NICOLA Sturgeon's intention to place higher taxes for top earners at the heart of the SNP's election manifesto is to be applauded. The pledge sets a clear progressive agenda in a general election in which social equality and fairness has played little role so far.

For seven years now, Scotland – while rejecting the Tories – has suffered under Tory austerity, and as a result the nation has seen a sharp rise in in-work poverty and foodbanks, a term scarcely in use before David Cameron came to power in 2010.

Sturgeon made plain her anti-austerity agenda in last week's leaders' debate on ITV when she chose to address both Scottish voters and voters in the rest of the UK, stating: "My pledge to you is that SNP MPs will always work for jobs, fairness and progressive values."

Sturgeon's impressive handling of the debate stood in stark contrast to the absence of both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. With Corbyn's no-show, Sturgeon was able to command her ground as the leading progressive voice across the nations of the UK.

Many voters in Scotland will be anxious at the sight of polls showing the Tories poised to win more Scottish MPs than at any time in the last 25 years. Such concerns are compounded by UK-wide polling suggesting the Tories could be returned to power, with a thumping majority in the Commons, the like of which has not been seen since the high watermark of Thatcherism in the 1980s.

We are already seeing signs that an emboldened Theresa May administration would create policies to the detriment of poor and lower income families, and restrict the rights of trade unions.

Cuts to the winter fuel allowance and free lunches at schools in England, as well as the immigration clampdown announced by the Prime Minister, prove that the Tories remain antithetical to the interests of the weakest in our society.

There can be no confidence in Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson taking any position which mitigates against such an agenda, despite her suggestion that Scottish pensioners should continue to get winter fuel payments because the country is colder.

Progressive voters have rightly felt that the SNP has 'talked the progressive talk' but often failed to 'walk the progressive walk', however, Sturgeon offers a clear hope and promise that she and her party are the only logical bulwark against the worst excesses of any future Tory administration.