If the opinion polls are to be trusted, 2015 will be the year when the Scottish National Party (SNP) records its highest ever representation at a Westminster General Election. Some predictions see the party sweeping aside both Labour and the Liberal Democrats as the Scottish electorate punishes both for their performance in last year’s Independence Referendum.
Although health is a function devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the debate in the rest of the UK impacts on Scottish health funding. So it is no surprise that the SNP is keen to make its distinctive position clear. In opposing the current UK Government’s austerity programme, the SNP restates its support for public services funded through general taxation, and for healthcare services free at the point of delivery. These are core SNP principles.
The SNP-run Scottish Government has an enviable record on health since taking power, initially as a minority administration, in 2007. It has delivered free prescriptions, ending that ‘tax on being ill’, and supported localism in retaining essential A&E departments. It has dramatically transformed the Scottish NHS performance and culture on hospital-acquired infection.
The Scottish Government has also done away with the costly and inefficient Private Finance Initiative (PFI) model for capital projects, while continuing to develop new 21st century estates and facilities, such as the state of the art South Glasgow Hospital.
And it was Nicola Sturgeon, now SNP Leader, who, as Health Secretary in 2007, commissioned the Penrose Enquiry into transfusion products contaminated with blood borne viruses, making Scotland the only UK administration to address this issue.
For a further distinguishing point, NHS employees (and contractors, including GPs) can note that the Scottish Government, alone among the UK jurisdictions, asked the Review Body to make recommendations as regards a pay uplift for 2015, and is committed to implementing its advice.
At this time, Scotland is, arguably, the most politically savvy nation in Europe. There is a broad and indivisible set of principles which underpins the changes in Scottish society set in motion by last year’s referendum. For example, the idea of saving £100 billion through not replacing Trident nuclear bombs, and redirecting this resource towards health, education and social services as well as conventional defence, is very much mainstream. Funding services through higher taxation on a Scandinavian model is also widely acceptable.
If, as predicted, 2015 gives us a Parliament balanced in respect of the two big UK parties, then a substantial SNP delegation with a pro-NHS philosophy will support progressive opinion right across the UK. This can only be a good thing for the debate on making our society fairer and more inclusive.
Dr Malcolm Kerr is a GP on the Isle of Arran and Convenor of Isle of Arran SNP Branch