Scottish independence: Union poses major threat to the NHS in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon says
INDEPENDENCE would protect Scots from policies that “offend our sense of decency”, Nicola Sturgeon has claimed, as she used a keynote speech to issue a stark warning that the Union “poses the biggest threat” to the welfare state in Scotland.
The Deputy First Minister said independence was not an end in itself, but instead was “the best way to further Scottish interests”, as she insisted during her speech at Glasgow University Law School last night that the Scottish Parliament had the legal powers to hold the referendum.
Ms Sturgeon’s claims came after the UK government’s most senior Scottish law officer, Lord Wallace, said during a speech at the same venue earlier this year that Holyrood had no power to deliver a referendum of any kind – even advisory – and that to do so would flout a “fundamental principle of democracy”.
Ms Sturgeon said the SNP was confident it held the powers to stage the vote, as she claimed that a “weight of legal opinion” backed the Scottish Government’s case.
She used her speech to defend Alex Salmond’s announcement at the weekend that the Yes to independence campaign would be launched in May – more than two years before the referendum is likely to be held and before the wording of the referendum question has been agreed.
She said: “The Yes campaign will have confidence and belief in Scotland’s potential and in the talents of the Scottish people at its heart. It will set out how independence will make Scotland an even better place to live and to work than it is already.
“We are confident of the Scottish Parliament’s competence to hold an advisory referendum. There is a weight of legal opinion that backs that up.”
She went on to reject calls from opposition parties for the referendum in autumn 2014 to be brought forward, as she said that a lengthy run-up to the vote would allow the Scottish electorate to “reach an informed decision”.
However, a Scotland Office spokesman said that Holyrood “does not have the legal power to hold an independence referendum” and called for the Scottish and UK governments to “work together” to stage the vote.
Meanwhile, there was also a strongly-worded attack from Ms Sturgeon on the UK government’s controversial plans to increase private sector involvement in the NHS south of the Border, as she insisted that “there will be no privatisation of the National Health Service” in an independent Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Unlike its counterpart in England, the NHS in Scotland will remain a public service, paid for by the public and accountable to the public. I say it because I believe that our NHS can and will outperform the privatised experiment south of the Border.”
Ms Sturgeon went on: “In the past, the Union would have been seen as not just the creator but also the guarantor of the values and vision of the post-war welfare state.
“Today, many see that it is the Union, under the Westminser government, that poses the biggest threat to these values and that vision. We have the power to protect our NHS but because benefits and pensions are reserved, we are powerless to protect the disabled from the worst aspects of welfare reforms.
“Independence would give us the power not only to protect Scotland from policies that offend our sense of decency and social cohesion.
“It would also allow us to build a fairer Scotland.”
However, Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie accused the Nationalists of having imposed hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to the NHS north of the Border.
Ms Baillie said: “Rather than protect the NHS from the Tory cuts, the SNP are cutting the health service by £319 million and have lost more than 4,500 staff, including 2,000 nurses in less than three years.”
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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