The NHS: The No Help, Sorry?

From a very personal perspective, I am feeling rather frustrated with the NHS. I have two ongoing health problems: a recurrent gastritis/gastroenteritis that I have suffered since Christmas 2013, and ongoing pain in my hip after a horse riding accident in August 2013 that at times leaves me unable to get out of a chair or climb the stairs.

In the first case, my GP spent a year telling me I had IBS, and trying me on different medications, many of which made my symptoms worse. I was finally referred to the hospital in December last year, and in the last six months have had two diagnostic tests, neither of which I’ve had discussed with me by either my GP or the referral doctor, as both have said the remit is with the other. And the drugs I was recommended by the doctor during one of my tests? I’m still waiting for that prescription…

In the second, I spent nine months in physiotherapy before the physio recommended my GP refer me to hospital. My GP told me to carry on with physio. Over a year after the initial accident, I was finally referred to the hospital – and I’m still waiting for an initial appointment, two years later.

And the media has been reflecting my frustration with the NHS. The Observer wrote on Saturday about the spending waste in the NHS. The Telegraph has ranted about complacency. The Herald complains about the staffing crisis and the political red tape that are heavily affecting the NHS. It seems like very day there is another story about impossible targets, failure for patients, and a bulbous and inefficient bureaucracy.

Now, I understand better than most the pressure out NHS is under. I studied my preclinical veterinary degree alongside medical students in many parts, so I know how hard those guys have to work even to qualify. Many of my friends from university are now in their Foundation years. I also happen to know a decent number of doctors working in the NHS at the moment, and whilst many of them (surgeons particularly) are arrogant sods and have no people skills at all, they are very, very dedicated to their jobs, and work very long hours saving people’s lives.

And I’m also aware that my situation is not the average. I have a pretty high pain threshold (I broke my elbow in 2012, and continued to row and do core training including pushups etc for two weeks before I realised something wasn’t right), and am quite young, so I understand I’m not a priority, especially when neither of my conditions are life threatening, simply frustrating and painful.

However, in doing my research, I cam across something very interesting. The Nuffield Trust did a study last year comparing the NHS across the UK, and came up with some very interesting results: there really isn’t all that much difference between them. All the regional NHS systems increased spending, although all four have slowed down investment since the imposition of austerity measures. All four have reduced hospital waiting times, shortened ambulance waiting times, improved stroke care, reduced cases of MRSA, and increased numbers of doctors and dentists to show an improved patient:doctor/dentist ratio. In broad terms, systems are comparable across the UK.

However the close comparison between the North of England (which does not have a devolved NHS, but had more comparable mortality rates etc to Scotland than the average of the other administrations at the beginning of the study period in 1991) and Scotland was an eye opener. The North of England had greater improvement in mortality rates, hospital waiting times, treatment rates and life expectancy generally over the course of the study than Scotland, which had been so comparable at the beginning.

However, ultimately, the systems look very similar, despite the Scottish government’s calls that the Scottish system is much superior. There is also no evidence to back up the SNP claim during the referendum that our NHS is in a spiral of doom that can only be saved by independence – all the health systems are actually improving.

The NHS could certainly be better, in my experience. But it also seems to me that, when it comes to our health service, we like to scandalise the issues, and whinge about the problems, rather than actually look at how much our patient care has improved. Further austerity cuts won’t help out NHS, certainly – but can we stop using a ‘failing NHS’ to score political points please? Because it simply isn’t true. Even if I’m still waiting on that appointment.


Alistair Carmichael and the Leaked Memo Aftermath

So, Alistair Carmichael admitted that he was responsible for the leak of the memo regarding Nicola Sturgeon’s preference of Cameron as Prime Minister. And, as you can imagine, the SNP horde have been going mental about it. To them, it’s proof once again that their great leader is infallible, and that the dirty unionists lied.

But can we just go over this whole thing in a little more detail?

