Europe

Sturgeon’s independence hopes crushed as NHS and education plans ‘could easily backfire’

Nicola Sturgeon squirms after grilling by Anas Sarwar

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The Scottish First Minister was handed a fresh blow this week after one of her new hand-picked economic advisers warned that Scottish independence would be “Brexit times 10”. Professor Mark Blyth was appointed as Ms Sturgeon’s new economic advisory council in July, and said that “pulling apart” more than three centuries of economic unification would “hurt a lot”. He gave an interview just days before his appointment was announced in July, and said adopting a different currency and economic policy from the remainder of the UK would mean “significant short to medium-term costs”.

An independence supporter, Prof Blyth’s words will come as a sobering reminder to the Scottish National Party (SNP) that independence will likely hit its five million inhabitants to varying degrees.

Money and trade are not the only things that would impact Scotland: both education and the NHS would undergo changes should the country vote to breakaway from the UK.

The two topics were at the forefront of the debate ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.

At the time, the Yes Campaign suggested the only way to protect the Scottish NHS was a vote for independence, also being the only way to keep Scottish compulsory education free.

Yet, Paul Cairney, a Professor of Politics and Public Policy at the University of Stirling, said the notions were “surprising”.

In a blog post, he noted that both the NHS and education have been devolved since 1999, and that the Scottish government had developed or maintained distinctive policies without “much interference from the UK Government”.

Pro-independence figures argued that Westminster was cutting, or would cut, NHS spending in England which would have a knock-on effect for the Scottish budget.

This would, they claimed, force Holyrood into either similarly cutting Scottish NHS spending or finding the money from another service, higher education, for example.

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They also argued that the UK Government’s increasing move to privatise the NHS would soon reflect in services in Scotland.

Yet, this related more to the use of private sector aspects of the health sector to deliver services – the NHS has remained tax funded and, in most cases, free at the point of delivery.

And, on education, Mr Cairney wrote: “The argument from Teachers for Yes seems to be: if you vote Yes, you can stop funding nuclear weapons and give education greater priority in the budget.”

But this, he said, was not entirely as it seemed, and the Yes campaign were not making a “sophisticated” case.

He continued: “The focus is on the idea that staying in the UK means sticking with the austerity agenda – and less money for public services such as health and education.

“What it doesn’t address is that the austerity agenda would be faced by an independent Scottish government as much as a devolved one.

“What it doesn’t address is that, under devolution, the Scottish government has been responsible for using a devolved budget that has generally been very large and has only now begun to shrink – and that, if UK austerity really does start to ‘bite’, a devolved Scottish government will have some scope to borrow and tax to offset the effect (although I qualify that statement here).”

As a result, he said that while the arguments might have an effect on some voters, “it is also vulnerable to ridicule and could easily backfire”.

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With Scotland in the UK, the country enjoys £1,200 extra spending per head, extending to health services.

The argument that privatisation in NHS England services will translate to Scotland has been proved wrong, as the country’s NHS is totally devolved to Holyrood, and so all policy and spending decisions are made in Scotland – not Westminster.

This was outlined ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections in April, where Ms Sturgeon pledged “transformational” NHS funding, promising that frontline spending would increase by at least 20 percent over the next five years – which she said would total £2.5billion.

The manifesto also promised a £10billion investment programme in NHS facilities, and a minimum 25 percent rise in mental health spending.

And, it pledged to abolish NHS dental charges, which Ms Sturgeon said would “ensure that cost is not a barrier to accessing health care”.

In the past, the SNP has even admitted that extra spending on the NHS in England is leading to more resources for NHS spending in Scotland.

According to gov.uk, a post to the Scottish government’s website in 2015 read: “Our total healthcare funding in 2014-15 of £12 billion reflects an increase of £138.1million over 2013-14.

“This comprises resource funding of £11.6billion, net capital funding of £254million and annually managed expenditure of £100million.

“Resource funding has increased by £284.6million in 2014-15, from £11,321.8million to £11,606.4million.

“This is the full amount of the budget consequentials arising from the increase to health in England and delivers on the Scottish government’s commitment to pass on the resource budget consequentials in full to the health budget in Scotland.”

Pro-independence campaigners, however, say that austerity inflicted by Westminster governments has squeezed the NHS of its potential in all corners of the UK.

Believe in Scotland claimed: “Due to the way in which public spending is distributed across the UK, a budget is set for England, which sets the budget for the devolved nations.

“Austerity from Westminster therefore reduces the available public spending to devolved governments.

“This negatively impacts on the public finances available for the Scottish government.”

Meanwhile, supporters of the Yes campaign argue that independence will allow the Scottish government to generate more money to spend on improving the education system.

But opponents highlight that the country had control over education even before devolution in 1999.

Scotland’s education system under the SNP has long been criticised, last month having undergone a review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a Paris-based agency.

Its assessment found that Scotland had failed to keep pace with the latest best practice and had no long-term strategies or vision.

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