2007 - 2021

Death of NHS will End the Union

Policeman in kettle: “Is there anyone in need of medical attention?” Protester: “How much will it cost?!”

The vision of armed police kettling peaceful demonstrators protesting the latest stage of the privatisation of the NHS is an incredible insight into what’s happening in England. It’s striking that the end of the Union may be accelerated not by a positive vision of a Scottish future, but just a sense of disgust and fear at the emerging society being created by the Tory/Liberal coalition. Scotland aren’t leaving the Union, English social policy is going to destroy any reason to be part of it. In the space of a week we’ve had announcements of major new privatisations of roads, police and health, a tax beak for the rich, and a pay-drop for the poor.

On social policy Scotland and England are drifting apart – not because of any great radicalism on behalf of the SNP – but because England and Britain is being run by ideologues and the devolution settlement allows us some room to avoid this policy hell. The quality of spin and presentation by the Tories and the veneer of respectability offered by the Liberals is now wearing off, and the brutal truths exposed.

As Gerry Hassan writes in the Scotsman about ‘Fantasy Island Britain’:

“As many people know the UK is the fourth most unequal country in the rich world according to Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at Sheffield University. Moreover, according to Dorling on existing trends the UK is set to surpass Singapore, the US and Portugal and become the most unequal country in the entire developed world. That is a bit removed from the Union that many Labour politicians and others defend.”


As machine-gun toting police (don’t believe me?) restrain peaceful protestors you have to think that something has fundamentally broken about English society. Why should we be part of this?

Amongst it all is the sad betrayal / exposure of a supposedly liberal grouping.

As Polly Toynbee wrote: “It’s desperately sad to find Shirley Williams nitpicking over small concessions to avoid confronting the bill’s true nature, largely unchanged in its passage. The only purpose of this gigantic upheaval is to bring the market into virtually every aspect of the NHS. Otherwise what’s it for? Commissioners are compelled to tender out more services each year: the Guardian on Friday reported on all Devon’s child health services up for bids. Legal opinion is not in doubt that the bill opens the NHS to EU competition law: that can’t be conveniently “minimised”.”

Desperately sad? Yes. Hugely surprising? No. If the Lib Dems propping up a horrendous war on the poor and social values has become a non-story, we shouldn’t forget Labours part in dismantling the NHS. Before you discount this as the ramblings of a ‘nat’, read the words of Michael Meacher last year:

“Yesterday was a day of shame, the day they denationalised the NHS.   Yet at the second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons the main line of defence of the increasingly isolated Andrew Lansley, who is clearly out of his depth, was that the Tories are only carrying on where Blair left off and completing the job he failed to finish.   That is of course true inasmuch as New Labour converted NHS trusts into independent businesses (foundation trusts), introduced ISTCs (private treatment centres paid by public funds irrespective of the number of patients treated), gave NHS work to private hospitals and clinics and encouraged NHS patients to choose them, and developed HMO-style commissioning as in the US.”


The privatisation of the NHS is only one – so far most visible  part – of the marketisation of not just our economy but our society. Under the cover of respectability these changes are now proceeding at a startling pace. As the papers reported last week: ‘Private companies could take responsibility for investigating crimes, patrolling neighbourhoods and even detaining suspects under a radical privatisation plan being put forward by two of the largest police forces in the country.’ This goes way beyond the role of G4S, Securicor and other companies  in the past.

The home secretary, Theresa May, who has imposed a 20% cut in Whitehall grants on forces, has said frontline policing can be protected by using the private sector to transform services provided to the public. May said on Thursday that she hoped the “business partnership” programme would be in place next spring.

A 26-page “commercial in confidence” contract note has been sent to potential bidders to run all services that “can be legally delegated to the private sector”.


Simultaneous to these changes we see the extraordinary proposals to regionalise public pay and reduce parity of public workers. See more here.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union – which represents civil servants – said the plans would be “cruel, economically incompetent and counterproductive” at a time when public sector salaries and pensions were being cut.

And this at the time that the SNP have announced a ‘living wage’.

The SNP has pledged that every council controlled by the Nationalists after the May local elections will see a living wage for all employees.

The commitment, which was passed at the party’s spring conference in Glasgow on Saturday, mimics previous pledges for Scottish Government and NHS workers.

The change would see council workers earning at least £7.20 per hour.

We now see a gulf emerging between social policy north and south of the border. It represents a challenge for both Labour and the SNP.  Can Labour articulate a voice that offers a different vision, when Ed Miliband seems silent on the relentless march of Blairite government. And can the SNP have the courage to live up the rhetoric of being a beacon of progressiveness? This is a real opportunity to create an alternative, not a replica. The driving forces behind constitutional change may well be the socio-economic policies being pursued in the south, not the national argument being held in the north.

As Gerry Hassan has concluded:

“The British state is, if not broken, badly damaged and corroded. The old pillars of the British establishment – church, banking, media moguls and politicians – have crumbled one by one leaving an unrestrained crony capitalism which isn’t about genuine wealth creation but monopoly, oligopoly and corporate self-interest.”

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  1. Wee Red Squirrel says:

    Reblogged this on The Wee Red Squirrel.

  2. Every new policy the Tories announce makes it even more important that we get independence. The SNP’s new message – calling devolution “a little independence” – will hopefully start hitting home with people, as they should be looking at the changes in England (education, NHS, policing) and being eternally glad that these deforms can’t be applied up here. But it’s not enough, because these privatisations are going to lead to massive reductions in the block grant from the Barnett formula, so we’ll still be forced to makes these sort of choices somewhere down the line. Devolution can stave these choices off for a while, but only independence can truly save us from them.

    People should be glad that even when we go for drastic reforms in the public sector (e.g. single police force, Curriculum for Excellence etc), there is simply no question of that including privatising things. So if these things go wrong, we can still call for the head of the people who did it. This is not the case when you remove responsibility out of the public sector.

    It’s utter madness to be privatising these things. It’s bad enough that our public transport is run for private profit, but how on earth can they justify introducing the private sector into policing? How does that work? A bonus for every person arrested? More convictions, more money? As soon as you introduce a profit motive, you’re just asking for dodgy practices to start appearing. “The guy’s obviously guilty, but there’s not enough for a conviction, and we need one to hit our targets this month. Wouldn’t it be handy if some extra evidence suddenly appeared…?”

    It’s getting to the point where Nationalists are going to be the ones calling for an earlier referendum – because we need to get out of here as soon as possible. We’re so lucky in Scotland that we have a Get Out Of Jail Free card just waiting to be used. I hate to think what’s in store for us if we don’t use it…

    1. Sleekit says:

      “eternally glad that these deforms can’t be applied up here”

      Freudian slip?

      Excellent post by the way.

      1. Doug Daniel says:

        Nope, absolutely intended. Reform is used to make it sound like these changes will improve things. They won’t, and it is depressing – and yet so, so typical – that the media slavishly adheres to the government by playing along by calling them “reforms”. When you break something beyond repair, you do not reform it – you deform it.

        I’m trying to get it to catch on, but so far you seem to be the only person to have noticed…

  3. Barontorc says:

    Day and daily we get evidence and proof of the way matters are pursued by the Con-Lib UK Government; issues which go deeply against the interests of Scotland’s people, whilst in Scotland we have unionist politicians not only wiling to conform with these measures but indeed do so by trying to negate development proposals from the Scottish Government.

    What are they driven by? They are Scots, living in Scotland and being paid by the Scottish people, yet they will go to extreme lengths to sully positive moves, for the sole reason that they flow from the SNP.

    Don’t they see the impact it will have on their own people, as they then try to enforce destructive issues from Westminster?

    They are running down a cul-de-sac if they continue to blindly follow Westminster dictum which has little interest in Scotland’s welfare, but major interest in Scotland’s assets.

  4. Peter A Bell says:

    “…not because of any great radicalism on behalf of the SNP…”

    We live in a time when merely maintaining basic standards of social policy is the new radicalism. And it is the best we can hope for so long as we remain in the union.

    1. Don McC says:

      That, Peter, is one of the more shocking thing about this. To keep the belief that it’s right and proper to treat the sick without checking their bank balance first or to provide a safety net to ensure the welfare of our disabled, that this is now a radical view.

      And Doug is right. If we don’t get off this sinking ship fast, take control of our own resources, decide we don’t need to be dependent on pocket money from Westminster, we’ll be forced to give up that radicalism. 2014 is probably our last real shot at this.

      What surprises me (well, not really) is how little our MSM is covering these protests or the impact these reforms will have in Scotland. The real challenge is helping people realise what these reforms really mean for all of us.

  5. Variant says:

    The Westminster bar is set so low, and being taken lower by the day, so what against this stomach churning race-to-the-bottom is actually being proposed, as different from a race-to-stand-still, scraping along at the bottom of the neoliberal barrel:

    “The SNP has pledged that every council controlled by the Nationalists after the May local elections will see a living wage for all employees.”

    In 2009 (then) Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council launched a living wage : “a new guaranteed minimum standard of income for all Council workers, set at £7.20 an hour” http://www.glasgowlivingwage.co.uk/

    So it’s something already supposedly in practice, the question remains how earnest a mechanism it has been and could be?

    GCC’s public stance on adopting a living wage happened to coincide with women workers still fighting for equal pay in 2009 starting a legal battle against the council. In 2012 “Hundreds of women employed by Edinburgh City Council have won a multi-million pound equal pay settlement.” While “Fox Cross Solicitors Limited said it had more than 5,000 pay claims against Glasgow City Council and about 2,500 women seeking equal pay settlements from South Lanarkshire Council.” http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/2012/01/triumph-for-council-staff-in-equal-pay-settlement/

    The Nursery Nurses pay campaign may put any so-called living wage into perspective when an average nursery nurse earns £7.87 per hour/ £257 per week/ £13,361 annually: http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/localgovt/nurserynurse/faq.html

    So, I ask:
    – How will the SNP’s living wage be calculated?
    – Are there any council ’employees’ left to receive it – given all the spun-out companies, levels of outsourcing, etc. – if so, who makes up these employees who aren’t already earning this level or more, e.g. management?
    – Who will count as an employee?
    – Will it be applied to council ‘contractors’ – if not, why not?
    – Will public cheerleading of a ‘living wage’ for some do anything much beyond placating the concerns of a male union hierarchy – interests perhaps too readily demonstrated in the unresolved debacle over pay inequality…?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Good questions. I don’t know how the SNP propose to calculate their living wage, will look into it and report back.

      Your point about the out-sourcing of everything is well made. Remember public= bad, private =good. Remember that and you’ll be alright.

      The issues becomes (also) what is the relationship between govt and local authority, and between state and employment. It would seem we need a national minimum wage – and for that full sovereignty, no?

      1. Variant says:

        “Independence (give or take all the known variables) is a known quality.”
        Really? Rumsfeld’s statement on known knowns and unknown unknowns was that much more complete. So I must have missed this nonchalant carve up by the political classes. Perhaps it was the same meeting where some wag decided to retain the monarchy? A republic being the minimum one could hope for – hardly ‘transitionary’ – but evidently nothing so basic is even that certain.
        That “…we can do things better and differently” hardly even begins to feel like “every aspect of the Scottish Government’s case” has been interrogated – quite the opposite.
        Of course there’s a lot of political pragmatism afoot, and of course these processes are seen by competing individuals, networks and agencies to offer openings for a range of agendas seeking to gain purchase on institutional structures/bureaucracies – including, one suspects, the likes of Demos; why not?
        So any uncritical presupposition that independence is the font from which greater equality will naturally flow is vainglorious. Political, economic and social transformation has to be communicated, contested, struggled for. It is not inherent to ‘independence’ as a matter of fact. Living in Prague through the ‘Velvet Divorce’, I assure you. As ‘anything goes, nothing changes’, is perhaps the institutional comfort blanket in waiting.
        “The Official Future won’t be defeated by facts and evidence. It is a dogma.”
        Nor is ‘independence’ a disciplinary issue of blind ‘faith’ either. “Indeed, the interests of the oppressors lie in ‘changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them’ (Freire).”

        1. DJ says:

          Hi Variant

          A well written but rather depressing comment, I think you miss the point that Independence offers the opportunity to make positive changes.
          I fail to see how staying with the status quo will achieve anything in terms of more progressive politics. Whereas IMO if the people of Scotland choose Independence then it will be as much for political direction rather than anything else and doubt that they will settle for things remaining as they are after making that choice.

      2. Variant says:

        Hi DJ,
        I don’t think I’m missing the point – hopefully – and I personally don’t find it depressing.
        I’m stating independence per se does not in and of itself offer ‘the opportunity to make positive changes’. There is no positive political direction inherent to independence. To assume there is, is just that, an assumption – and for me that’s the problem. Rather, political, economic and social transformation has to be communicated, contested, struggled for. An independent Scotland is not a quick fix from decades of Westminster barbarity. (The LibCon/ConDem bar is so low, and being stamped lower every day, that anyone with an inkling of social justice would be hard pushed not to fall over it – which would exclude the Labour party’s macho posturing on workfare.)
        And that’s the problem with mystification, whereas change must be enacted.
        Merely stating ‘not that’, limited to the spatial location of power, does not define what other, what else, or engage me in the processes of defining what might be and the how to – independence is not a magical process by which the global relations of capital will somehow dissolve over night, nor remove Scottish institutions from their significant positions within them.
        I can see the pragmatism at work, in cajoling for the greatest number towards the referendum – that’s realpolitik in pursuit of an end. But those processes cannot be disentangled from what comes from them in what they retain.
        Grand civic gestures stretched over a neoliberal frame is most definitely not a social democratic model – ‘scandinavian’ or otherwise, whose reference needs to be placed in time in any case. True, I would like to see a dissolving rather than a devolving of the state – which may well include independence, and there I’d raise significant issues about demilitarisation. That’s me being pragmatic.
        So I’m trying to locate some agency here in the ‘us’ and not put naive trust in the political classes, as the last thing I want to see is a mere brand change from ‘UK PLC’ to ‘Team Scotland’.

        1. DJ says:

          Hi Variant,

          I take your point about the ruling classes, but only people can make a difference! The way you write makes it sound like we are screwed no matter what direction we take. In my experience of both parliaments the Scottish Parliament is far more receptive to public opinion than Westminster. I am a sceptical about politics, I don’t believe that we should implicitly trust any authority however we have to try and shape the world around us as best we can.

          Given the choice independence does NOT guarantee a quick fix as you have said but I don’t remember many people claiming it to be so. Scotland stands a far better chance of giving inclusive politics a go utilising optimism generated through the confidence of Independence. I know you don’t accept that your comment was depressing but I have to say I do not detect much in the form of positivity within it.

          Democracy requires hard work, we all need to participate and we all have the ability to change it.

      3. Variant says:

        Hi DJ
        Where’s this ‘chance’ and how is it manifesting itself? Is it evident in Salmond’s courting of the Murdoch press?
        A low blow perhaps, but, as regards pragmatism, the right-of-centre views that News International propels are seen as having enough sway over, or resonance with, significant enough numbers of the population in Scotland to be meaningful to curry favour with. Souter would be another example, financially, and evidence to the SNP’s left-right spectrum/pendulum. So, as I said previous, there’s no inherent political direction to independence per se – Scotland is also of course caught up in a real world nexus of international relations, just as the Czech Republic and Slovakia were/are.
        Having identified Iceland at a particular point in time, the working presumption now is Scotland would be an EU member, rather than just party to the European Economic Area – no further referendum – why, what are the benefits of membership? For the reason sovereignty has already been conceded to international business, which would explain the corporation tax race-to-the-bottom in emulating Ireland’s roaring success?
        I am asking for those on the left (generally) advocating a ‘better’ Scotland refrain from a largely unarticulated, highly mythologised ‘becoming’ that leapfrogs into the future on the back of nostalgic invention – or otherwise appeals to the innate goodliness of national character; Souter and Sun readers absented – and start defining some of the processes by how they believe we together will be able to get to ‘it’ from ‘here’, accounting for both ‘it’ and ‘here’, and allowing for all the divergences and possible futures on the way. I’m not, I hope, being programatic. Such genuine political engagement, and the differences they reveal, is to my mind exiting – I’m holding off using ‘positive’.
        Consensualism – ‘optimism’, ‘confidence’, and forced positivism generally – I already experience as informing a meshwork of state censorship at a local level as a factor of urban gentrification. As a discourse it’s used against those seeking some very absent debate otherwise. Political change is not a mind trick (structural relations, please) and has little to do with so-called ‘confidence’ – which belongs to the ‘well-being’ industry, a disciplinary hang-over from new Labour still with us, and to continue the pathologising metaphor, a sickness to which Scottish communitarianism is host. (Such applications of Freudian psychoanalysis, and the tenuous proposition of a homology between an individual and a nation, have been well criticised.) There is no ‘lack of confidence’; there is very real, very palpable anger – a genuine, legitimate response to inequality and political disenfranchisement.
        If attempting to locate agency isn’t ‘positive’ in a meaningful sense then I don’t know what is. If confidence is needed, it’s confidence for ‘the left’ to break cover and get down to the graft of state building, if that’s what it wants – and it may not be what I want, but I’m calling them out on it – for it to dispense with ‘fragility’ as an excuse for refusing to articulate real relations of power and how they wish ‘we’ might begin to redress them (as distinct from the futurological never-never land projects). This, I appreciate, may be different from what many Nationalists (and opportunists seeking purchase) see as perhaps more important; the ‘event’ or ‘moment’ of independence. For me, the phrase ‘voting changes nothing’ speaks to the disempowerment of box ticking. States are political entities; state building could engage me (perhaps), box ticking assumes I lend consensus – I don’t.
        I’m not a Nationalist, with a capital or small ‘n’, of any stripe, nor indulge identity politics. However, I’ve already said I wish to see the right-hand of the UK state dissolved not devolved. If independence for Scotland is to result in a republic, which it would *have* to be for a meaningful democracy, and demilitarisation, which impinges Westminster Parliament’s ability to wage aggression, then I too see that as ‘positive’ direction. But I suspect it’s going to take a lot more than a recourse to wishful thinking and happy thoughts…

    2. DJ says:

      The recent SNP conference did discuss applying the living wage to ‘outsourced’ workers as well as Council employees. Local Authorities agreeing to set a living wage only to then outsource to company’s who undercut them is a recognised problem.

  6. Hazel Lewry says:

    Sadly Peter, if we remain in the union as time passes and all of the areas the ConDems have put up for privatisation come home to roost, less cash will be sent as pocket money to Scotland as a function of the Barnett Consequence…. every penny lost in public spend down south will be reflected at home.
    Then what choices does any government in Holyrood have? Doesn’t matter who they are or their commitment to social justice, it will be knee-capped by Westminster’s policies.
    There is no win from remaining inside this – what is rapidly becoming a very toxic – union

    1. Sleekit says:

      Hello Hazel,

      It is this point that needs drummed into people but I’m afraid that the public at large lack the understanding of Barnett to see the train wreck approaching…

  7. To echo a saying from the 70s, “Will the last nation to leave the UK please turn the lights out?”

    Personally, I lost any last vestiges of faith in Westminster when the Lib Dems sold out to the Tories. I’m not quite sure what it is, but the “mother of all democracies” it is most certainly not. It’s getting so bad that I’m almost ashamed to have to call myself English these days. I suspect I will be north of the border in autumn 2014, helping to drum up votes for independence, if for no other reason than that I can’t bear to see a fine country like Scotland (which still seems to understand the value of publicly-funded and -run institutions) have to go through the societal meltdown that England is going to face in the not-too-distant future.

    When I was living in Scotland I was a member of the Scottish Greens, but Nicola Sturgeon was quite right in her speech at the SNP conference: Scotland needs to break its remaining bonds with Westminster before any more damage is done. And Wales needs to be preparing fast as well: clearly it is not going to be able to depend on cross-border provision of specialist medical services at any reasonable price once the Tories have had their way…

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