Brian Wilson: SNP’s NHS scaremongering won’t work

Using the issue of life and death is a cynical attempt to manipulate vulnerable people.'Picture: Greg Macvean
Using the issue of life and death is a cynical attempt to manipulate vulnerable people.'Picture: Greg Macvean
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SOMETHING OF a pattern is emerging, is it not? The Nationalists’ claims have now become so cynically outrageous that non-politicians, who probably did not want to be drawn into the debate, are feeling obliged to rebut them in the plainest possible terms.

Last week, it was the Bank of England that issued a magisterial put-down when an SNP press release in John Swinney’s name claimed that “technical discussions” were taking place about currency union. It was untrue, and Swinney now says that he did not mean to give that impression. Doubtless he will be dealing internally with whoever took his name and reputation in vain.

Then Sir Ian Wood had a good shot at being even more magisterial with his remarkable interview in which he hazarded that Alex Salmond’s fabrication workshop had overestimated future North Sea resources by around 60 per cent and short-term revenues by 40 per cent. Chunky numbers, indeed, when translated into schools and hospitals.

Salmond’s audacity had provoked Sir Ian Wood into going far more public than he might otherwise have done, with his conclusion that, in economic terms, “the case is heavily weighted towards Scotland remaining in the UK and getting the best of both worlds. I want the best for future generations of Scots”. You don’t get much more unambiguous than that.

While currency and oil might be regarded in some quarters as fair game for misrepresentation, it is the Nationalists’ appalling behaviour over the National Health Service that merits the greatest contempt. In this case, the woman who headed the Scottish Government’s own cancer reduction strategy has felt moved to hit back at the pernicious nonsense they are promoting. By her own account, she would not have intervened if the claims had not been so outrageous.

Dr Anna Gregor said: “The thing that made me decide to talk about this subject is that both the politicians and, to my chagrin, some of the clinicians are now scaremongering and telling the voters and patients that the only way to protect our NHS is to vote Yes. That is a complete and utter lie.”

Professor Alan Rodger, formerly of the Beatson cancer hospital in Glasgow, weighed in with the charge that the Nationalists are “deliberately spreading fear” among patients.

I felt similar disgust the other evening when I was in a television studio waiting to talk about the death of Sam Galbraith, a man who devoted his entire working life to the National Health Service and probably did more than anyone else to ensure its right to pursue policies that are entirely made in Scotland. The previous item featured Alex Salmond, glibly trotting out the line described so eloquently by Dr Gregor.

The temptation to shout “charlatan” at the monitor was strong, but fortunately I resisted. Salmond solemnly declared that the future of the NHS was now the “defining issue” in the campaign. Nationalist canvassers are being told to go on to doorsteps to talk about the “threat to the Scottish NHS from privatisation in England” rather than mention independence. I can do no better than repeat Dr Gregor’s verdict: “It is a complete and utter lie,” and one that tells us a great deal about the ethical calibre of the people who are orchestrating it.

Both Dr Gregor and Professor Rodger turned the argument back on the Nationalists. Instead of spreading fear among patients about a bogus threat, they should be addressing the actual needs of the NHS in Scotland, which are quite plentiful. And, of course, in a desperate effort to keep waiting lists down in advance of the referendum, the Scottish Government has itself been spending vastly increased sums on sending patients into private hospitals for treatment.

The crude attempt to portray every development in the NHS in Scotland as virtuous and everything in England as on the road to perdition is scarcely reflected in the public view of the services delivered. The British Social Attitudes Survey recently found a 60 per cent satisfaction rating with the NHS, which was down from the record high of 70 per cent in 2010 but was still “high by historical standards”.

According to the Scottish Government’s own figures, the satisfaction rating with the NHS is 61 per cent, so the fact that some things are being done quite differently in Scotland, as is our devolved entitlement, has not actually led to a great divergence of perceptions about delivery. The same Scottish survey showed a 26 per cent dissatisfaction rating, so it is not as if there aren’t enough actual challenges for the Nationalists to address without inventing them.

The claim that funding will reduce in Scotland because more money is being spent with the private sector in England would only make sense if these philanthropic private companies were doing it for nothing. The legitimate argument is about whether better or worse value is achieved for the NHS by keeping things in the public sector. But the indisputable fact is that NHS funding in England is continuing to rise, which means that Scotland, via the Barnett formula, will do even better.

This desperate drive to persuade vulnerable people that the whole NHS is on the verge of crisis because of something that is happening in England is an unprincipled disgrace, which should not be forgiven or forgotten. Like all fundamentalists, the Nationalists will doubtless persuade themselves that the end justifies the means. But one would like to think that, for some, conscience might kick in sooner rather than later. Interestingly, Alex Neil has not been in the forefront of the scaremongering.

Increasingly we hear and read Nationalist cheer-leaders taking refuge in the mantra that it is now not about oil or currency or even the National Health Service. Rather it is about “the cause” that transcends all of these. Well, at least this has the merit of belated honesty and they are welcome to argue for their cause.

Just don’t try to dress it up in false promises, bogus statistics and “complete and utter lies” about the National Health Service.

Those who do not bear allegiance to “the cause” but might have been persuaded by rational argument are now reaching the opposite conclusion – that it is difficult to imagine the good fruit of a better Scotland growing on such a twisted tree of calculated deception.