Leaders: John Swinney fails to exorcise the devil in the detail
AFTER the difficulties the SNP has had recently over economic policy, the speech given by John Swinney at Glasgow Caledonian University last night had something of an air of a policy re-launch about it.
Entitled “Opportunities for Scotland’s Economy”, the finance secretary’s 6,000 word contribution appeared to be aimed at steadying the Nationalist ship, which had been battered by waves of Unionist criticism, setting out a more detailed vision of what an independent Scotland might achieve economically.
What were the finance secretary’s key points? He said independence would enhance competitiveness by reducing corporation tax. He hinted at changes to income tax and national insurance. VAT rates could be “adjusted” to help the tourism industry, and encourage investment, supporting the construction sector. The aim was to increase growth, a broader-based economy and the “reindustrialisation” of Scotland.
As a statement of his party’s aspirations for the future, the finance secretary’s speech was difficult to fault. Apart from the SNP’s erstwhile colleagues in the “Yes” campaign, the Green Party, there are few politicians and business people who do not want to see stronger growth leading to greater employment and increased prosperity across Scotland.
The problem for Mr Swinney was that he was unable to put more meat on the policy bones. Attractive as cutting corporation tax might be, the idea it will automatically bring in more taxes is, at best, controversial. Similarly, cutting taxes like VAT might boost tourism, but would also, potentially, mean a reduction in government taxation income.
So while the finance secretary gave us a sense of the direction in which the SNP is moving, it also left a series of important questions unanswered, the most fundamental of all being the impact on an independent Scotland of the SNP’s pledge to join the sterling currency zone. Mr Swinney argued retaining the pound was in “the interests of Scotland, the rest of the UK and the stability of sterling”. Heated constitutional debate aside, he added it would not make sense to resist the creation of a formal sterling zone.
Such a statement is an assertion based on the unproven assumption the remainder of the UK would go along with the idea. Furthermore, it ignores the economic reality that being part of a single currency zone would place significant fiscal constraints on member countries and, as a consequence, might just constrain the ability of an independent government to press ahead with the kind of ideas Mr Swinney enunciated yesterday.
There is a long way to go until the referendum, of course, and Mr Swinney must be given credit for trying to advance the debate. However, he and his party will have to provide far more detail of how an independent Scotland would function economically before the undecided can make a rational choice as to where their best interests lie.
NHS must rethink acute beds policy
We had heard of bed blocking, now the National Health Service in Scotland has a new problem to deal with – bed boarding. The former was caused by patients, usually the elderly, taking up beds when they did not require hospital treatment. The latter occurs when patients are forced to stay in wards not designed to cater for their specific illness.
The new problem for the NHS has been identified by the respected professional body, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE), which has warned the Scottish Government that delays in treatment and increases the time patients stay in hospital make them more likely to contract a superbug such as MRSA, or suffer other conditions due to being too long in hospital.
It may not be perfect, but the NHS remains the jewel in the crown of the welfare state and patients have a right to expect that when they are taken to hospital they will receive the appropriate treatment for their condition in an appropriate ward. If the shortage of beds in acute wards is preventing that happening, as doctors say is the case, this is clearly unacceptable.
Why has this has happened? A major cause is undoubtedly the process – begun in the mid-1980 but continued by successive governments – of cutting back on acute beds, forcing patients to be treated outwith hospitals, at home or in nursing homes for example.
However, the RCPE findings suggest this process, accepted across the political spectrum and by most health professionals, has gone too far. For the sake of patients whose treatment has been delayed or prolonged by bed boarding, it is time to reconsider this policy.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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