JOHANN Lamont has insisted she will remain as Labour leader despite speculation her position in the party could be under threat.
As she pressed outgoing First Minister Alex Salmond on his handling of the health service, she told MSPs: “When the First Minister is long gone I will still be doing my job on behalf of the people of Scotland.”
Mr Salmond, who announced his intention to step down in the wake of last week’s referendum result, predicted she would remain “exactly where she is” in opposition at Holyrood as he rejected accusations of NHS privatisation.
The exchanges came at the first session of First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood since the referendum, in which Scotland voted to stay part of the United Kingdom.
During the independence campaign the issue of health service was key, with nationalists insisting that a Yes vote was needed to protect the service from privatisation.
But Ms Lamont claimed that it was Mr Salmond who had done “more to privatise the NHS than anyone else in Scotland”.
Questioning him on the “serious business of this government”, Ms Lamont claimed: “We now know because of the courage of a whistleblower that there are £450 million of cuts the First Minister is planning to the NHS, but he decided not tell us until after the referendum.”
She continued her attack, stating: “During the referendum campaign the First Minister secretly privatised the health records of every Scots while warning of the dangers of privatisation.
“The First Minister has increased spending on private health care to £100 million. I ask the First Minister, why does he say he is against privatising the health service when that is exactly what he is doing?”
Mr Salmond told her that the use of a private firm to develop a new IT system did not mean that the service was being privatised
“It is like saying this Parliament is being privatised because we use the Windows system in our computers,” he said.
“It’s a ridiculous argument to put forward.”
He said while the NHS was facing “a £450 million cost pressure over the next two years”, this was as a result of Westminster decisions on pensions and national insurance payments.
Mr Salmond said: “Does that not exemplify the position of the Scottish Government, that cost pressures emanating from Westminster have a huge impact on the Scottish National Health Service?”
In the wake of the referendum result, where majorities for Yes were recorded in Labour strongholds such as Glasgow, there has been speculation reported in the media that Ms Lamont’s position could be in jeopardy.
Mr Salmond said: “Johann Lamont says she’s going to be retained in her current position - yes, I hope she continues as leader of the opposition in this parliament for some considerable time.”
He continued: “I am sure Johann Lamont will put up an excellent fight in the coming election and end up exactly where she is now, as this party continues the National Health Service in public hands.”