There is a saying, often attributed to French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville: “it is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.” I kept this in mind during the 2016 Scottish Election campaign, when the possibility that services at Inverclyde Royal Hospital were to be closed was used in the election campaign of the Other Party’s candidate:
The source of these revelations was a leaked draft discussion document. The story should have ended right there, because by definition, a draft is a preliminary document which is written with the knowledge and intention that it will, in all likelihood, be changed in future versions. They are the armature on which the final, official document is built – and the final document can sometimes be revised so much that it is virtually unrecognisable from that first draft. It is for this reason that drafts are not published for public consultation – they are irrelevant, outdated, obsolete, and of no bearing on the final document.
The draft document contains phrases like “live within available resources,” “move without further delay,” “review transfer of trauma,” and “review provision of physical disability”. None of these phrases are contained in the final document, which was published in February 2016.
What has happened since the election is that a new document has been published. And that’s where things get complicated.
So, perennial favourite Jackie Baillie lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament yesterday regarding the new documentation:
That the Parliament notes with concern reports that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s final draft local delivery plan includes proposals to transfer birthing services from the community maternity units at the Vale of Leven Hospital and Inverclyde Royal Hospital to the Royal Alexandra Hospital (RAH) in Paisley and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow; rejects the assertion in the plan that “extensive public engagement” has taken place on the proposals and is unaware of any attempt by the NHS board to consult members of the public; believes that denying pregnant women in Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond the choice to give birth at the Vale of Leven Hospital runs contrary to the “Vision for the Vale,” which was published in 2009 and committed the Scottish Government to ensuring that the community maternity unit would be “sustained and promoted”; understands that the plan also includes proposals to close the rehabilitation wards at Lightburn Hospital and transfer emergency paediatric services to the QEUH with the downgrading of the children’s ward at the RAH; believes that the NHS board will make a decision on the proposals on 28 June 2016, and notes calls for the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport to intervene and pledge to work with local communities to prevent the closure of health services.
So, what do I mean by “simple lies?” Here’s Jackie Baillie’s opening statement:
I very much welcome the opportunity to hold a debate on the proposed cuts to health services across Greater Glasgow and Clyde—specifically those that are proposed at the Vale of Leven hospital. Other colleagues will cover the cuts to the children’s ward at the Royal Alexandra hospital, the cuts to maternity services at Inverclyde royal hospital, the cuts to in-patient facilities at the centre for integrative care and the closure of Lightburn hospital. All those cuts were highlighted in January this year and are back today with a vengeance.
As Ms Baillie would have it, the cuts were highlighted in January, and they are “back today with a vengeance.” However, this pointedly ignores that the cuts which were “highlighted in January” were out of date: the actual NHSGGC board paper did not mention those cuts. Indeed, the only way Ms Baillie could even know of the unpublished draft in January is if it was leaked – in which case, there are serious questions to be asked of the NHSGGC.
Back to Ms. Baillie.
Six months ago, we stood in this chamber and debated cuts to our local health services. At that time, the Scottish National Party Government said that there was nothing to worry about. It said that we were wrong and the leaked health board paper had no standing—basically, “Nothing to see here.” In the run-up to the election, the attack on us became even more shrill. We were liars and we were simply scaremongering. Promises were made to local communities, including mine, by SNP candidates, the then Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport and even the First Minister.
Here’s the thing Ms Baillie omits to mention: according to the most up-to-date documents going into the Scottish Parliament election, this was all true. The 2016/17 Financial Projections and Financial Planning Process made no mention of the cuts highlighted in the draft discussion paper, rendering it completely and utterly incorrect. Which is, of course, nothing new for Ms Baillie.
But if you aren’t going to believe the Scottish Government, would you at least believe the source of the very document you’re waving – the Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board themselves?
The main purpose of this paper was to give the board some early indication of the potential challenges…to help us make an early start on planning our services for next year.
It is important to note that the discussion paper that has attracted media interest is not a definite proposal or an approved plan that the board intends to implement.
None of the contents have been approved by the board or referred to the Scottish government for consideration.
This includes the reported closure of Lightburn Hospital or changes to the services provided by the Vale of Leven Hospital.
