Brian Monteith: Last desperate throw of the dice for Salmond

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IN desperate times people say desperate things. From what’s being said by Alex Salmond this week, he’s a desperate man.

A couple of weeks back I wrote of how, with its economic case in ruins, its claim about automatic EU membership in tatters and with polling continuing to show the independence campaign is running out of steam, the SNP was trying to create a new scare story around the future of the NHS.

Abandoning the pretence of a positive campaign and resorting to worrying voters with apocalyptic tales is the new tactic – and it’s a desperate one.

The story goes like this; in an effort to gain better value for money and provide a more flexible patient-centred service the NHS in England is using more private-sector contractors to deliver services. The NHS service remains free to the patients – who will not see any real difference (except they might be seen more quickly) – and it is paid for out of public funds. The SNP claims that as the private sector is now delivering more of the NHS services in England the amount of money allocated to the NHS in Scotland will be reduced in the future if Scotland votes No and stays in the UK.

This is a political lie on many fronts but like so many political lies it is being repeated ad nauseam so that it becomes believable. The SNP and other purveyors of the lie know this but have no shame. Here’s how.

Firstly, the calculations for funding of the Scottish block grant that pays for our NHS considers the total amount of public spending in a devolved area such as health. It does not deduct spending that has been contracted out to private suppliers. All GPs, most dentists and opticians are private contractors who have agreements with the NHS – it has always been that way since the NHS was formed – but the money spent on them is not deducted but taken as part of NHS spending.

If the SNP was right then GP salaries would be deducted as privatised spending, but they are not.

Secondly, the NHS budgets are determined by the Scottish Government, reporting to and scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament. If it wants it can spend more money on patients than the NHS does in England – and indeed it already does do this and makes its own health policy as a result.

That’s why prescriptions are free in Scotland (and Wales) but not England and why the Scottish Parliament chose to provide free elderly care at huge cost that is not provided by the English NHS. If the SNP lie was in fact true then these things could not happen – but they have happened, because the SNP is telling porkies.

Thirdly, readers might be a tad surprised to find that the amount of what the SNP calls privatisation is in fact increasing in the Scottish NHS that Alex Salmond runs. So even if the SNP lie were truth, the idea that voting Yes would make the NHS safe from privatisation is a sick joke – for its politicians are doing precisely what they are warning voters against. The latest figures now show private contracting by Scotland’s NHS costing more than a billion over the last three years. Needless to say these figures are not mentioned by the SNP politicians.

Fourthly, the NHS lie is part of a bigger falsehood – that the SNP can promise what an independent Scotland would be like. Alex Salmond can no more promise a Tory-free Scotland or a public sector NHS monopoly than Rod Petrie can promise Hibs will be promoted. Such promises are beyond their competence, they are not theirs to deliver so they are no more than self-indulgent dreams. So poor is Salmond’s record at keeping political promises (writing off student loan debt? creating a local income tax? etc) that I’d rather put my trust in The Tache at the Hibees!

Scandinavian governments often have Conservative governments or Conservative coalitions – as do 
practically all western-style democracies from time to time. Alex Salmond’s claim that independence will protect the NHS from reforms that are being practised in Sweden, England, France and all around the world is nothing other than an appeal to most people’s instinctive fear of change.

It is a promise calculated to exploit the bewildering complexities of the NHS – and those clinicians that support such claims are causing unnecessary worry that is surely highly unprofessional and an abdication of their duty of care. In desperate times Alex Salmond has resorted to saying desperate things.

Do we really need the comrade councillors?

Nobody batted an eyelid in Gaza yesterday when the news broke that Edinburgh’s city councillors were to raise the Palestinian flag in solidarity with their cause. The comrades who have screwed up the city, putting long-standing enterprises out of business, costing us millions we shall never recoup – and all for a tram system that is less than a quarter of what was originally envisaged – are hardly a catch.

Putting up a flag only gives succour to the hateful murderers who wish to defame decent Palestinians who would choose to live with their Jewish neighbours but are taught and told to hate and kill instead. Some cause, some council.