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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Donald Tusk is merely calling out Tory hypocrisy on Brexit

And the President of the European Council has the upper hand. 

The pair of numbers that have driven the discussion about our future relationship with the EU since the referendum have been 48 to 52. 

"The majority have spoken", cry the Leavers. "It’s time to tell the EU what we want and get out." However, even as they push for triggering the process early next year, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk’s reply to a letter from Tory MPs, where he blamed British voters for the uncertain futures of expats, is a long overdue reminder that another pair of numbers will, from now on, dominate proceedings.

27 to 1.

For all the media speculation around Brexit in the past few months, over what kind of deal the government will decide to be seek from any future relationship, it is incredible just how little time and thought has been given to the fact that once Article 50 is triggered, we will effectively be negotiating with 27 other partners, not just one.

Of course some countries hold more sway than others, due to their relative economic strength and population, but one of the great equalising achievements of the EU is that all of its member states have a voice. We need look no further than the last minute objections from just one federal entity within Belgium last month over CETA, the huge EU-Canada trade deal, to be reminded how difficult and important it is to build consensus.

Yet the Tories are failing spectacularly to understand this.

During his short trip to Strasbourg last week, David Davis at best ignored, and at worse angered, many of the people he will have to get on-side to secure a deal. Although he did meet Michel Barnier, the senior negotiator for the European Commission, and Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative at the future talks, he did not meet any representatives from the key Socialist Group in the European Parliament, nor the Parliament’s President, nor the Chair of its Constitutional Committee which will advise the Parliament on whether to ratify any future Brexit deal.

In parallel, Boris Johnson, to nobody’s surprise any more, continues to blunder from one debacle to the next, the most recent of which was to insult the Italians with glib remarks about prosecco sales.

On his side, Liam Fox caused astonishment by claiming that the EU would have to pay compensation to third countries across the world with which it has trade deals, to compensate them for Britain no longer being part of the EU with which they had signed their agreements!

And now, Theresa May has been embarrassingly rebuffed in her clumsy attempt to strike an early deal directly with Angela Merkel over the future residential status of EU citizens living and working in Britain and UK citizens in Europe. 

When May was campaigning to be Conservative party leader and thus PM, to appeal to the anti-european Tories, she argued that the future status of EU citizens would have to be part of the ongoing negotiations with the EU. Why then, four months later, are Tory MPs so quick to complain and call foul when Merkel and Tusk take the same position as May held in July? 

Because Theresa May has reversed her position. Our EU partners’ position remains the same - no negotiations before Article 50 is triggered and Britain sets out its stall. Merkel has said she can’t and won’t strike a pre-emptive deal.  In any case, she cannot make agreements on behalf of France,Netherlands and Austria, all of who have their own imminent elections to consider, let alone any other EU member. 

The hypocrisy of Tory MPs calling on the European Commission and national governments to end "the anxiety and uncertainty for UK and EU citizens living in one another's territories", while at the same time having caused and fuelled that same anxiety and uncertainty, has been called out by Tusk. 

With such an astounding level of Tory hypocrisy, incompetence and inconsistency, is it any wonder that our future negotiating partners are rapidly losing any residual goodwill towards the UK?

It is beholden on Theresa May’s government to start showing some awareness of the scale of the enormous task ahead, if the UK is to have any hope of striking a Brexit deal that is anything less than disastrous for Britain. The way they are handling this relatively simple issue does not augur well for the far more complex issues, involving difficult choices for Britain, that are looming on the horizon.

Richard Corbett is the Labour MEP for Yorkshire & Humber.