The NHSGGC board released that statement in January this year.
Greenock & Inverclyde’s own Stuart McMillan responded to Ms Baillie:
Despite the cuts to the Scottish Government’s budget from the United Kingdom Government since 2010, Audit Scotland’s report “NHS in Scotland 2015” found that health resource spending has increased in real terms. Audit Scotland confirmed that a real-terms resource increase has taken place in every single year from 2008-09 to 2014-15. Westminster has cut the Scottish Government’s capital spending budget by 25 per cent, but our resource spending has increased in real terms, as per the Scottish Government’s commitment and as confirmed by Audit Scotland. Scotland also has a record-high NHS workforce and continues to make advances in diagnosis, treatment and care.
And on NHSGGC itself:
Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board has a record-high budget of more than £2 billion, which has increased by more than 27 per cent under this Government. Nevertheless, it has been announced that the board is to press ahead with further scrutiny of the proposals that include the closure of seven in-patient beds at the centre for integrative care, and closure of the community maternity units at the IRH and the Vale of Leven hospital in Alexandria. Although it is clear that antenatal and postnatal courses at the Rankin unit in Greenock will remain, the health board proposes to cease birthing services at the IRH.
That should’ve been the end of the matter. Besides, it seems a bit rich for the Other Party to constantly talk about the dire straits the NHS is in, when they promised that voting No would keep it safe:
According to the official result, Scotland voted No. Yet your party’s election campaigns for 2015 and 2016 constantly made reference to “saving” the NHS – which suggests that the NHS was not safe with a No vote after all. So why aren’t you saying the SNP were right all along?
Newcomer-to-Holyrood Anas Sarwar decided he wanted to make a comment:
I am quite disappointed. Having heard Mr McMillan’s speech, one would almost have thought that his party had not been in government for almost 10 years, that health was not devolved and that someone else was in control of our NHS. The reality is that the NHS in Scotland is already independent. This Parliament and the Scottish Government set the NHS’s budget and its priorities, and they oversee its delivery. If there are any failures in the NHS and its services, those are the failures of this Government, and trying to blame someone else is simply shameful.
Except, Mr Sarwar, as you well know, the Scottish budget is not devolved. Westminster has decided to cut the Scottish budget in real terms by 5% in only 5 years. And you voted to keep the Scottish budget in Westminster’s hands when you were in that Parliament. Thanks for that.
All seven Labour councillors on the health board unanimously opposed the board’s cuts. The reality is that the rest of the health board is appointed by the Scottish Government, and it is they who need to up their game.
Now wait a minute here… Mr Sarwar is saying the Scottish Government must account for “the NHS’s budget and its priorities,” even though those things are heavily dependent on decisions made by Westminster in regards to Scotland’s overall budget, right? Yet the NHSGGC board, who oversees their budget & priorities, are not to be held to account – but the Scottish Government are? You can’t have it both ways, Mr Sarwar.
Mr McMillan says that he is a voice for Inverclyde. Let us hear what that voice said during the election campaign. He pretty much called the Labour candidate, Siobhan McCready, a liar for bringing up the cuts that were coming. He said that she was
“playing carelessly with the Inverclyde population by indulging in unfounded information about threats to health services she has gleaned from informal conversation with friends”.
Perhaps Mr McMillan should have “conversation with friends” across Inverclyde who are disappointed with his failure to stand up to his own Government and protect services at Inverclyde Royal hospital.
Except everything Mr McMillan said during the campaign was completely correct. Ms McCready’s “lies” (your words, not mine or Mr McMillan’s, Mr Sarwar) were based upon a document which was explicitly stated not to be “definite proposals” or “approved plans” by the very authors of the document. This was the case all the way up to the election, and weeks later. The fact that NHSGGC are having consultations about cuts now, after the election – and, pointedly, after the UK voted to leave the European Union – does not change those facts.
Responses to freedom of information requests from the Labour Party have found that we face almost £1 billion of cuts to our NHS over the next four years. What was the Government’s response? It did not own up to the fact that we have challenges in the NHS; instead, it said that there are no cuts and went on to say that anyone who suggests that there are is being completely false. That information came from freedom of information responses across the country. The Government should speak to the campaigners at all the hospital services across the country.
