Down in the Salmond-bunker things are getting desperate. Assailed on all sides
by, in no particular order, falling opinion poll ratings, senior colleagues
who’ve lost confidence in him, a hammering at Alistair Darling’s hands in
last week’s TV debate, the man in charge of the campaign to break up Britain
is struggling to keep his head above water.
And so Alex Salmond has reached for what has so often become the last resort
of British politicians facing defeat: a scare story about that holy of
holies – the National Health Service.
The man who has so often used the accusation “scaremongering” about anything
and everything his opponents say has now been reduced to precisely that in
his frantic bid to regain some kind of initiative in the Great Debate, which
now has just over five weeks to go.
He claims that the NHS in Scotland is in deadly danger because of changes
being made about how it’s run in England. How so? After all isn’t
responsibility for the health service, along with that for education and the
legal system, fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament? It is, but the Nats
have refined what they claim is an argument by saying that by cutting public
spending through privatisation south of the border, the money available for
Scotland’s NHS – through the Barnet formula – will be cut.
And in a grandstanding gesture of truly epic, but also pathetic, proportions
the SNP leader has handed a “lollipop” to two newspapers to declare that he
is to include in the new written constitution that he’s planning for “his”
Scotland a declaration that would enshrine the public ownership of the NHS
for all time.
This would ensure, he claims, that health services in this country would
remain, as Nye Bevan said, “free at the point of delivery, based on clinical
need and not ability to pay”.
But, unfortunately for Nat One, no party in Scotland is saying anything other
than exactly that. That, of course, won’t stop him and although he’s not
saying as much – at least not yet – Mr Salmond wants Scottish voters to
believe that they’ll soon have to pay to receive treatment or to visit the
doctor if they vote against separation.
That’s why, the First Minister says, he’s including this health provision in
his written constitution.
But if it isn’t some late throw of the dice to try to dig himself out of the
hole he and his campaign are in, why didn’t he include health provision in
his previous promises for a constitution?
Answer: vecause he hadn’t been in such campaign trouble back then that forced
him to try this desperate attempt to scare the voters.
A potentially much more serious threat, however, is emerging over Mr Salmond’s
cavalier insistence that “his” independent Scotland would keep the pound
even if the rest of the UK refused to allow a currency union.
This so-called “sterlingisation” option would implement his “it’s our pound
and we’re keeping it” declaration but it would mean that Scotland would have
no central bank and lender of last resort.
Asked if this might lead to a flight of capital from Scotland – in other words
a run on the banks as people rushed to get their money out of the country –
Mark Carney, the ever-cautious Bank of England governor, disclosed that he
had “contingency plans” to deal with any instability.
He also said, in as many words, that he takes his orders from his political
masters – currently the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat Coalition. They might
be replaced by Labour next year and as all three parties have declared that
they wouldn’t permit an independent Scotland to share the pound, Mr Carney’s
words – contrary to what the Nats would like us to believe – made clear that
he’d have to go along with what his bosses say.
John Swinney, the normally sensible finance minister, appeared to take comfort
from Mr Carney’s words, which just goes to show that he’s as much afflicted
by the everything-is-fine bunker mentality that has taken hold in the Nat
higher command these days.
We can have no complaints about SNP leaders deluding themselves if that’s the
only way they can keep their spirits up but when Wee Eck and his pals try to
con the voters at the same time, that’s a much more serious matter.
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