Carmichael admitted that he leaked the memo, and accepted responsibility for the leak. He lied to Channel 4 when he said he had never seen the memo before it’s publication in The Telegraph. However, The Telegraph also reported that an inquiry into the memo leak shows that the memo was real, not a fake produced by Carmichael or one of his underlings. Carmichael leaked it, but he didn’t create it – however misunderstood they may have been, someone had genuinely believed the contents of the memo enough to write it down as fact.

Carmichael has admitted responsibility, and has refused his severance pay as a previous minister. He also said he would have resigned a ministerial post had he still got one. So is there any need for him to resign his post?

He did lie in the Channel 4 interview, when he claimed he hadn’t seen the memo before it’s publication in the Telegraph. However, the leak itself was pretty typical of things politicians do to try and get one over on one another. He didn’t create a fake memo.

Unlike Alex Salmond, whose White Paper and numerous speeches during the Scottish referendum referred to a letter from the EU commission regarding Scotland’s continuing EU membership, which, after several Freedom of Information requests, Nicola Sturgeon eventually admitted did not exist. And it wasn’t the first time Salmond had admitted to lying about official letter.

So, the SNP are being hypocritical, yet again. It doesn’t excuse Carmichael from lying, but calling for his head (or, more realistically, his seat) is just a power play – they’ve carried on regardless themselves often enough after lying.

Whilst I agree politicians who lie should feel the wrath of the electorate (like Nick Clegg and his pals have during the election), I don’t think Carmichael should be forced to resign. He has lost a lot of money in penance (the best way to hurt a politician IMO), and I think that is enough for the crime he actually committed.

Next time (because let’s face it, there will be a next time) the SNP get caught blatantly lying, let’s remind them of this, ok?

Nobody puts Baby in the corner: the revival of youth politics?

The 2010 General Election was my very first opportunity to vote. I was hugely excited. I, and many of my friends, were inspired by Nick Clegg’s performance in the Prime Ministerial Debate, and passionate about liberal democracy – we joined the Lib Dems, did some canvassing, had a lot of posters in our windows. We sat up on the results night, and watched our hope for a Lab-Lib coalition die a painful, torturous death. The following scandal where the Lib Dems reneged on their vow to vote against tuition fee rises then saw us protesting on the streets of London against the party that had promised so much and failed us utterly.

But the vast majority of young people in 2010 were apathetic. 51.8% of 18-24 year olds voted in 2010, compared to the overall turnout of 65.1%. Young people just didn’t care about politics.

2015 has been a different story. This time round, I wasn’t a member of a political party – other than a little bit of Facebook activism on behalf of my incumbent MP, I didn’t do any canvassing at all. I stayed up to watch the election results again, but alone this time, and even more broken-hearted. But the rest of the young Scots were more motivated than I was – just shy of 60% of 18-24 year olds turned out. And that’s the UK average: when we known that 65% was the national average, and 71.2% in Scotland, we can surmise that the Scottish youth had an even better turnout than the average.

I have to admit that the reinvigoration of the youth has been due to the SNP. The positive, exciting, ambitious Yes campaign during the referendum inspired young people, particularly those in poorer areas who have been brought up to believe that their vote doesn’t matter and the system cannot be changed. And those young people have supported the SNP that so inspired them.

Our new SNP MPs are young people themselves, in some cases. Two in particular I find interesting examples: the infamous Mhairi Black, youngest MP since the 17th century and social media hooligan, and Stuart Donaldson, the 23 year old career politician following in the family footsteps.

I have a lot of respect for these young people in standing up for what they believe in, and attempting to represent their constituents. Politics needs more passion and enthusiasm, fresh ideas and idealism. But I don’t think they really understand what they’re in for: the selfie-taking, seat-stealing, illicit-applauding, oath-objecting, generally childish antics shown in the Commons so far aside, do these career politicians have enough life experience to sit in Westminster?

I’m a young person myself. I heard the media revelations of Black’s drunken tweets and angry Labour-bashing on social media, and I cringed. I remember leaving university and doing a lot of status-deleting and photo-detagging in preparation for the world of work – she has the entire press digging about on the internet for her immature and unprofessional moments, and she hadn’t even thought to tidy up her social media presence yet. It looks like a lack of forethought and a lack of understanding of what she is facing.

I see the video of Donaldson admitting he would never vote against the party line, regardless of his constituent’s needs, and I see a young man, the same age as myself, who is not only a young MP, but a new member of the party, and son of a Scottish minister in the same party, and doesn’t have an original political thought in his head, just a blind passion for what other people tell him, and will happily follow their guidance.

We need more youth engagement in politics, we need to keep that momentum going. But we also criticise those middle aged men who have done nothing with their lives but play the Game of Commons. Why are we encouraging more career politicians, and ones who need the excuse of ‘but they’re only young’ to justify the content of their Twitter feed?

You might try to call me a hypocrite, sitting here writing about politics myself. But I’m not waltzing up to Nick Robinson and telling him I know more about the political landscape of this country than he does. I just want our governments, our parliaments, our politicians to listen. And, unfortunately, whilst young people are every good at shouting and being passionate and enthusiastic, they are not very good at listening…

GE 2015: what happened in Scotland?

As you can imagine, as a non-SNP supporter in Scotland, whose excellent, experienced Lib Dem MP (who I’d dealt with a lot over the tuition fees debacle), who was prepared to go against party whip for his constituents if required, has been replaced by a 23 year old career politician (for whom politics is in the family) who has been filmed saying he will never vote against the party, I am feeling a little like politics has died. However, my personal feelings aside, here’s what’s happening here in Scotland, and how much the rise of the SNP really has to do with independence.

The SNP have been out to destroy Labour’s support in Scotland since the referendum last September. The cries of ‘red Tories’ and ‘Liebour’ (even with the most left wing Labour leader in 40 years!) have been loud for months. It was accepted by most of Scotland that certainly Glasgow and the majority of the central belt at least would fall to the SNP. I think the SNP managed to outdo even their wildest hopes with the result they achieved, though.

However, that sentiment of Labour not being left enough (regardless of truth) has been pervasive, and has turned many stalwart Labour supporters to the SNP. A decent proportion of No voters also voted SNP, on the belief that the SNP would push for Scottish interests in a Labour government, as Sturgeon has repeatedly claimed.

However, the voices since the result have been mixed. I’ve heard ‘I wouldn’t have voted SNP if I’d thought the Tories would win’, ‘Labour is as dead as the Tories in Scotland’, ‘now we have a mandate for UDI’, ‘it doesn’t matter how Scotland votes anyway and didn’t affect the Tory win, so why not vote for a Scottish party rather than a branch office?’, and of course the Lamentations of the Left, who see the rejection of old style left wing Labour by the Scots as pushing a move back to middle-England-pleasing centrist politics and the legacy of Blairism.

What do I think? I think communication has gone out the window and fear is rife. The English electorate see voting in the SNP as an anti-English move, when it is an anti-Westminster parties protest vote (think UKIP, but generally left wing and progressive, with an actual record of arguably successful government). The Scots on the other hand see the anti-SNP rhetoric spun by the mainstream UK media as being anti-Scottish thanks to criticism of our chosen representatives, and the Scots are well known for being stubborn (or as we say, ‘thrawn’) as hell and determined to have what we’re told we can’t. Ultimately, both sides are perpetuating the division that Scotland voted against in September.

So the political picture here is an odd one. It’s been historic; jubilant for some whilst desperately sad for others; there is the threat of nationalism but more so there is hope for the socialism that Scotland desperately believes in.

Personally, I’m heartbroken, and have just joined the Labour Party ahead of next year’s Scottish elections so that I can cast my vote for the new leaders of Labour and Scottish Labour. I guarantee that a different result will be seen next year – no FPTP means Scottish government is much more representative than Westminster, thankfully, and 50% of the vote will produce closer to 50% of the representation. If Labour can pull themselves together and find something worth standing for again, they might even start to make a comeback.

The SNP got just over 1.45 million votes on the 7th of May. The losing Yes campaign in September got over 1.6 million. So support for independence has absolutely not increased in real terms. And the SNP MPs have made it clear that they are not pushing for independence with this result. Except for Alex Salmond. But he’s a bit fishy anyway.

I don’t think they will either. Ultimately, they lost in September – why try again until they have increased their popularity, and the support for independence, or else they start to become a running joke and lose the real momentum that they have gained.

Wait until 5 years of a majority Tory government has hammered Scotland.

Regarding the role the SNP will take in Westminster itself: thanks to the Tory majority the SNP can only be part of the opposition at best, and more likely only unofficial opposition bench seats rather than shadow government. So in actual fact, they have very little actual say, other than filling the role they already fill on Scotland’s eyes of shouting a lot at the Tories. Unfortunately, a role as the opposition rather than the smaller party in coalition government will probably increase support for them – a role in government would have thrown up their mistakes, rather than their objections, and would have forced them to accept responsibility. Look what it did to the Lib Dems. However, England was having none of it – and may have done more harm than good.

So what happens next? The SNP will soon realise that flouting parliamentary rules on applause and photography are about as much rebellion as they can create, and Labour will have to analyse what the SNP are providing for the people of Scotland that they aren’t – and quickly. Personally, I’d love to see a split of Scottish Labour from the main Labour party, and Scottish Labour becoming an affiliated party like the SDLP in Northern Ireland.

But we may yet see another referendum before we see that.

Talking about politics…

I hate repeating such over used media phrase, but it’s true: the 2015 General Election was historic. Not only were the polls shockingly misrepresentative of the public feeling, but Scotland threw a pretty big spanner in the Westminster works. However, there is another phrase that has been bandied around excessively, particularly by the Nationalists that now overwhelmingly represent my country in parliament, that irritates me even more: ‘Scotland’s voice’ will now be heard.

I’m fairly certain that Scotland, with it’s huge class, culture, economic and ethnic disparities, has more than one voice. A twenty-something living on benefits in Easterhouse has a very distinct voice from a pensioner in Morningside, as does a middle-aged oil industry engineer in Aberdeen, and a farmer in Perthshire. So how does one party represent all of us – whether that be the SNP, or, previously, Labour?

I’ll give it to the SNP that they certainly try to. Whilst political commentators argue over whether the SNP are left wing, right wing, socialist or capitalist, I think it’s safe to say that they are populist: they pick a set of policies to appeal to the widest range of voters. So that’s a council tax freeze to help out the poorest people – that then means less funds available to the council, and less public spending, which is decidedly not in the interest of the poor. Free prescriptions, allowing those who need long term medication a huge financial break – but, being non-means tested and therefore every citizen in Scotland has their prescriptions funded by the government, it is resulting in a funding squeeze leading to privatisation of other parts of the health service. A bit of a mixed bag, really, once you start to look closer.

However, the crux of the matter is that people don’t look closer. Scotland has always been tribal – Catholics vs Protestants, Rangers vs Celtic, Highlands vs lowlands, Scottish vs English, Labour vs Tories – and Yes vs No, separatist vs unionist, and SNP vs Westminster have become those new tribes. And the SNP have done very well to get on the winning side – so well that Labour is left still sitting gawking. But the SNP didn’t win the election because of their manifesto, or what they stood for: they won it because they are good at picking up on the mood of the people, and using it to their advantage.

The problem with the tribal aspect of Scottish politics is that is is a direct foil to the claims that politics is becoming more accessible and stimulating debate. It most certainly isn’t. Not unless being shouted down as a Quisling, or a right-wing English invader (not that there is anything inherently wrong in being right wing, or English, but when you are neither the labelling becomes frustrating to say the least), or an idiot who believes the lies of the biased media when you question the SNP or independence is considered ‘accessible debate’. In fact, both sides spend most of the time personally insulting the other, and very little sensible debate or challenging opposition to party politics is happening.

So, as a young Scot who is interested in policy not party, representation not repression, and a Scotland that is as diverse as the whole of the UK and where we share far more across social stratas than nationalities, I would like to say one thing in reply to Sturgeon and Salmond’s talk of being ‘Scotland’s voice’: I’ve got my own voice, thanks. And I want to talk about politics.