Is this like the £500 million’s worth of cuts the Scottish Government were apparently planning after the Independence Referendum which ended up not materialising?
Jackie Baillie was called a liar during the election campaign for saying that the Vale of Leven maternity unit was under threat, but she was proved to be right.
No, she wasn’t, Mr Sarwar. If Ms Baillie says a storm’s coming in January, and the storm doesn’t come, but another storm comes in August, that doesn’t make her right about the first storm. You cannot assume continuity between NHSGGC decisions when they were separated by a Financial Projections and Financial Planning Process which explicitly omitted cuts.
The hard-working campaigners in the public gallery deserve their time with the health minister, so that she can explain why they were lied to during the election campaign. I have mentioned Inverclyde.
Siobhan McCready was labelled a liar for talking about the proposed closure of maternity services at the Inverclyde royal hospital.
Expectant mothers in the west of Scotland deserve better than that.
Given that we are talking about letting people down, let me show members the front page of the Greenock Telegraph before the election, where, in order to win votes, our First Minister shamelessly said that there would be no cuts to services in Inverclyde. What has happened? There are proposed cuts and closures at the Inverclyde Royal hospital. The Government cannot run away from its failures on the matter.
The only way any of these statements could be valid is if you pretend the February document – as in, the official, final document, not a discussion draft never intended for publication – didn’t exist. According to that document, which was accurate up until recently, there were not going to be any cuts. The Scottish Government, First Minister, and candidates were perfectly correct.
This is all ignoring another salient fact: that these cuts and closures are proposed. They are not happening yet. It is entirely possible that they will not happen at all – and in that case, predictably, your party will claim all the credit for something the Scottish Government said would happen all along. You want to talk about “shameless,” Mr Sarwar? You, who described the chamber in which you now pontificate as “something of a dictatorship?” I remember your party claimed victory for the Keep Calmac campaign, despite there not being any likelihood of losing Calmac. I remember your party trying to shift blame for everything from the Edinburgh trams to the expense of the Scottish Parliament building onto the Scottish Government. I remember what you said during the Independence Referendum campaign.
So, in short:
- January 2016: Ms Baillie said NHSGGC were planning cuts & closures, based on an unpublished draft document from November 2015. NHSGGC release a statement asserting that the document in question was not approved, proposed, or submitted to the Scottish Government.
- February 2016: NHSGGC’s Financial Planning document does not contain the cuts or closures.
- February-May 2016: Ms Baillie and other candidates continued to allege cuts & closures based on a now outdated & incorrect document, ignoring the existence of the official February document.
- May 2016: Ms Baillie is the only member of her party elected to a constituency in the West of Scotland region, her 2011 majority reduced to 100 votes. All other constituencies save Eastwood elect SNP representatives.
- August 2016: NHSGGC release a consultation paper raising the possibility of cuts or closures.
- September 2016: Ms Baillie raises the leaked, unofficial, unsanctioned November document as evidence the Scottish Government deceived the electorate, while – once again – ignoring the February document.
This is what I mean by complex truth: while NHSGGC may now be proposing cuts & closures, that does not mean they were planning to do so earlier in 2016, and particularly during the Scottish Parliament election campaign – when the pertinent official document, published in February, omits many of the cuts which are being discussed right now. Yet Ms Baillie, Mr Sarwar, and other members of the Other Party are trying to present the idea that they were right all along. The omission of that document creates the illusion of an NHSGGC denying cuts that they were planning since November 2015, and a Scottish Government covering up for them. Even my own blog has been cited by local activists on social media as “evidence” of the SNP “lying” to get votes.
By taking a complicated truth and twisting it into a simple lie, the Other Party have proven they haven’t learned a thing in almost 10 years in the Holyrood wilderness. They think “if only the people could see the truth, then they would come back home to us, and abandon those horrible Nats.” Yet if your “truth” is dependent on the omission of a vital fact, then it’s no wonder people are still – still – deserting your party.
If this is the best the Other Party can muster with the Council Elections coming up next year, then we’re in for yet another cartoon cavalcade.