Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Nurse!

Today we hear that Jim Murphy is promising to spend Scotland's share of Labour's proposed mansion tax on 1000 extra nurses.  Apparently this is a policy exclusive to Labour in Scotland, and he has not run it past Ed Miliband, although he's sure that Mr Miliband will approve.  Telling that Mr Miliband's approval will have to be sought however.

So here we start with one of the commonest dog whistle policies employed by most politicians - extra nurses.  Now, I'm not saying we couldn't do with them, and I'm aware that we seem to be currently training more nurses than we have jobs for, given the difficulties I've observed nurse friends having in finding a job once they graduate.  But this is a go-to soundbite from politicians of all stripes, relying on the fact that the public hold nurses in high regard, so more of them can only reflect well on the politician in question.

But there is a problem with the policy for Mr Murphy.  The NHS in Scotland is completely devolved to the Scottish government, so any decision to employ additional nurses can only be made by Holyrood.  And Labour are not in power in Holyrood at the moment, so this is a meaningless promise under current circumstances.  Of course, Mr Murphy may well be taking the long view and making plans for Labour coming to power in Holyrood in 2016.  It's not looking likely on current polling, but he has over a year to turn things around, so let's not rule it out completely.  However, he is making this promise in the context of the Westminster elections, and is therefore making a promise he cannot keep in the short term.

The other problem is how he intends to fund it.  The mansion tax proposed by Labour is an annual tax on properties over the value of £2 million, and would be expected to raise around £1.2 billion per year.  Mr Murphy has calculated Scotland's share of this sum under the Barnett formula as £250 million, even though only about £15 million would actually be raised in Scotland.  Two problems with this.  One is that £250 million divided by 1000 is £250,000.  I don't know about you, but most nurses I know make about 1/10th of that or less.  That leaves a substantial sum unaccounted for.  The second problem is that this will create resentment among the English electorate, who will resent having to pay for improvements to the Scottish NHS.  The old 'subsidy junkies' epithet will rear its ugly head once more.  It will also not play well with the Scottish electorate, who resent being called 'subsidy junkies' when sending all their oil and whisky revenues to Westminster and only receiving a small percentage of it back.  Labour, of course, refer to it as 'pooling and sharing', something they are extremely keen on, as we saw during the referendum campaign when we all got heartily sick of hearing the phrase.

 So, to sum up, we have a politician promising something that he currently has no power to deliver, using money he doesn't yet have and which mostly wouldn't be raised in Scotland even if he did.  Off to a flying start then.


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