Editorial: NHS is key in Scots independence vote

Should Scotland be an independent country? This is the question Scotland will answer on Thursday 18 September, although the ramifications of its decision will be felt far more widely and across the entire UK on Friday morning.

'Using the NHS as a trump card so late in the day seems to be paying dividends for the yes campaign.'
'Using the NHS as a trump card so late in the day seems to be paying dividends for the yes campaign.'

We explored what voting yes or no would mean for UK general practice in our previous issue and that analysis is on our website, GPonline, for you to read, alongside the opportunity for you to cast your vote in our poll of GP opinion. The result is currently 60% no, perhaps unsurprising given that it is open to all, not just Scottish residents.

At the time of writing, a YouGov poll has found the yes vote in the majority for the first time. The implications of an independent Scotland for UK politics could be serious. Will prime minister David Cameron face calls for his resignation? Will an attempt be made to move the general election date back a year to May 2016?

It is only really in the past few weeks that the Scottish National Party has capitalised on fears for the future of the NHS as part of its overall campaign strategy.

It says a yes vote will not affect the day-to-day running of Scotland's NHS, but will 'ensure cast iron protection against potential knock-on effects from Westminster's privatisation of NHS England'.

It goes on to argue that an independent Scotland will not be vulnerable to cuts made by the UK government and that not charging patients would be written into the country's constitution.

The no camp believes the NHS in Scotland 'gets the best of both worlds' because it can make its own NHS decisions and the financial burden can be shared across the whole of the UK.

Healthcare is devolved in Scotland and as will be obvious to GPs, its government has already followed a different path with the GP contract.

Using the NHS as a trump card so late in the day seems to be paying dividends for the yes campaign and playing on fear in the same way as the no camp has done with the currency question.

One thing is clear - an independent Scotland with an NHS free of private firms will provide a fascinating comparison with England, which appears to be hurtling in the opposite direction.

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