Two of the most effective scare stories deployed in the 2014 referendum by the No campaign were “Vote No to keep Scotland in the EU” – we all know what happened there – and also “Vote No to protect Scotland’s NHS”.
Gordon Brown, during one of his omni-interventions just days before the independence referendum, said the SNP was “perpetuating a lie” about protecting the NHS with independence and that Holyrood already had the power to keep the health service in public hands; a claim that clearly doesn’t age well.
Yesterday Westminster MPs voted down an amendment to the Trade Bill that would have stopped the UK Government being able to sell off the NHS to American companies in order to secure a post-Brexit trade deal. Labour, which told Scotland that the NHS was safe within the Union, tried to insert a passage – ‘New Clause 17’ – into the Trade Bill to provide cast iron protections for the NHS in post-Brexit trade negotiations. However, the Amendment supported by all of Scotland’s SNP MPs and its single Labour MP was defeated by 340 votes to 251, after Tory ministers insisted it wasn’t needed and, in a Gordon Brown-esque attack, described Labour’s claims as “myths”.
The House of Commons Twitter account did a rather succinct job of explaining what had just happened, so you don’t need to take my word for it. Then a few hours later the tweet was deleted with a convoluted explanation after the government complained. Thank goodness it was deleted, the NHS will be ok now – err NO.
So Westminster now has the ability to offer access to NHS contracts in trade deal negotiations with the United States. The Conservatives say we don’t need to rule that out as the NHS is safe with us but it’s not; the reason they voted the amendment down is that the UK will be in a massively weak position in all its trade deals and the USA won’t do a trade deal without at least some access to the UK market for its private medical companies. I wrote about this last year – US trade deal would rip NHS Scotland from Holyrood’s control – and I was also invited to give evidence in 2018 to the Westminster Trade Bill Committee to explain this very point. If you have time there is a short video of me telling the Trade Bill Committee that Devolution and Brexit are incompatible.
And that takes us back to Gordon Brown’s other point/lie that “Holyrood already has the power to keep the health service in public hands”. Brexit and devolution are incompatible as Holyrood has control over the NHS and can say NO to privatising Scotland’s NHS, but the USA will want UK wide access to the NHS and to offer that the UK Government will have to strip Holyrood of its veto. The misnamed Single Market White Paper this week is a Trojan Horse, a mechanism to stop Holyrood diverging from Westminster policy. Covid-19 has shown us how a little divergence is a good thing. This is all just the first step in creating a legal precedent for Westminster to be able to remove powers in order to facilitate trade deals.
The NHS is in danger because Scotland voted NO.