NICOLA Sturgeon has defended the SNP’s manifesto after the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggested the party’s proposals would lead to more austerity for Scots.

The First Minister said the analysis was “flawed”.

The SNP manifesto, published last week, calls for NHS spending to rise by £136 per head, around £4 billion more per year by 2023/24 than Labour’s plans.

The SNP also back an end to the two-child cap on tax credits, the scrapping of the bedroom tax, increases to Universal Credit payments and a higher National Living Wage.

Writing in The Scotsman newspaper, IFS associate director David Phillips said this “package of spending increases and tax cuts would mean the UK Government having to borrow to cover day-to-day spending – something the other main parties have claimed they would not do”.

Phillips said pursuing the types of policies suggested in the SNP manifesto in an independent Scotland would mean either bigger cuts or that other taxes would have to be increased to pay for proposed net giveaways.

“It may also reflect the fact that the SNP’s manifesto isn’t really about a plan of action for five years of governing the UK,” he said.

“Rather it is about starting the process of leaving the UK in the next year.

“It’s about contrasting a near-decade of austerity and years of divisive debate over Brexit in the UK, with a positive-sounding vision of independence.”

He added: “Even the Conservatives’ modest proposals for the coming parliament would see spending grow by around 1.8% a year, slightly ahead of forecast economic growth.

“Therefore, in the short-term at least, independence would likely necessitate more, not less, austerity.”

Speaking during a campaign stop in Midlothian, Sturgeon said: “I don’t accept that analysis. I’ve got great respect for the IFS, but I think in a number of ways it’s a flawed analysis.

“Firstly, I think it raises questions about trying to apply a Westminster manifesto in an independence context. Not because we don’t want to do these things, but of course in an independent Scotland we have a range of levers at our disposal that we don’t have right now.”

She said the Growth Commission recommends increases in spending above the rate of inflation: “If we had applied those recommendations to the past decade, we would have escaped Tory austerity altogether.

“It also doesn’t take account of the fact that in terms of deficit reduction, for example, Scotland is already ahead of what the Growth Commission estimated would be the case in 2021, because our revenues are rising.”

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “This is a humiliation for Nicola Sturgeon.”