Martin Hannan: Deal will put NHS in critical state

A Trade deal could affect the future of the NHS.

A Trade deal could affect the future of the NHS.

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You have probably not heard about TTIP, but I am pretty certain that you will soon be reading and hearing all about it.

TTIP stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and basically it’s a massive ploy to make rich capitalists even richer. It’s also known as Tafta, standing for Transatlantic Free Trade Area.

Presently, under discussion between the European Union and the US, TTIP will be the biggest ever trade agreement between ourselves and our cousins across the pond.

Its proponents say it will transform the economies of both America and Europe, and create millions of jobs, as it will remove custom duties on many goods, end restrictions on services and allow corporate giants – the main beneficiaries by far – to gain better access to public markets and make it easier for them to invest across a whole spectrum of markets.

Therein lies the problem for Britain and Scotland. Those who say that we are better together because we are bigger do not want you to know about TTIP and Tafta because the agreement will be proof that the UK is really a small cog in the great wheel of global commerce.

Decisions will be made at European level over which Britain will have no control, and whole swathes of the British economy will be at the mercy of rapacious capitalists who will have no hesitation in making sure that profits accrue to them no matter where they are based.

The recent row over the proposed takeover of AstraZeneca by the giant US firm Pfizer will seem like an insignificant squabble once TTIP starts operating – yep, even a £60 billion deal will seem like a regular occurrence once American capital starts sniffing about the best bits of British industry.

Worst of all, the NHS will be under massive threat, because the coalition government is refusing to exempt health services from TTIP.

The Health and Social Care Act passed by the Westminster parliament in 2012 changed the whole basis of the NHS in England and Wales, allowing private companies to compete to provide patient services. That piece of legislation means that NHS services will come under TTIP, and so far Prime Minister David “trust me with the NHS” Cameron has refused to stop the NHS being included in TTIP.

The trade unions and the patients’ rights groups down south are mounting a campaign to get the NHS exempted, but so far it has not made much impact.

Why should this matter to Scotland with its devolved NHS? Simple – the Scottish Government has no right of veto over TTIP. Once the Westminster government signs the agreement, we are in it once and for all and legal and constitutional experts predict that the NHS in Scotland will be forced to open up to the private sector.

Many other areas of the Scottish economy will also be ripe for American plucking, but that will not always be a bad thing – we are going to need private investment in the future, and American money is as good as Chinese or Arab or European cash.

Yet if we want to preserve the NHS in Scotland as a public service, the only way to do so is to vote for independence, after which a Scottish Government will be able to exempt health services from TTIP.

Big vote is too close to call

It’s only when you are abroad, as I have been for the last fortnight or so, that you realise that people in other countries do not have much idea about the referendum.

Good SNP member that I am, I managed to convince a couple of Dutch people of the efficacies of independence, and there was no problem with the Portuguese catching on – they, too, are a proud people with a much bigger neighbour from whom they wrested their independence centuries ago.

As the vote gets closer and people make up their minds, it appears that it is going to be a close-run thing as I have always maintained it would be. It’s too close to call.

Avoid slow lane to the fast lanes

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Commonwealth Games start in Glasgow tomorrow, and I’m sure everybody on this side of the country wishes Glasgow well.

Our local competitors are all well prepared and I am confidently predicting that some will bring medals back along the M8.

But having been to Glasgow a lot in recent days, can I just warn all News readers to leave the car at home and travel by bus or train to the venues.

Whole swathes of Glasgow are ‘no-go’ areas and parking is a nightmare, so if you’re heading west leave the car at home.

Whose bright idea was this?

I sometimes wonder if the panels of experts employed by governments to make plans actually know what democracy is.

The latest proposal to bring back the congestion charge for Edinburgh has rightly been decried, but why was it even suggested?

Did none of the so-called experts know that the whole idea was massively rejected by Edinburgh’s citizens in 2005?

Walkies in the air

Our Jack Russell terrier, Hamish, has a new game – chasing swallows as they swoop across the local green.

The principles of flight are obviously beyond him but, hey, he’s having fun.