansive with an aim instead of modestly reducing tax.

"Another thing these manifestos have in common is, unfortunately, a disconnect from the fiscal reality the next Scottish Government is likely to face. 

"Rising demand for, and costs of, health and social care could easily absorb three-quarters of the projected cash increase in the Scottish Government’s budget over the next few years, substantially more than the SNP and Conservatives have budgeted for. 

"Scottish Labour have not even set out NHS spending plans beyond this year but it is hard to imagine them spending less given their plans for a £15-an-hour minimum wage for care workers by the end of the parliament. 

"Paying for the billions in additional pledges in these manifestos would therefore mean either increases in Scottish taxes or cuts to some other areas of spending, unless substantially more UK government funding is forthcoming.

"It is also disappointing that, with the exception of the Scottish Conservatives, there is no serious attempt by the parties to provide transparent and comprehensive costings for their plans. 

"And the Conservatives’ document underestimates the true cost of their flagship policy – the NHS ‘double lock’ – by at least £600 million, or more than a quarter.

"If the hope was that fiscal devolution would improve the financial accountability of Scottish politics, the evidence of this election is that it a hope that has not yet been fulfilled."

Only the manifesto pledges for the three largest parties were examined due to time and resource constraints.

The IFS found Scottish Labour would find its plans the hardest to deliver financially and logistically this year – the only year for which it has set out costed plans. 

In an online discussion, Mr Phillips said the Conservatives' plan for a "double lock" on NHS spending was effectively promising the same Barnett consequentials twice.

He said the Scottish Government's overall budget was projected to increase by about £4.9 billion over the next four years.

However, increased costs for the NHS and social care are predicted to absorb 75% of this, he said, making spending promises elsewhere more difficult.

Delivering pledges outside the healthcare portfolios would likely mean tax rises or cuts elsewhere, he added.

Mr Phillips said: "Scotland's politicians have really failed to level with voters on the challenges that lie ahead."

SNP Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said: "Only the SNP has a track record in office of using the Scottish Parliament's current financial powers - and only the SNP has the serious plans required to drive the post-pandemic recovery which is needed.

"This is the greatest period of upheaval seen in our society and our economy since the Second World War - and the economic response must be every bit as ambitious if we are to build a fair and sustainable recovery.

"In every single year that the SNP has been in Government, we have passed a balanced budget and that will continue to be the case.

"Overall, our proposed spending, including our significant new investment in our NHS, falls within the projections of the Scottish Government's Medium Term Financial Strategy published earlier this year, making our plans affordable even on relatively cautious estimates of future revenue.

"In backing our NHS and care services with £2.5bn of frontline NHS spending and an extra £800m of investment in social care, we can support recovery and transform our care services. Labour and the Tories’ plans fail the NHS and fail our care system.

"As well as the significant health, environment and social benefits our plans are designed to bring about, they will also generate increased economic activity through supporting businesses large and small and putting more money in the pockets of low income households - which will benefit public finances."

Labour's shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: "We are glad the IFS have acknowledged the scale and ambition of our plans - when we say Labour is focused on a national recovery, we mean it.

"The last year has seen considerable funds made available for the health crisis - we cannot afford to be timid in response.

"These plans are ambitious because of the scale of the task ahead.

"We funded our recovery plans within the best of our knowledge of the consequentials available.

"But, as with all of their budgetary processes, the SNP have not been fully transparent about this allocation.

"As well as the current Covid-19 consequentials, the UK Government has a significant amount of funding in reserve, some of which we expect to come to Scotland for spending by the Scottish government.

"We will ensure every penny is spent on supporting our communities, businesses and public services in recovery and not on more constitutional division."

Scottish Conservative economy spokesman Maurice Golden said: "The SNP manifesto ran up a budget-breaking £95 billion bill for a single year. Their plan for independence is based on fantasy economics and their manifesto is no better.

"The IFS reserved their most damning criticism for Labour’s manifesto, stating they have 'no sense' of how to pay for any of it. It’s an embarrassingly weak plan with no substance.

"The Scottish Conservatives were the only party to fully cost our manifesto and we’re the only party with bold, ambitious and realistic plans to tackle the jobs and economic crisis facing Scotland.

"If pro-UK voters unite once again behind the Scottish Conservatives with their peach party list vote, we can stop an SNP majority, stop their plan for indyref2, and get all of the focus back onto rebuilding Scotland."