Alex Salmond speaks during a press conference at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Salmond's NHS claims have been shredded by the IFS

The biggest danger to the Scottish NHS is independence. 

The Scottish Yes campaign has frequently been lauded for its positive, optimistic tone, in contrast to the rather dour No side. But the irony is that it's only by turning negative that the nationalists have prospered. It was Alex Salmond's warning that the survival of the NHS (a Scottish religion as much as an English one) was threatened by Westminster that allowed him to vanquish Alistair Darling in their second debate and to pull Labour voters into the Yes camp. 

The First Minister's claims were, of course, nonsense. Health has been devolved to the Scottish parliament since its creation in 1999, meaning that the only person who could privatise (or cut) the health service is Salmond himself. Earlier today, Gordon Brown raged at his mendacity, threatening to stand for election to Holyrood unless he stopped peddling lies. 

That Salmond is indeed telling lies has been made clear today by the IFS, which has dismantled his claims with typically brutal efficiency. It first notes, as I did, that health is already devolved to the Scottish parliament and that "the Scottish NHS does not have to make more use of private sector providers just because the English NHS is".

Then it points out that while health spending in England has risen since 2009-10, it has fallen in Scotland, noting that "the Scottish government has chosen to protect the NHS in Scotland slightly less than it has been protected in England. Spending on the NHS in Scotland has fallen by 1%." Nor can this be blamed on cuts to Scotland's block grant by Westminster. As the IFS points out, "the vagaries of the Barnett formula" mean that Scotland has had to cut overall public service spending by less than England. In other words, the decision to reduce NHS funding was a matter of choice, not necessity. 

Moreover, while cuts to the block grant will continue as part of the government's deficit reduction programme (whether Conservative or Labour-led), the tax raising powers that Holyrood is due to receive under the 2012 Scotland Act mean that it will be able to shield health from austerity: "If it were to increase the Scottish rate of income tax by 1%, for instance, it would raise around £400 - £450 million a year. This would be enough to boost health spending by around 4%."

By contrast, independence, and all the risks that it would entail (such as higher borrowing rates and capital flight), would make it far harder for Salmond to protect the NHS. The IFS warns that even if the Scottish government's optimistic oil revenue forecasts of £7bn a year (the independent OBR forecasts £3bn a year) are accepted, "its budget position would still be if anything slightly weaker than that forecast for the UK as a whole. If these more optimistic forecasts prove correct an independent Scotland would still need to borrow more or tax more than the rest of the UK if it wanted to increase spending on the NHS while protecting other services."

The final judgement, then, is that the best way for the NHS to be protected is for Scotland to remain in the Union: "It is hard to see how independence could allow Scotland to spend more on the NHS than would be possible within a Union where it will have significant tax raising powers and considerable say over spending priorities."

"Previous IFS work on the longer-term outlook for an independent Scotland’s finances suggests that under a wide range of scenarios, a combination of the eventual fall in oil revenues and an ageing population could make for a tougher fiscal outlook for Scotland than the rest of the UK and hence less room for additional spending on things like the NHS."

It is no exaggeration to say that Salmond's claims lie in abject ruin this afternoon. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue