Earlier this year, I wrote an article in the Scottish Review
bemoaning the lack of progress in stroke treatment in Scotland. By almost every measure, stroke care here is falling further and further behind the rest of the UK, and, according to some clinicians, falling further and further behind the standard of care in almost all other advanced economies. That was the case six months ago; sadly, it is still the case today – a fact reinforced by the annual Scottish Stroke Care Audit published in July. As a stroke survivor living with the chronic effects of the condition, I am angry about this. As a taxpayer, it also angers me that quite considerable long-term savings could be made in health and social care by investing now in proper acute care and rehabilitation for stroke survivors.
Today (14 August), I open my Scottish Review to read a long article from Gerry Hassan
about what he calls the 'silly season' news that an independence blogger, with a record of unpleasant comments about other people, may wish to set up a new political party. This, Hassan fears, will appeal to the hatred, prejudice and blinkered views of a specific cohort of nationalist supporters, and thus damage the independence cause. In the Cafe
section of the same Scottish Review, I read an opinion from John Scott – which I share to some extent – bemoaning the lack of intelligent political debate within Scotland.
Today, I open my middle of the road newspaper to learn that Alex Salmond is to be reimbursed more than £500,000 in costs because of apparent incompetence by the Scottish Government in handling his case against it. In the same newspaper, there is a report that two drugs, Orkambi and Symkevi, have been rejected by the Scottish Medicines Consortium for the alleviation of the worst symptoms of cystic fibrosis because they do not represent value for money. I am sure there was robust and informed debate on this issue, but these proven treatments would have cost £100,000 per patient per annum – 20% of the taxpayer funded payment wasted on a pay-out to Salmond.
In the same day's news, I learn that there is apparently sufficient taxpayer largesse to support the nationalisation of Fergusons shipyard in Govan and to pay for the £1million+ a month cost of maintaining an empty, unusable children's hospital in Edinburgh. Meanwhile, well-qualified Scottish students, who might in future staff such hospitals, are forced to apply to English universities because there is a cap on places for them in Scotland's universities.
Health and education – in law as well as politically – are supposed to be priorities for the Scottish Government. This snapshot of one day's news headlines suggests to me, and I suspect many others, that there is currently deep unfairness, inconsistency and waste in the governance of our public services.
‘Twas ever thus, you may argue. Perhaps, and Gerry Hassan is entitled to spend time arguing for or against the creation of a new pro-independence party. I am tired of identity politics in Scotland and in the wider UK. I suggest that if we are going to have more intelligent political debate in Scotland, these well-publicised inconsistencies in our public services are more obvious discussion points than the possibility that the Bath blogger may create a new party in the forthcoming Scottish elections.
I strongly agree with the contributions to the Cafe
by John Scott and Dermot MacQuarrie (14 August). But the problem is not just intellectual failure; it is a failure to face unpalatable facts.
The union was originally needed to avoid national bankruptcy, and the Barnett formula shows that this province (as it really is) still requires support. It is a relatively impoverished and unproductive area that needs to be propped up by a more geographically balanced, more populous unit. Therefore, Scotland properly belongs to a union: an independent Scotland is an unrealistic dream.
Remainers and the SNP wish to belong to the undemocratic EU (which has no reason to support Scotland), but many people prefer Brexit, not least because the electorate was persuaded to enter that (essentially Franco-German) union by political deceit and a false prospectus. I am not alone in preferring to be part of a well-tested, long-lived British union, whose evolution we influence through our elected representatives.
Scotland's population history points the same way: its men and women provided the backbone of Empire, served as leaders in overseas mining and similar enterprises, and played leading roles in governing and administering the UK itself, not because they desired to live and work overseas or furth of Scotland, but because Scotland could not offer them opportunity. Immigrants (from even poorer Ireland) came, not for Scotland itself, but for the opportunity to labour in burgeoning industries.
Indeed, the historical transience of ship-, engine-building, and mining simply underlines Scotland's plight; in global terms it is economically negligible. Its once-dominant manufacturing (and philosophical, educational) record largely reflects being first in field, not being strongest or best. The UK's present weakness compared, say, with Silicone Valley in electronics or the Far East in shipbuilding, reflects its position in a global evolutionary landscape. Like Scotland, it was once a leader, mainly because the Industrial Revolution began here, but is now a smallish player. Scotland, as an independent state, would be in an even weaker overall position than the UK.
We also distrust the way that Gerry Hassan harks on Scotland's supposed centre-leftness but conveniently ignores the disastrous decades spent in thrall to the left ('Red Clydeside' and all that), whose unpatriotic ideology only speeded the decay of once-important major industries and damaged Scotland in particular. Similarly, little of value has emerged from the years of feeble SNP-led Holyrood government, nor is anything worthwhile likely to emerge from that navel-gazing club.
Failure to face facts, not intellectual weakness is Scotland's main problem.
For further reading I recommend Boot's
recent blog for his take on Scottish independence.
If you would like to contribute to the Cafe, please email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org