SNP criticise Labour hypocrisy as NHS moves onto referendum centre stage

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  By Martin Kelly

Scottish Labour party claims that concerns over the future of the NHS are simply SNP inspired lies have been called into question after a string of warnings from Labour politicians were uncovered.

Today, the SNP is pointing to Labour warnings highlighting the threat Westminster Tory cuts pose to the NHS.  The nationalists say the concerns expressed by Labour make it clear that a Yes vote is Scotland’s one opportunity to protect Scotland’s NHS.

Last week, First Minister Alex Salmond announced that the SNP will put forward plans to include constitutional protection for the NHS in a Scottish constitution – moves that will keep the NHS in public hands. However, this can only happen in the event of a Yes vote.

In the event of a No vote, say the SNP, the privatisation and cuts agenda being pursued south of the border will impact on our NHS.

The Labour party has responded by branding the concerns ‘lies’, claiming that NHS funding has been protected by the Conservatives.  Speaking in a radio interview today, Labour MP Alistair Darling denied the NHS was under threat.

Mr Darling insisted the NHS was safe and that no party would interfere with its principals: “What I’m saying is that there is no political party in the United Kingdom, at the moment, that could get away with destroying the NHS.

“Mrs Thatcher looked at it in the 1980s and even she backed off because it doesn’t matter how people vote if the people are very, very committed to the NHS.”

However the claim from the man who leads the pro-Union Better Together campaign has been challenged by comments made by his own party leader only months ago.

Speaking at the Welsh Labour Conference in March, Ed Miliband warned that the Conservatives could not be trusted with the NHS.

He said: “But when David Cameron talks about the NHS in Wales, let’s remember what the NHS in Wales was like when the Tories were last in charge.

“There were half the A&E consultants you have today.  The number of nurses was being savagely cut back.”

The Labour leader added: “The people of Wales know the oldest truth in politics: You can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.”

Earlier this year, Welsh Labour Health Minister Mark Drakeford was clear that Westminster budget cuts would impact on the health service in Wales, stating: “We have a Westminster Government that believes in shrinking the state, which believes in doing less through the public realm, and passes less money down to us in order to be able to do it.”

In recent years, a number of other Labour politicians have spoken out about the threat of Tory privatisation and cuts – including Alistair Darling himself.

Speaking at the Labour party conference in 2010, Mr Darling accused the Tories of pursuing a right wing ideology which included cutting public spending.

“The cuts they are making are the same old right wing ideology dressed up as necessity.”  He told supporters.  Mr Darling added: “Their approach is dishonest.”

Mr Darling was forced to concede the same point in an interview on Radio Scotland on Tuesday when he said: “Look, it is no secret that the Tories have long had their sights on public spending.”

Labour Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham recently warned that five more years of privatisation will “push the NHS off the cliff-edge where it now finds itself”.

Commenting, SNP MSP Dr Aileen McLeod, who sits on the Health Committee, said:

“While Labour in Scotland have their eyes closed to the threat that Tory privatisation and austerity poses to our health service, their colleagues south of the border are telling a very different story.

“It’s time for Labour in Scotland to listen to the alarm being raised by their colleagues – it is not enough for them to pretend that everything will be fine in the event of a No vote.

“Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said only last month that five more years of privatisation will push the NHS in England ‘off the cliff edge’. Scottish Labour are kidding themselves if they think this would not have a knock on impact on Scotland’s budget.

“Alistair Darling has himself has even said the Tories were ‘relishing the chance to swing the axe’ at public services. But now finds himself campaigning on the same side as the Tories who yield the axe – and has conveniently forgotten his concern about the ideological cuts they are making.

“People across Scotland are waking up to the fact that a Yes vote will give us one opportunity to ensure we protect our NHS. And by enshrining it in our constitution we will keep it in public hands.

“The No parties’ denial of the risks we are facing would see us sleepwalking into cuts in the event of a No vote. This is a risk we absolutely cannot take. We must vote Yes to protect our NHS for future generations of Scots.”