The Yes Scotland NHS Scares And Lies Strategy. (My latest on Left Foot Forward)

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the latest turn of the independence referendum shows it to be true, as the Yes campaign has borrowed one of New Labour’s best tricks.

Those of us with long memories will recall various bye-election campaigns in Tony Blair’s spell as Leader of the Opposition when Peter Mandelson would run a last-week leaflet bearing the headline “One Week To Save Our NHS/Hospitals” etc.

This would appeal to the natural concerns of the local public who would then turn out to defeat the hapless Tory candidate who would be left shaking their head in bewilderment.

The Yes Campaign is now playing the same game, but with an important difference: where the New Labour case was based on genuine concerns, the Nationalists are spreading a pack of lies.

A further difference is that Labour was genuinely concerned about the future of the NHS, and later acted by doubling and tripling spending on the NHS and building a new generation of modern hi-tech hospitals.

In contrast, the interest of the Yes campaign in the Scottish NHS is solely to use it as part of its programme of attempting frighten people into voting for independence.

At the heart of the Yes Scotland NHS Scares And Lies Strategy are two assertions which are bare-faced lies of the highest order.

Big NHS Lie No. 1 is that the Scottish NHS is vulnerable to health policy decisions made in England.

The Truth is of course that for decades, the Scottish NHS has been run from Scotland by Scots, first through the Home & Health Department and now as a fully devolved service under the direct control and responsibility of the Scottish Government. The Truth is therefore that no decision made in Westminster can impact on the Scottish NHS.

Big NHS Lie No. 2 is that structural reforms of the NHS in the rest of UK can reduce the block grant available in Scotland, e.g., if parts of the NHS in England and Wales are privatised, the cash available (calculated by the Barnett Formula) would go down.

The Truth of this story is that even in the highly unlikely event of most or all of NHS treatment in England and Wales being privatised, it would still be paid for by the taxpayer. The Truth is that the bill for the NHS would not go down and so neither would the proportion allocated to Scotland.

There are two calculations behind the Yes Scotland NHS Scares And Lies Strategy.

The first is the knowledge that the usual drift of opinion in referendum campaigns is towards the status quo, and only exceptions are when the voters are convinced that only the change proposal can protect those things which they value. (The best examples are those of countries like Sweden and Austria joining the European Union in the belief that membership would protect their economies and social fabric better than isolation.)

So Yes needs to put fear into the voters to have any chance at all of winning in September. Hence the lies about threats to the Scottish NHS.

The second calculation is that they recall the way in which in 2011 Holyrood election the SNP took protest votes (overwhelmingly from Liberal Democrats) in the final weeks of the campaign. This time the party in the firing line is Scottish Labour, as the founders and saviours of the NHS – Scotland’s true party of the NHS.

So Yes needs to support its NHS Scotland Scares And Lies Strategy with a parallel onslaught of lies about the Labour Party’s record in office since 1997.

This of course ignores The Truth of Labour’s achievements of 10 years continuous growth, The Truth of highest-ever levels of employment, The Truth of rising living standards across all social and economic groups, The Truth of radical reductions in child and pensioner poverty, The Truth of big improvements in education and childcare, the UK’s largest ever programme of schools building, The Truth of improved maternity rights and statutory paternity rights, The Truth of the first ever Minimum Wage, The Truth of full employment rights for part-time workers, and The Truth of civil partnerships.

And, of course, in health matters it ignores The Truth that the NHS under Labour enjoyed its lowest waiting times and highest level of satisfaction ever, and embarked on the largest ever programme of hospital building, and The Truth that the Labour Scottish Government took such bold steps as the early introduction of the smoking ban and the nationalisation of the Royal Jubilee Hospital.

It also neglects The Truth that Labour wrote off Glasgow’s housing debt, making possible the massive investment which has transformed the city’s social housing stock and made history of the old health hazards of damp and avoidable fuel poverty.

And it dismisses The Truth that devolution to Scotland, delivered by Labour according to the wishes of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, absolutely guarantees that the NHS in Scotland remains a matter for the people of Scotland.

Pretty soon, Yes Scotland will put out the Mandelsonian message “x weeks/days to Save Scotland’s NHS”. However, voters are being asked to vote Yes on the basis of the Yes Scotland NHS Scares And Lies Strategy.

