Even though she made Humza Yousaf Health Secretary, I would like to think she cares about the health service as much as the rest of us. But, try as I might, the evidence just is not there.
The seeds of doubt are, sadly, plentiful. Think back to the 2014 referendum when Nicola Sturgeon and her cohorts led a doorstep campaign – they did not seek the scrutiny of the press – telling voters that if they voted to stay in the UK the NHS would be privatised. The Tories, they insisted, had a secret plan to sell-off the health service, a plan as secret as the gas fields under the Clyde that turned out not to exist either.
Dr Philippa Whitford, then a leading breast surgeon, now an SNP MP, went viral on social media with a clip saying, “In five years, England will not have an NHS and in ten years, if we vote no, neither will we”. It was a lie, an egregious piece of deceit cynically designed to shore up a failing Yes campaign that at that point was trailing badly in the opinion polls.
But it struck a chord with the public as it was repeated ad nauseum by pro-independence campaigners on doorsteps across the country. There was a bounce in support for the Yes side as polling day approached – a bounce that many commentators attribute to the ‘NHYes’ tactic.
Here we are, eight years on, and the NHS in England is still there after 12 years of Conservative government. Yes, it is under pressure post-Covid, but it is better funded than at any point in history and, crucially, still a universal service which is free at the point of use to all.
In contrast, it is here in Scotland, where the SNP have been in power for 15 years, that questions have been asked about the future of the health service. Here – not in England – there are real plans to abandon the founding principles of the NHS being discussed by Scottish NHS officials. On Nicola Sturgeon’s watch. At the behest of Humza Yousaf’s top official.
The First Minister says it will never happen. Now if you have just paid your bill to our publicly owned energy company, for entirely renewably generated power, made by the tens of thousands of Scots who got new ‘green jobs’, you might tend to believe her.
Except we don’t have the publicly owned energy company she promised. All of our electricity is not from renewable sources. And the ‘green jobs’ created went abroad. So, the chances are that this is another fib from Nicola, whose track record of being truthful grows ever thinner.
Imagine the outrage the First Minister would be radiating if this proposal had been discussed by an English health authority; if ‘secret plans’ to introduce charging for treatment in Surrey or Somerset were splashed across the front pages. This, she would proclaim, was evidence that the 2014 Yes claims about the NHS were right. Tears welling up in her eyes, she would say that the only way that free health care could be guaranteed would be with independence. And, sadly, some people would believe her.
Yet these proposals to introduce charging, and to reduce spending on new drugs, don’t come from south of the Border. They come from the very people Nicola Sturgeon is trusting the future of the NHS with. And NHS chief executives wouldn’t ever be discussing such radical action if they weren’t desperately concerned about the state of the service after 15 years of SNP stewardship.
The truth is there is scant evidence that the First Minister cares about our health service at all. If she did, she would never have appointed Humza Yousaf as Health Secretary. Senior figures in the SNP have always accepted that she knew he was not capable of doing the job, but hoped he would be politically damaged so he could not challenge her for the leadership.
That is the only metric by which his appointment could be said to have been a success. His career is all but over, but it seems we have all had to pay a price in the endeavour of removing a leadership threat to the First Minister.
But these plans also show the contempt that the SNP administration has for anyone who creates wealth. Even though we have scandalously few people eligible to pay the higher rate of income tax, the First Minister has made Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom. She maintains that policy despite the fact it has actually reduced revenue compared to the time when income tax rates were set in Westminster.
Now there are those in Nicola Sturgeon’s administration entertaining the idea of making the same people pay for their health care. Scotland desperately needs to grow our economy. We need more entrepreneurs and wealth creators. How do we possibly attract or retain them by taxing them more than any other part of the UK, and making Scotland the only part of the UK where they won’t get free health care?
The First Minister is fond of talking about the different values north and south of the Border, about the different values she has from the Tories. Well, we saw them last week.
As the nation faces tough economic times, at Westminster the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer found extra money to invest in the NHS in all parts of the UK. Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, senior health leaders discussed plans to charge for health services. When it comes to the NHS, when it comes to reality, we really should take no lessons from Nicola Sturgeon.
Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife