The First Minister seems to have spurred a war of words with William Hague and Conservative backbenchers as she announced that SNP members of parliament will no longer refrain from voting on devolved issues after the general election in May. Hague has responded with radical and controversial proposals to enact a quasi-constitutional block on Scottish votes on “English laws”.
Some may view the House Leader’s further alienation of Scotland a no-loss move as the Conservatives popularity in Scotland is next to negligible in the current term. However, the significance of this will emerge from Labour’s response, in the balance with Jim Murphy and their attempts to rebuild Scottish Labour, and maintaining the core of their English membership, where English Votes for English Laws is a popular notion.
Labour strongholds in Scotland have been polled to predict decimation by the SNP in May. Sturgeon argues that Scottish votes on issues of the NHS in particular are essential as the Barnett formula means that such decisions affect Scottish citizens, and NHS England trends have a knock on effect on Scottish healthcare. Scotland’s NHS is better funded per capita, has shorter waiting times for essential surgeries and offers free prescription services. Scotland also has more GPs, medical hospital staff and nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff per person. The SNP have held health as a core policy deliverable since their 2011 election and are not willing to allow any unnecessary risks to damage the popularity and success of that area.
English Votes for English Laws and Hague’s proposals could indeed have a significant impact on the NHS in England and Scotland if either accepted or waylaid. The NHS in England and Wales may prepare for policy changes if Scottish MPs start voting on healthcare Bills in Westminster. This could potentially follow the line of harsher sanctions for performance failures, as in Scotland, or increased resources and targets. This could also impact on the private sector as Scottish constituents oppose privatisation and push for further low-income support. Alternatively, Hague’s block on Scottish votes could serve to bolster Labour support in Scotland and dignify SNP plans for further devolution. Hague risks creating further health outcome gaps between the devolved and home health services, and in turn pushing Westminster’s NHS into deeper resource starvation, and further shadow any light at the end of the election tunnel.