“NHS in crisis” was the line repeated again by Deputy Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale when opening today’s FMQs exchanges. For the third time in recent outings the Scottish Labour leader accused the First Minister of presiding over an NHS that is at “breaking point.”
This week’s hook came with a Facebook advertisement by the Royal Alexandria Hospital for volunteers at their A&E department. Dugdale asked why the First Minister was not increasing NHS staff numbers to match the 10% increase in demand for acute services in Scotland. Sturgeon quickly squashed the idea that the hospital in question was asking for volunteers to replace NHS staff or do any form of treatment. Rather the First Minister said the advert was for volunteers to participate in the hospitals befriending scheme – and that these volunteers should be praised for sharing their time. Rising again to dismiss the accusation that the SNPs commitment to the NHS was anything but full-hearted, Sturgeon pointed to an announcement earlier this week that an extra £100M was being allocated to fight “bed blocking” and that NHS staff numbers were in fact increasing.
Dugdale finished her line of questioning by asking whether the First Minister would support Scottish Labour’s proposal to create a £100M front line fund – funded through Barnett consequentials. Sturgeon dismissed the proposal as “fantasy economics” and questioned Labour’s funding proposals given other commitments to support local government and the North East coming from the same pot. Sturgeon finished by stating that it was because her party used “real” monies and budgets that Scots overwhelmingly trust the SNP to do the right thing with the NHS.
Buoyed by yesterday’s Scottish Government LBTT U-turn, which her party had campaigned for, Davidson questioned why the Scottish Government was not passing on the full “savings” of George Osborne’s Stamp Duty reforms to Scottish households. Her question came after John Swinney confirmed that the tax threshold for paying LBTT would be raised to £145,000 and that a new 5% tax band would be implemented on homes valued between £250,000 and £325,000. In making these amendments, Swinney had only allocated £53M of the total £64M savings.
Sturgeon welcomed the U-turn and explained that the full “savings” had not been passed on due to forestalling and the Scottish Government’s desire to increase the reserve – neither of which the Tories could really argue with. Before taking her seat again, she questioned why neither Davidson nor Dugdale had led with Smith given the UK Government’s response had been published only an hour earlier. She mischievously pondered whether this had anything to do with the fact that, in her opinion, the UK Government’s response fell short of the infamous Vow….
Up stood Willie Rennie to ask why, rather than welcoming the UK Government’s Smith proposals, the First Minister was proactively looking to attack proposals her party helped create. Sturgeon responded that she did indeed welcome the UK Government’s proposals, however, she felt that they did not go far enough or completely respect the letter and spirit of Smith.