This is a proposition which is much more serious than a mere carelessness with the truth, or a little bit of tweaking it for a bye-election.  It is an invitation to start a new state on a prospectus of lies.

There can be no doubt that Scots should all choose the rational truth instead, and vote No.

Latest Herald letter: beat the Paywall.

THE Yes campaign seems to be increasing the negativity of its efforts as it tries to claw itself into the referendum race, and there now appears to be a concerted effort to denigrate the achievements of the Labour Party.
One can only conclude that Yes has given up on the Don’t Knows.

Two of your most recent correspondents, Dr Graeme Finnie and Catriona C Clark (Letters, July 14), are the latest to try to rewrite history, respectively telling your readers of “the dreadful record of Labour in power and their ineffec­tual role in opposition” and “Labour’s commitment to continue the austerity cuts should they win power in 2015”.

Labour’s record in power included raising one million children in the UK out of poverty, establishing the national minimum wage, legislating for the right to trade union represen­tation, and a devolution to all parts of the UK (except England), plus the guaranteed income for pensioners. If that is dreadful, give me dreadful any day.

Ineffective opposition? Labour is well placed to win the 2015 General Election, and although Ed Miliband is obviously not going to be as wildly popular as Tony Blair, it appears that enough voters disagree with Dr Finnie to get him to No 10 in less than a year’s time. If that is ineffective, I will take it any day.

It is also wrong to suggest that a Yes vote means an end to austerity. Aside from the dubious morality of running away from debt – incurred by Scotland as well as the rest of the UK – all of the evidence is that independence would actually leave Scots in a worse position than the rest of UK.

Even John Swinney in his leaked paper has admitted that it will be difficult to fund welfare (including pensions) from a position of an ageing population and declining oil revenues. If we add to this the commitment to use those revenues to set up an oil fund rather than on services and benefits, it is clear that an independent Scotland will require considerably higher taxation. With a further promise to lower taxation for the biggest companies, the only source of these higher revenues will be increased personal taxation: put simply, big hikes in income tax.

In contrast, as Labour head for the 2015 General Election, they are committed to making big reforms in the way in which the country is run, so that the economy works for society, rather than the other way round: reform of the banks, reform of welfare to ensure that all young people have the skills required in the labour market and that those who contribute more get more out of the system, and reform of government through further devolution to cities and local councils.

So readers should continue to regard any statements by the Yes camp with great scepticism, and certainly should ask themselves which they will prefer: Labour’s responsible and measured approach through big reforms to meet the needs of the coming years, or the Yes Campaign’s rewritten history – and its future promises which could only be funded by big tax rises.

Peter Russell,

Music and Poetry: A Quiet Spot in Granada

Musical accompaniment (until 17th July):

A Quiet Spot in Granada.
In Al-Andaluz the skies of the Maghreb encroach on its light
With clouds of Sahara dust and spices
Seeping heat into every stone and corner of
A garden, a balcony, welcome shade and silence.
Fusing Mohammedan and Sephardim, Moor and Jew
Such splendour, such wonders beyond all Christendom
Alcazars, Alhambara and Mezquita and faith all too tolerant
For Los Reyes Catolicos and the Inquisition
To bear its angelic weight.
So Reconquista was Babelish scatter of
Those Ladino Jews who left to live in Salonika
And die in Auschwitz,  leaving to Granada
A garden, a balcony, welcome shade and silence.


Letter in Herald 8th July (Back off holiday, folks!)

YOUR correspondent David White (Letters, July 7) makes great play of the opinion poll findings that a proportion of Labour voters intend to vote Yes in the referendum, and then goes on to extrapolate this into a diatribe against the Labour Party. Two points need to be made.

The first is that Mr White’s views are of a very particular kind, which have been around for a century or so. This is: “I would vote for the Labour Party if it wasn’t the Labour Party.” Unfortunately for those who advance this view, the “Labour Party which is the Labour Party” has always been much more successful in attracting the votes of the electorate.

I would also suggest that Mr White is mistaken if he thinks anyone he knows votes for the Scottish Socialist Party, as recent by-elections and the European Parliament elections show that the SSP no longer stand candidates in elections, presumably in acknowledgment of their lack of popularity.

