TOM HARRIS nails the nationalists’ latest NHS lie
It’s called “Project Fear” by the nationalists; any attempt by Better Together (aka “No Thanks”) to warn voters of some of the downsides to Scottish independence is seen as negative campaigning. Only the Yes campaign is invariably positive and life-affirming.
It was never true, of course. And when the much-anticipated Yes lead in the polls failed to materialise during the summer, Salmond’s campaign stopped even trying to pretend it was so. So now we have “Project Feart”. The Scottish NHS, the police and free personal care – all of them specifically devolved to the Scottish Parliament – are at risk from Westminster in the event of a No vote, we’re now told.
It’s a lie, and not even a very good one. Let’s start with the foundation of the nationalists’ claim, that the NHS in England is being privatised in order to reduce the health budget, and therefore the public spending total and, consequently, the Scottish block grant as calculated by the Barnett Formula.
First of all, the Scottish block grant is not calculated as a proportion of health spending at all; it’s based on the total amount of public spending in England. So how is this dastardly plot by the evil Tories working out? Spending must be a mere fraction of what it was when Cameron came to power, what with all that austerity since then, yes?
Well, no, actually.
Public spending in 2010/11 was £692.4 billion. This year it’s £731 billion. In 2016/17 it’s forecast to be £755.1 billion.
Ah, but surely Cameron will revert to type after next May when he wins his overall majority, and copies the slashing agenda of his political hero, the arch-monetarist, Margaret Thatcher?
Well, setting aside the fact that the Tories are flatlining in the polls at pretty much the level they’ve been at since Black Wednesday in September 1992, Thatcher’s record on public spending is not what most might think. When she arrived in office in May 1979, public spending was £93.6 billion. By the time she left in November 1990 that figure had shot up by 243 per cent (!) to £227.5 billion – a period that included a deep recession.
Even Thatcher didn’t achieve a reduction, partly because the economics didn’t justify it and partly because she was more focused on reducing public spending as a proportion of GDP – which also would have no effect whatsoever on the Scottish block grant. And if Thatcher couldn’t achieve it, and didn’t even want it, who can honestly claim her pale imitation in Downing Street is even going to come close?
The second lie being perpetrated by the health minister Alex Neil and the Yes campaign is that the increasing use of private companies to provide healthcare in England will lead to a reduction in the health bill. Really? The SNP are so enamoured of the principle of privatisation that they assume costs will actually go DOWN as a result of privatisation? Maybe it’s because their rail fares and energy bills have plummeted so much since privatisation. Oh, wait…
And thirdly, English voters, being a right wing homogenised lump, are not just relaxed about the privatisation of their NHS, they’re positively cheering it on. You know, because they’re so right wing. Unlike all Scots, who are all left wing…
What a pity they didn’t bother to look at the many polls that show that even English Conservative voters want the NHS to remain in public hands. No government at Westminster could possibly survive if it privatised the health service.
And that’s setting aside the fact that in Scotland, Alex Neil himself has presided over a massive increase in the work being done for the NHS by private companies. I do not criticise him for that – patients need to be treated, free at the point of use, at the earliest opportunity, and if the only way of achieving that when the NHS is under pressure is to use private contractors, fine.
But the allegation that somehow a service that is wholly devolved, and is dependent on an inevitably increasing block grant, is somehow under threat if we remain in the UK, is a lie, pure and simple.
And then, just to add that extra bit of farce (to the musical accompaniment of tuba and swanee kazoo), in walks the First Minister with his latest bit of inspiration: he’ll include, in the constitution he’s kindly agreed to write for us, a guarantee that the Scottish NHS will remain in public hands.
Think about that for a moment: a man whose party thinks we need independence because we’re all so much more left wing than the rest of Britain believes, nevertheless, that the NHS needs to be protected from that same electorate in the event of its choosing a government so right wing that it would seek to privatise the health service! Come on, Eck! Have a bit more faith is us than that!
So here’s a question for every SNP MSP hoping to stand for Holyrood in 2016: if there’s a No vote on September 18, will you stick to your view that privatisation of our NHS is inevitable, and that another SNP administration in the devolved Scottish Parliament can do nothing to prevent it?
Tom Harris is the MP for Glasgow South. He’s considering voting No.