Do I detect a slight whiff of panic in the air from Alistair Darling and the No campaign? This as a result of polling that suggests that the threat of further privatisation of the NHS in England is swaying undecided voters into voting Yes. The rush with which spokespeople for the No campaign have bombarded the media to try and counter these claims has all the hallmarks of panic to me.
Kate Higgins at Burdzeyeview has a very good summary, here, of the facts behind the story. As usual the No side tries to steer the discussion away from the key issue, which is how the NHS is funded. So we have the unedifying spectacle of Alistair Darling and other Labour party members publicly stating that the NHS is safe in the hands of the Tories! Which must come as news to Andy Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary at Westminster. Not to mention Mark Drakeford from the Welsh Labour party. Mr Drakeford who is the Health Minister at Cardiff is on record as saying that the NHS could become unsustainable in Wales if there is a Conservative victory at the next general election.
So we have Labour in England and Wales saying the NHS is at risk from the Tories, while Labour in Scotland is saying everything is hunky dory with the Tories. Panic stations anyone!
What is at stake here is not the degree of privatisation of the NHS in England, but the overall funding of the block grant that comes to Scotland. For this is the key issue – who and how is the Scottish block grant funded? The who part is very simple – the government of the day at Westminster. Scotland has no say whatsoever in how much of our money the UK government deigns to send back to us. The how is a bit more complicated. But basically the total sum goes up or down according to what the UK government decides to spend in England. As a matter of principle this seems to me to be a very unsatisfactory and demeaning way to go about such an important matter.
At the moment this total is going down as a result of the Tory/LibDem coalition’s austerity measures. This trend will definitely continue if there is a No vote in the referendum. All of the three main UK parties are committed to further austerity and cuts to public spending. Remember it is the total spending that matters. So spending on the NHS may be protected in England, but cuts elsewhere means that overall public spending has declined, which in turn leads to a reduction in the money available for us in Scotland. A reduction in which we have had no say whatsoever!
This is the long term threat to our NHS in Scotland from a No vote, irrespective of who wins the 2015 UK election. Even a Labour victory will not prevent further cuts to the Scottish block grant. These cuts will continue for at least a further five years and almost certainly longer, especially if the Tories win in 2015. This in turn will put considerable pressure on our NHS budget, pressure which could lead to our NHS in Scotland becoming unsustainable, as predicted by the Labour party in Wales.
The only way to sustain and improve the NHS in Scotland is to ensure that we are in control of its funding. And the only way to ensure that is to vote Yes for independence. Only independence will give us full control over all of our rich resources.