January 23, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
It seems that Nicola Sturgeon just has to sneeze these days and Westminster, both politicians and journalists, runs around trying not to catch a cold. The SNP leader threw herself into UK politics again yesterday with aplomb, announcing that SNP MPs would be voting on English-only health bills in the next Parliament. This, combined with new poll results suggesting the SNP could win up to 55 of Scotland’s 59 seats, certainly put the cat among the pigeons in London.
If the SNP get 55 Westminster seats, then Ed Miliband would not be able to form a government without them. The fact that 41 of those 59 seats are currently Labour’s puts him in an even weaker position. Despite the noticeable uptick in Scottish Labour morale since Jim Murphy took charge up there, the voting intentions of Scottish voters don’t seem to be moving. However, one has to wonder whether they are really able to distinguish in their poll responses at the moment between the Scottish Assembly and Westminster – given the former vote is in 2016, not long after. It is believed that the 52% the SNP are getting in these polls are not a uniform swing and not likely to transfer into quite that many seats – but they will definitely get a lot more.
Which is where the prospect of them blocking bills to do with the NHS in England has raised so much controversy, particularly from the many people in Westminster that don’t understand the Barnett formula. Even though Health is devolved to the Scottish Assembly, health FUNDING is proportionate to public spending in the rest of the UK. once they get this money, the Scottish Government can allocate this in any way they choose. If the rest of the UK raise spending on the NHS, Scottish health gets more money. If they cut it, they get less. This money is called ‘budget consequentials’, and the SNP have boasted on their own website that they have always passed on the budget consequentials in full to their own health service. Because of them – health spending in Scotland has increased by £1.3 billion over the course of this Coalition government. So SNP MPs would have EVERY right to vote on NHS England bills, because it is in their interests that this spending keeps increasing.
What was that? You didn’t realise this Coalition government had INCREASED spending on the NHS during this time? Well, there you go then, that’s because as part of their campaign to make the NHS the deciding issue in the upcoming election, Labour and the SNP have been remarkably quiet about this rise in spending. Yes, it’s partly because the rise has probably not been enough to match the large increase in demand, but it still doesn’t excuse the mendacious use of ‘cuts’ swilling around Labour and SNP’s rhetoric on the NHS.
Talking of mendacious – there Sturgeon went again with the lie about “privatisation” of the NHS. Contracting out certain non-core services and procedures to the private sector is NOT privatisation – NOTHING has been sold off, nor will it be. The UK government explains that “There is no policy to create savings by substantially increasing the use of the private sector. The reality is that spending on healthcare from the private sector has increased very little in recent years. In 2013-14, Commissioners’ spending on private providers in England only equated to about 6% of total NHS revenue expenditure – a 1 percentage point increase since 2010.”
Yes, Sturgeon CAN make the point that it is her MPs’ business to vote on any issue that could result in a reduction of NHS spending in England because it could result in less money for the Health Service in Scotland. It is a shame that she has to use the dog whistle word “privatisation” to suggest how and why public spending on health might fall despite the Conservatives pledging to ringfence health spending and Labour’s “Time to care” fund promises.
But that’s politics, and one thing that Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond and the SNP have become is VERY good at politics.