The 23 October edition of the Daily Mail featured a rant by the odious High Tory Max Hastings, the boldface of the title screaming “How much longer will we put up with the Scots spending so much of our money?”
The basic rationale of his piece is that Scottish people live a life of luxury — yes, not only do they not have to pay tuition fees, but Alex Salmond “plans to abolish” NHS prescription charges — which “the kindly, stupid English” have to shell out for, but do not benefit from themselves. Westminster is paying for the Holyrood government’s “largesse”.
The attempt to scapegoat the Scots for the wave of cuts in “our” “English” public services is preposterous. Before Thatcherism took hold “London governments” were far less unwilling to tolerate the principle of universal, free education and health care — and this right surely transcends simple budgetary calculations. The Tories and New Labour did not close hospitals down south so that they could build more in Scotland.
And even on the level of Hastings’ own argument, it is obvious that the £70 million cost of abolishing prescription charges is a pittance — particularly if we consider the severity of health problems north of the border. In Calton, an inner-city district of Glasgow, life expectancy is just 54. The NHS is no “excess” — it is fundamental, and its survival cannot be compromised by efforts to balance the books.
The Daily Mail’s characterisation of the Scottish National Party administration is comical. Hastings tells us that Scottish people are “instinctive socialists and centralisers”. And yet such is Alex Salmond’s “socialism” that the SNP dropped its former manifesto commitment to re-nationalising the railways upon the receipt of a hefty £500,000 donation from the co-owner of Stagecoach! The tartan-capitalist SNP’s case for independence is largely based around the idea that it will free up Scottish business and open up more EU trade.
Rather than moaning about the idea that the Scots might get a marginally less bad NHS, we need to fight, north and south of the border, against all cuts and in favour of a fully funded service for all — no matter what the budgetary rows at Westminster and Holyrood.