JUST a few years ago it would have been unthinkable for the Labour party to publish a policy document and call it The Red Paper.
The Pistachio Paper, perhaps. The Purple Paper, definitely, especially in Tony Blair’s more imperial moments. But Red? No chance. In the era of New Labour the word “socialism”, along with its symbolic trappings, was quietly withdrawn from public view while the party courted Middle Britain in a dogged pursuit of power that was ultimately successful, but which involved surrendering ideology to pragmatism. Now, as the Scottish Labour party is demonstrating, that same pragmatism is necessitating a return to ideology. The Scottish Labour Party this weekend is one that puts its policies in a document called The Red Paper, and is newly unabashed about calling itself socialist.
There are two reasons for this. The first is the independence referendum that will see Scots decide in less than six months if they want Scotland to be an independent nation outwith the United Kingdom. The Yes campaign has been very successful in attracting the support of socialists and social democrats who have all but given up on the idea that their preferred political aims can be delivered within the confines of the UK, especially when Whitehall is under the control of the Tories. Labour has dithered over its response to this, largely because of an irrational fear – borne out of a failure of self-confidence – to be seen to be making what some fainthearts regard as a nationalist argument. For some time now the party has been blind to the distinctions between Scottish nationalism and Labour’s own century-long history of activism for Scottish home rule. This has prevented the party from arguing a robust case for a powerhouse parliament at Holyrood, which is by far the preferred constitutional option for Scottish voters. Only now has Johann Lamont grasped the thistle and backed a twintrack strategy of reclaiming Labour as a socialist party that wants a stronger Holyrood.
The second pragmatic reason is the prospect of the UK general election next year and the Holyrood election the year after. The penny has dropped that the dour and reductive campaign some in the Labour camp have been happy to see in the referendum could leave the party horribly exposed in these subsequent contests. Both these factors, taken with Ed Miliband’s more stately shift to the left at a UK level, have allowed Scottish Labour to begin to break free of the New Labour era during which they lost hundreds of thousands of voters to the SNP. Could it be that the independence referendum has jump-started a previously moribund Scottish Labour back into some semblance of life?
These developments make strategic sense for Scottish Labour. It is too early to tell what effect they will have in the general election next year, or the Holyrood elections the year after when Lamont will be bidding to be First Minister. More immediately, there must be a question mark over whether Labour’s socialist and home rule makeover has come in time to save the No campaign and, by extension, the Union. Because make no mistake, our exclusive ICM opinion poll today provides multiple signs that the No campaign is in trouble. Not only is the Yes vote gaining at the expense of the No vote, the underlying assumptions in the electorate are all moving in a Yes direction. People increasingly think independence will mean a more prosperous and equal Scotland, and there is a particularly marked shift to Yes among the professional classes, who have hitherto been the most doughty defenders of the UK. Crucially, our poll also shows what an uphill task the Better Together campaign has in persuading voters that a No vote can indeed mean a stronger Holyrood.
The past week has changed the dynamic of the referendum campaign. We now know what Labour believes is needed to save the UK. The question is, is it too little, too late?
Attentive and mindful staff at Borders hospital make a world of difference to wellbeing of patients
ON AN almost daily basis we hear of new medical advances that come from our greater scientific understanding of the building blocks of life and our ever-increasing ingenuity in the technology of healthcare. Progress in the areas of genetics is matched only by the discovery of new drugs and surgical techniques. But as one small Scottish hospital has shown, sometimes all you need to save a life is a watchful eye while going about the normal business of nursing care.
The Critical Care Outreach nurse specialists at Borders General Hospital are attracting interest from all around the country and, indeed, from overseas for the work they are doing on the care of cardiac patients in hospital. Their approach is not rocket science. Rather, it is mindful and attentive nursing. Careful records are kept constantly up to date on patients’ vital signs – their pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate and the results of blood tests –and these are collated in a way that gives staff a clear indication if a patient is in heightened danger of having a cardiac arrest. These patients can be identified and then given the necessary intensive care that will, hopefully, head off any problems.
The results are extraordinary. The number of heart attacks among patients in the hospital has fallen from 465 in 2000 to 48 last year. Of course, some of this fall may be accountable to other factors – this, after all, is a working hospital with scores of variables and a constantly changing pattern of work practices. It is not a laboratory. But the hope is that systems in use in the Borders can be applied elsewhere.
In many ways this breakthrough is simply the application of common sense – in a ward full of very sick people, it is hard for staff to make a judgment about which of them is reaching a critical state. And yet knowing which patients to focus on is crucial. The end result, it is worth repeating, could be the saving of hundreds and possibly thousands of lives, and all without
multi-million pound scanners or tinkering with DNA. There are broader benefits too – as well as reductions in morality there have been encouraging outcomes on how long patients have to stay in hospital.
The doctors and nurses involved in the Critical Bare Outreach team in the Borders have good cause to be extremely proud of themselves.