The UK Labour Party scored one of their best hits this week with regard to the crisis being faced by A&E services in England, with waiting times increasing to their highest levels in a decade. Media coverage was harsh for the UK Government and not likely the way they wanted to kick off the New Year and start of the General Election campaign.
And so it was that Kezia Dugdale hoped to extend the criticism to the door of the Scottish Government and asked what the situation was with A&E in Scotland. While the First Minister acknowledged that the service was coming under pressure, as it did every year at this time due to winter weather and increase in illness, she argued that improvements were ongoing.
Dugdale asked for better reporting on A&E waiting times, moving to a system of weekly updates as undertaken in England. She also claimed that the Scottish Government had instructed Health Boards to not discuss these issues with the media. The FM denied this, and said that a new monthly reporting system was being introduced.
She continued with this line of enquiry, pointing out specific instances where poor levels of care have been provided over the Christmas period. The FM responded by highlighting upcoming spending commitments, and looking back on Labour’s record on NHS spending post-devolution, a strategy which is becoming increasingly exhausted, not least as Dugdale pointed out, she was still in school when Labour was in control of the Scottish Executive.
It was a good week for Dugdale, and was telling that in the end the First Minister used the same pattern of attack the Prime Minister does when Labour bring up the NHS – point towards their policies in Wales.
Ruth Davidson for her part, focused in on the oil and gas issues. She argued that the falling prices would have left Scotland with a £18.6bn black hole to fill had it become independent. She further quoted the former FM Alex Salmond who has indicated support for Scotland to have full fiscal autonomy. With oil prices as low as they are, Davidson claimed that this would bring disaster to Scotland’s economy.
The FM shot back that Alex Salmond would always support independence, that the situation could have been cushioned if successive UK Governments hadn’t rejected an oil fund and it was now up to them to bring forward a set of proposals to support the North East.
Conservatives are looking at the North East as a potential area to grow their voter base, and levelling accusations of inaction from the Scottish Government will likely be threaded into their upcoming election campaign.