Scotland would face “austerity until doomsday” if the country became independent, former prime minister Gordon Brown has said.
He issued the warning as he called for politicians north and south of the border to increase investment in the National Health Service, saying it needed an injection of new cash similar to that provided by Tony Blair’s Labour government when it doubled NHS spending between 1997 and 2010
Speaking at a Labour rally for the NHS in Glasgow, Mr Brown, who served as chancellor under Mr Blair, recalled: “In 1997 when we came into power the National Health Service was dying on its feet.
“So we had to take action and we did put in the biggest single tax rise in history, £9 billion extra for the National Health Service, health service spending rising by 5% a year as a result of it – 30,000 more doctors, 80,000 more nurses, half the hospitals in this country rebuilt or repaired so that they were fit for the modern era.
“I believe that this is what we have got to do again, because 20 years after we came into power in 1997 the health service is in disrepair again.”
Under the Conservative government in Westminster and the SNP at Holyrood, the NHS has seen its worst decade for spending growth since its creation in 1948, Mr Brown said.
He warned: “You look now at the Scottish National Party’s proposals for independence, they will not be spending money on the health service this decade, they wouldn’t be spending it in the next decade and they wouldn’t be spending it the decade after.
“Austerity is here until doomsday if the Scottish National Party is all that is going to confront it.”
He referred to new analysis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies which concluded an independent Scotland could face another decade of public spending restraint.
Mr Brown warned that the think tank’s work showed “spending on vital services like the health service would rise even slower in the coming decade if we had independence than under the present decade where money has been so short”.
He said: “We must decide to persuade the British people, Scottish people and the whole of Britain that we need to spend more on our health service, we need to upgrade it for the next decade.
“The numbers of elderly people will rise by 75% in the next 25 years, there are needs that come with new technology, particularly to meet the requirements of cancer care with new equipment, and we must spend at least the additional money that we spent in 2002, an extra 1% on national insurance, on employers, employees and on top earners is at least a starting point.
“The health service needs to be rejuvenated by an injection of new cash that would lead to greater morale amongst staff that have been sadly disillusioned by the promises of both the SNP and the Conservatives that have not been met.”
Currently the NHS is being “starved of resources” by both the Scottish Government and the UK Government, he claimed.
Mr Brown added this could be seen with “four million on waiting lists throughout the whole of the United Kingdom” as well as a “huge backlog of bills for repair and for new investment” not only to buildings but equipment.
“And you can see it in the frustration of NHS staff who work all hours, often far beyond the call of duty and are not properly rewarded as a result,” he said.
“As far as I can see it, Labour is now the only party standing for social justice in Scotland, it is the only party that can save the National Health Service.”
He spoke out after shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said spending decisions made by a future Labour government would result in almost an additional £1 billion for the NHS in Scotland.
While he said Theresa May’s government could be on the brink of announcing an extra £4 billion for the NHS in England, he insisted this would not be enough.
Mr Ashworth said: “That won’t deal with the backlog of repairs, it won’t deal with the 100,000 vacancies we’ve got in England.
“It won’t mean more money for Scotland either. Labour is saying we would spend nearly £9 billion extra on the NHS and social care this year.
“And that would mean more money for Scotland as well, in fact across a parliament our extra investment in the NHS would mean nearly an extra £1 billion for the Scottish NHS.”
SNP MSP Kate Forbes hit back: “This is the height of hypocrisy – Labour’s health offer at the last Scottish election was even lower than the Tories, and had it been followed our NHS would be £360 million worse off this year.
“The SNP Government is delivering record high health spending in Scotland, which is now 7.5% higher per head than the Tories allocate for England – matching the UK Government’s health spending levels would see over £880 million in cuts. We have also taken NHS staffing in Scotland to historically high levels.”
Ms Forbes added: “It speaks volumes that Gordon Brown, who ushered in austerity, should – this week of all weeks – decide to attack the SNP rather than the Tories, whose power grab threatens devolution and whose shambolic Brexit plans are far and away the biggest threat to Scotland’s public services, jobs and economic wellbeing.”
An SNP spokeswoman also stressed the report of its Sustaainable Growth Commission had been “absolutely explicit in its rejection of austerity”.
She stated: “Instead it proposes real terms spending growth – including an economic stimulus package where necessary – a sharp contrast to the reality of Tory policies being imposed on Scotland. ”
She added: “The report has kick-started a serious and welcome debate over Scotland’s future, and Westminster parties are clearly rattled by the boost it has given to the independence case. The Growth Commission contrasts the clear opportunities of independence with the despair and economic damage of Brexit – and replaces fear with optimism and hope about Scotland’s future.”