Scottish Tories go their own way over means-testing winter fuel payments

First Minister and leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Conservatives Leader Ruth Davidson and Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale Credit: PA

The creation of the Scottish parliament inevitably meant there would be increasing differences in policy north and south of the Border.

Today's Tory UK general election manifesto launch reinforces that point. Not only will there be differences between a possible Conservative UK government and the SNP administration at Holyrood.

But there will be differences between Tory policy in the Scottish parliament and Westminster.

Two policy areas illustrate this.

The plan to make people whose assets are worth more than £100,000 (usually the house they own) pay for care at home or in a home is a case in point.

For the Tories this is addressing a difficult area which had to be dealt with as costs of care for the elderly rise.

The deal is the threshold rises to that £100,000 figure, and the bill can be settled from people's estates, but many will end up paying more for their care.

No-one will lose their house, the Tories argue, and the system is fairer for those in homes or being cared for at home.

The Leaders' Debate Credit: ITV Border

In Scotland, under a policy introduced by Labour when in power at Holyrood, and supported by all the main parties including the Tories, there is free personal care at home.

Beyond that if you are in a care home, there is a threshold of up to just over £26,000 in assets - including property - which means you have to contribute to your care bill.

But if you are cared for in your home, assets like you home are not counted against you.

If the Tories win, this will mean there is another big difference in policy on this crucial issue north and south of the Border.

The Tories say the policy is fairer and realistic, the SNP that it's cruel and callous. That debate will continue.

But let's take another policy announced today by Theresa May, the means-testing of the winter fuel payment to pensioners, worth between £100 and £300 a year.

I understand that when they launch their manifesto tomorrow the Scottish Tories will say that they will not support that policy, which is the responsibility now of the Scottish parliament.

The Scottish Tory argument is that the needs of all pensioners in Scotland are greater, because of the housing conditions many live in and the climate - it's colder in Scotland!

So there you have a difference between Scotland and the rest of the united Kingdom but within one political party.

I understand that senior Tories are 'relaxed' about this difference and say, in terms with a shoulder shrug, 'that's devolution'.

Their opponents, in the shape of the SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems, will say the Scottish Tories are simply doing it to avoid being attacked for taking money away from pensioners.

This difference in approach will be unveiled not long after the Scottish Tories said they were dropping their support for charging the better off for prescriptions, another move their opponents scorned.

However, if devolution often results in differences in policies on either side of Hadrian's Wall - and increasingly they are accepted as a natural consequences of devolution - there are times when the politicians can agree.

One example of that is the proposal in the UK Tory manifesto today for a "Borderlands growth deal' to bring the UK and Scottish governments together with councils on both sides of the Border to stimulate the economy of the area.

The Scottish Tories say that this reflects the fact that areas like Dumfries & Galloway and Cumbria, Scottish Borders and Northumberland, are economically entwined and need to work together.

There's a subtle Unionist message here of course, but actually - and this may surprise some hard-line opponents of nationalism - the SNP government recognises that is the case.

I understand that the SNP manifesto may contain a commitment to a this initiative, or one that is very similar, which builds on their plan for a south of Scotland enterprise and skills body.

As an aside, I should say that the Labour party in Dumfries & Galloway say that this was their idea in the first place and has been purloined by the Tories.

But be that as it may, the Borderland growth plan shows that despite devolution generally increasing the differences north and south of the Border, there are times when the two administrations share aims and can work together.

It's not that often, but it can happen. It is perhaps more remarkable that it is happening at a time of a general election when the parties are emphasising their differences.

And if you live in the south of Scotland or the north of England you will probably think that is a good thing.