Parliamentary sketch: MSPs talk health and hats

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 6 June 2018 in Comment

Parliamentary sketch: Things get heated as MSPs debate waiting time guarantees

Image credit: Holyrood

“When is a guarantee not a guarantee?” It was a Wednesday afternoon in the Scottish Parliament and Anas Sarwar seemed to be setting himself up for a joke.

MSPs were discussing waiting times in the NHS, and it was refreshing to see someone lighten the mood with some humour. So, tell us Anas, when is a guarantee not a guarantee? “Apparently, it’s when you are given that guarantee by this government.”

Oh dear. It was very disappointing. There was no joke, Sarwar had just tricked everyone.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Structural problems brought about by an ageing population and increasingly complex demands. No, it wasn’t especially funny, but then just because something takes on all the hallmarks of a joke, doesn’t mean it will be funny – like a really dark comedy, for example. Or the UKIP leadership.

So what do you get if you cross the health service with an SNP government? Bad stuff, according to Sarwar. “As we now know, tens of thousands of Scottish patients are waiting longer – much longer – than the 12-week guarantee that they were promised by Shona Robison and Nicola Sturgeon,” he said. “Since Nicola Sturgeon made that promise – gave that legal guarantee – to the people of Scotland in 2012, it has been broken nearly 120,000 times.”

To be honest, this wasn’t a particularly light-hearted debate. Everyone loves the NHS, and they all actually agree they want it to work well for patients, but they don’t love discussing it.

As Shona Robison put it: “I would like there to be some honesty in the debates that we have about our health service.”

Well, we all have ambitions, Shona, even if ‘some honesty’ seemed quite a low bar. Which is not to say there aren’t things to worry about. As Ross Greer pointed out, Brexit – and likely restrictions on immigration – could pose huge problems for the health service.

He said: “At this point, I should wear my usual European affairs hat and point out the harm that’s already been done to our health service by the UK Government’s irrational and hostile immigration policy, including the minimum income threshold, which in many cases even prevents the nurses we so desperately need from coming and staying here. And that’s before we deal with the coming disaster for our healthcare and other public services that European freedom of movement ceasing to apply after Brexit will bring.”

MSPs glanced around the chamber at this, though really, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Ross Greer owns a special ‘European hat’, even if he was somewhat lacking in details about how it looked. It’s probably some kind of beret, or possibly the sort of hat Napoleon wore.

Of course, in an ideal situation, it would be one of those horned Viking helmets. Though given Norway is outside the EU, it’d have to be a Danish or Swedish Viking in order to maintain the coherence of Scottish Green foreign policy.

It was a weird revelation, regardless of what particular brand of Scandinavian Viking Ross Greer has been impersonating, and the only disappointment was that no one bothered to push for more detail.

But these are the questions, and it’s just lucky that there’s a fleet-footed, committed political media out there to make sure MSPs are properly scrutinised. And dressed.

Alex Cole-Hamilton came after Greer, congratulating Sarwar for the wording of his motion, which he described as “very elegant”.

“It is easy for us as opposition parliamentarians to throw rocks at the Government,” he boasted, which is true. It is easy, that’s probably why it’s so attractive. Though god knows how Cole-Hamilton is smuggling rocks into the chamber. You’re not even meant to bring props, let along projectiles.

But the reason Cole-Hamilton liked the motion, he explained, was that it looked in “granular detail” at “a profound failure of expectation management”. What’s not to like?

Ivan McKee, though, took issue with the idea that health boards should not only try to hit targets, but also predict how often they’ll miss them. Unfortunately, Neil Findlay then took issue with McKee taking issue with the motion taking issue with the failure to meet targets, which the SNP itself previously issued.

“Does he not understand that the health service is about people who are waiting in agony on waiting lists?” Findlay asked McKee.

It did seem a bit unfair, and so it was lucky that McKee reacted like a normal person, rather than exploding in a ball of fury. Responding, he asked: “Does Mr Findlay not understand that ranting for 30 seconds does absolutely nothing to solve the problem?”

Did he? It wasn’t clear. “Let us go back to the real world, where we solve real problems,” McKee proposed.

It sounded like a terrible idea, frankly. The real world, so far, had been made up of politicians, from all sides, indulging in cheap political point-scoring over a service they all support. No, it would be far better to stay in the imaginary world and watch Ross Greer try on a series of eccentric foreign hats. 

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