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.