The second point is that similar polling evidence shows that a sizeable number of those who have voted SNP intend to vote No in the referendum. It is a smaller proportion, but as the SNP vote in 2011 was greater than that of Labour, the actual sums could more or less cancel each other out.

Furthermore, Mr White seems outraged that no-one in Labour will represent the cause of their Yes voting supporters. I would suggest that if he is to be consistent, he joins me in calling for SNP politicians to speak up for their No-voting supporters.

Peter A Russell,

Sorry, Pal, No Barbarians Here ….(apologies to Cavafy)

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Visiting Greece on holiday, a few things of relevance to the Scotttish independence referendum came to mind. One was the catastrophic outcome of a currency union outwith a political and fiscal union. Another has been the way in which a very diverse country sees itself facing its problems (including those of an austerity crisis far worse than that of the UK) by working together and using those qualities which its parts have in common, rather than those that differ. For example, Crete does not think of ceding from Greece, but sends aid to the destitute in Athens.

Scotland in fact has a number of similarities with Greece, not least to having provided one of the great historic empires with technical and administrative expertise: the Greeks were to some extent the Scots of the Ottoman Empire. The greatest manifestation of Greek influence in that Empire was in the Hellenic metropolis of Alexandria, which in turn provided one of the greatest poets in modern Greek literature: Constantinos Cavafy.

Cavafy produced some of the most sensuous gay poetry ever to be published, but his best known works in translation are Ithaca and Waiting for the Barbarians. It is the latter which is most instructive for the referendum.

The citizens in Cavafy’s poem are manipulated by their government by warnings of approaching barbarians, and the SNP hopes referendum voters will do as the Scottish Government tells them – i.e., vote Yes – if they think the alternative is worse.
The evidence of referendums in recent times is that the only way in which a Yes campaign can secure support for change is when they can convince voters that their proposition is the only defence against outside forces which would destroy their way of life.

So the SNP is trying to put the rest of the UK, and especially the Tories, in role of the barbarians.

First, they are set up as alien: indeed, Alex Salmond said as much when he declared that Scotland’s choice to elect a UKIP MEP can only have come about because the (UK’s) BBC put Nigel Farage on the television too much.

Likewise, the UK parliament – which of course includes MPs and parties overwhelmingly supported in Scotland – is portrayed by the SNP and Yes as a rapacious “thieving” “Westmonster” which has “squandered Scotland’s wealth.”

Online and in the Scottish press , we have been told that continuing in the UK will lead to Scotland’s isolation from the EU, more risk of Islamist terrorism, abolition of the Barnett Formula, diminution or destruction of Holyrood’s powers, dismemberment of the Scottish NHS, Scotland forgotten for decades, and even nuclear oblivion.

No doubt at the Yes Scotland rallies they tell each other that a No vote will make the Clyde run blood red and that Fife will be visited by a plague of frogs.

This hysteria can be expected to increase, as the Yes campaign has no more positive cards to play. The expensive taxpayer-funded folly that was the White Paper has now been thoroughly discredited by revelations of the lack of substance to its proposals, as exemplified by the childcare fiasco. Plans for a currency union with the rUK are a non-starter, as no party is going to enter the 2015 General Election with a vote-losing pledge to enter it. The Yes campaign has shot its best bolts – and missed, and all that is left is to try to scare the Scottish voters still more.

As the most current opinion polls appear to show, the Scots are not falling for it: the majority know that, like in Cavafy’s poem, the Barbarians are not real: they are an invented problem which the rulers use to justify their actions as “some kind of solution”.

Instead, the rest of the UK is very much like Scotland.  We share this country with our fellow citizens, with whom we have built a society which is the envy of many others around the world. It is secure and comfortable for most, and offers a reasonable level of support to those who are less fortunate, while being broadly acceptable to taxpayers.

At the same time, no-one denies that there is much to be done to battle against inequalities in economic prosperity and prospects, and class disadvantage. However, these are issues of wider social and economic justice that affect the whole UK – and which can and should be addressed by whole UK policies.

There is nothing wrong that cannot be fixed within the current constitutional settlement, part of which is Scotland’s enhanced position of devolved self-government by Holyrood.

And, no matter what the Yes Campaign will say between now and 18th September, there is no threat to Scotland by English barbarians. Any fear that is generated by the Yes campaign is their invention, as they try desperately to turn the ebbing tide of opinion in their direction.