LABOUR leader Jim Murphy unveiled plans to recruit 1,000 extra NHS nurses as the opening salvos were fired in the general election campaign in Scotland yesterday.
He accused the SNP government of “starving” the health service of resources to a greater extent than the Tories south of the Border, in a keynote speech in Edinburgh.
The money to fund the extra nurses will come from Labour’s plans to introduce a UK-wide mansion tax and would be implemented in Scotland if the party wins power at Holyrood in next year’s Scottish elections.
But the SNP last night claimed that Labour’s numbers “don’t make sense”, insisting there are 1,700 more nurses in the NHS since the party came to power.
SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson branded Mr Murphy’s intervention “ridiculous” and added: “He cannot be trusted with Scotland’s finances or Scotland’s NHS.”
Mr Murphy said the nursing announcement was “Labour’s first election pledge” as he launched a bid to win back 190,000 Labour voters who supported independence in the referendum.
Mr Murphy said: “The NHS is so crucial and yet the SNP government have cut the number of nurses in Scotland’s NHS.
“We will support the NHS and nurses and use the money from a UK mansion tax to fund an additional 1,000 nurses in Scotland over and above the SNP plans that we inherit.”
Scotland has seen a 1 per cent real-terms cut in NHS funding throughout the austerity period, according to a recent analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which was highlighted by the Labour leader yesterday. This compares with a 4 per cent increase under the Tories south of the Border.
“Our message to the SNP is clear,” Mr Murphy told an audience in Edinburgh. “You cannot wrestle Scottish Labour’s mantle of the champions of the NHS when you are starving the NHS of funding more than even David Cameron would dare.”
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The pledge for 1,000 more nurses, Scottish Labour’s first for the 2015 general election, would be over and above anything the SNP proposes on nursing numbers.
Labour hopes to raise £2.5 billion a year on top of the Tory spending plans it would inherit for an NHS “Time to Care Fund”, with the mansion tax expected to contribute £1.2bn towards this.
Up to 95 per cent of the revenues generated by the mansion tax will come from the south-east of England and will provide an additional £250 million for Scotland.
Mr Murphy said that only Labour can bring about the change needed for Scotland in this year’s election.
“Scotland has two parties telling it that they are powerless to make this sort of change,” he added. “For the Tories the excuse is the deficit. For the Nationalists the excuse is the Union.
“If they can’t make a difference then they should move over for people who can. I don’t think people want to hear excuses any more.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said only the election of a strong team of Nationalist MPs to Westminster would stop Labour taking Scotland “for granted”.
“Voting SNP ensures Scotland’s voice is heard, Scotland’s interests are protected and we get those extra powers for our parliament that we promised during the referendum,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“If the Westminster parties win in Scotland they will go back to business as usual and those promises will disappear quickly.”
On Trident, Ms Sturgeon said its renewal would be a “fundamental issue” for the SNP entering any possible talks with Labour.
She added: “I am in principle opposed to nuclear weapons, but even if you’re not opposed to nuclear weapons at a time of austerity, to even be considering spending £100bn to put new nuclear weapons on the Clyde has no logic or common sense.
“I want Trident to go, but let’s start with the common sense step of saying very clearly that we will not go forward with the renewal of Trident.”
The SNP also insisted that since coming to office in 2007, the number of whole-time equivalent qualified nurses and midwives in Scotland has increased by around 1,700.
Nationalists also questioned the funding after Labour previously indicated that a mansion tax would generate £1.2bn UK-wide. Mr Murphy’s claim that he would expect to see £250m of this delivered to Scotland means the country would receive over 20 per cent of the tax haul – about twice what Scotland would normally expect.
Mr Robertson said: “Labour may have a new leader in Scotland, but it seems that their policies remain as nonsensical as ever. While Labour’s desire to follow the SNP’s lead in recruiting more nurses is welcome, their sums simply don’t make sense.
“Even if every penny of the money Labour expects a mansion tax to generate was eligible for Barnett consequentials, it would see Scotland gain far less than what Jim Murphy is claiming. All Jim Murphy is showing with these ridiculous figures is that he cannot be trusted with Scotland’s finances or Scotland’s NHS.
“Since the SNP took office, the number of qualified nurses and midwives in Scotland’s NHS has increased by around 1,700 and the SNP is already committed to passing on Barnett consequentials from health spending to Scotland’s NHS, so this announcement does not promise any new money whatsoever.
“While Labour tries to pull the wool over people’s eyes by claiming it will spend the same money over and over again, we have delivered real progress for Scotland.”
Nursing leaders in Scotland last night welcomed Mr Murphy’s proposals to bolster their numbers.
Royal College of Nursing director Theresa Fyffe said: “We would welcome any serious investment in our nursing workforce as would the many hard-pressed nurses currently working in our NHS.
“We have consistently called for increased investment in our nursing workforce to help relieve the pressure on services caused by increased demand, day in day out.”
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