Of the many improvements devolution has provided Scotland, the able stewardship of the NHS under Nicola Sturgeon, and now Alex Neil, has undoubtedly made it clear to any observer just how seriously the issue of the country’s poor health record is taken by the SNP government.
The report published earlier this week by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH), however, certainly puts the leaps and bounds made by devolved government into some perspective.
Amongst its conclusions, its noting that Scotland’s working age population has the worst mortality rate out of 19 European countries is a sobering reminder that there remains a long way to go before we can say our 21st century democracy is touching certain deep rooted cultural problems.
The report makes it clear “circulatory diseases and many cancer-related diseases” continue to plague the nation, causing early death and sending mortality rates shooting up.
Alcohol dependency, drug addiction, and smoking are clearly finger-pointed as remaining a problem in Scottish society.
In defence of the SNP’s record in tackling these public health issues, Health Minister Michael Matheson has noted;
“Overall health in Scotland is getting better……however we are working to address early mortality in younger working age people by taking significant action to cut alcohol consumption, reduce smoking rates and drug addiction, to encourage active living, healthy eating and wellbeing.”
The moves by the devolved government, as outlined by Mr Matheson, have to be welcomed with open arms, and the joint working across government briefs between health, sport and food and drink portfolios make sense when outlining longer term strategy which can address what is clearly a cultural problem, one which requires joined-up thinking across departments and across society.
In the pro-independence camp we consistently argue that the reasons to vote “Yes” far outweigh those against, and this perhaps is most tellingly demonstrated by reports covering many decades, such as this by the GCPH. Devolution has delivered a huge range of beneficial social policies, and decisive actions, which simply would not have been possible under the previous Westminster-dominated regime.
This week’s report, however, amplifies the arguments for full control of our taxes and revenues by a considerable degree. If we have made some inroads into tackling our, let’s be quite honest, embarrassing health record when compared with Europe and the rest of the western world, we need to go a whole lot further.
If we can drive down smoking rates by banning it in public places and making access to visible cigarette displays more difficult, and tackle the blight of alcohol being sold for cheaper than mineral water via minimum pricing in a few short years of devolution, then we could do so much more with independence.
Autonomy for Scotland will not be a magic pill to cure all ills, make no mistake, but with full economic and tax-raising levers allowing the Edinburgh government to direct money where it is needed most, not having to rely on a block grant provided at the discretion of the UK government, then we can challenge the perception of Scotland being perennially the ‘Sick Man of Europe.’
The term is old, outdated, and it is time we as a society put it behind us and moved on.
Books, glorious books
26th November to 2nd December this year sees the official “Book Week Scotland” launch, and I for one will be digging out the Kindle to remind myself that there exists life beyond a computer screen and the TV. With the winter nights “fair drawin in” and we are plunged into the seemingly eternal darkness of December through to roughly February/March by my calculation, a hot toddy and a book seems like the perfect antidote to what will otherwise be three months of mild depression and overindulgence.
Having seen some of the ads and promotional videos for Book Week Scotland, it also serves as a welcome reminder that if there is one city in Scotland which has been built for literature, it is Edinburgh (apologies Glasgow).
If ever authors’ scribbles are defined and characterised by their surroundings, the dominating, heavy, rain-soaked and macabre character of Edinburgh in the winter has provided the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, James Hogg, Arthur Conan Doyle, Tobias Smollett, Ian Rankin (the list could go on and on) with ample inspiration.
Hopefully this year’s Scottish Book Week, and the eternal darkness (and the Edinburgh rain), will finally provide me with the inspiration to write the book everyone secretly thinks they have in them.
Alternatively, I may just stick to the Kindle for one more year…