IN THIS newspaper today, you may have glimpsed the Scotland of the future.
The blueprint for further devolution of powers to Holyrood, drawn up by the IPPR think tank and dubbed “Devo More”, may well turn out to be the eventual constitutional destination for this country if voters say no to independence in the 2014 referendum. The IPPR has a long track record of influencing Labour policy on the constitution – back in the mid-1990s, it was an IPPR book called The State And The Nations, with a contribution by future Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander, that set the tone for Labour’s successful push for home rule later that decade. Senior Labour Party figures are known to be taking a close interest in this current IPPR project, and it seems likely to provide the basis for the party’s internal debate about how Scotland should be governed if we are to remain within the UK.
A fresh Scottish Labour initiative on the constitution is sorely needed if the pro-UK campaign in the referendum is to prove capable of countering the Yes campaign’s arguments come the autumn of 2014. The SNP is counting on the calculation that Scots who want a far stronger Holyrood within the UK will run out of patience if there is no credible likelihood of their wishes being met by the unionist parties. Nationalist strategists see this as a key group of people who can be persuaded to switch to the cause of independence, and they are right to make that judgment. The pro-UK parties would be foolish to discount this possibility – and even more foolish to take sustenance from polls that could change dramatically over the next 20 months.
This newspaper welcomes the IPPR report as a significant contribution to reclaiming the conversation on Scotland’s future from the unsatisfactory binary choice in the referendum between independence and the status quo. The biggest group of voters in this country is still the one that favours a powerhouse parliament within the UK, preferring that to independence or the marginally improved version of Holyrood currently on offer thanks to the Scotland Act. If the pro-UK parties can coalesce around a credible offering on a much stronger Holyrood, the scene will be set for a referendum that more accurately reflects the main divide in Scottish politics.
The IPPR report may still need tweaked. It seems unnecessarily reticent on VAT, for example, proposing only that a proportion of VAT revenue raised in Scotland gets spent in Scotland. Assigning the full amount would help ensure that Scotland benefited fully from a strong Scottish economy. The report is similarly overcautious when it comes to other potential revenue streams such as National Insurance and “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco.
Financial powers as detailed in the IPPR report may turn out to be only part of the story of how Holyrood is to evolve. The UK coalition government’s savage cuts to benefits – and what seems to be a Scottish consensus that these are unacceptable – suggest that a long, hard look at the devolution of some functions of the welfare state is long overdue. Some academic work is understood to be already under way on this, and this newspaper awaits the outcome with interest. But some scheme that allowed Holyrood the power to vary benefit rates – with the financial implications reflected in a varying of the rate of income tax, for example – would seem to be a logical option for the future. Only then would the pro-UK parties be able to say to the Scottish public that Holyrood could protect them from the more unpalatable actions of a future Conservative government at Westminster.
Keeping C diff at bay
WE HAVE shining faith – sometimes misplaced – that our hospitals will make us better when we seek treatment and not make our condition worse. That has been challenged in recent years by the persistent presence of the invidious Clostridium Difficile organism, which lives harmlessly in the human body most of the time, but which can become dangerous when it takes hold in a patient whose immune system has already been weakened.
Up to four years ago, thousands of hospital patients were developing infections caused by C diff – as it is commonly known – every year but a huge and determined hospital hygiene campaign within the Scottish NHS brought the figures tumbling down. Even so, more than 150 patients died in 2011, with C diff implicated in their deaths.
But, as we report today, senior health officials are concerned the numbers are on the rise again – particularly among the most vulnerable group of elderly patients – and have warned hospital managers to step up their vigilance against the killer.
The Scotland Patients’ Association has concerns that, as NHS budgets are squeezed and staff numbers decline, hospital cleanliness and hygiene practices may suffer. But when it comes to our hospitals and our health and a difficult opponent then complacency should not be allowed to creep in.