How’s Gordon going to deal with challenges like these?
Whenever it’s suggested that the West Lothian Question or Scottish devolution could become an election issue and a problem for Brown people point to polls that show most voters don’t regard Scottish governmental arrangements as being very important to them.
Certainly that’s true of the theoretical constitutional issues but what about the consequence of having different levels of public services north and south of the border? Two stories in this morning’s papers suggest that this might be more troublesome for Labour than many have believed.
The front page of the Daily Mail sets out the issue in typical emotive terms. “..thousands of pensioners will go blind every year after the Government’s rationing watchdog said a sight-saving drug available in Scotland should not be given to NHS patients in England and Wales.”
The editor of the Mail is Paul Dacre – one of Gordon’s closest friends in the media.
Meanwhile the Guardian is reporting a move by the SNP that looks as though the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, is going out of his way to cause the maximum embarrassment to Labour. For the first issue his party has sought to address is student fees with a statement that the Â£2,300 Scottish endowment tax is to be abolished as the first stage of a package to tackle student debt.
The rub is that, as the paper reports, “. only students resident in Scotland will be eligible for the new measures, which will be unveiled in stages from later this year. Students from the rest of the UK will still have to pay annual tuition fees of Â£1,700 or Â£2,700 for medical school”. No doubt the Commons votes on fees in early 2005 will be recalled when Labour got the measure through only because party MPs from Scotland, where the measure did not apply, voted for it.
That wafer-thin victory that the SNP achieved on May 3rd in the Scottish Parliament elections could become a running sore to the government.
The challenge for the Tories is how to exploit the Scottish dimension without undermining the party’s efforts north of the border.
Whatever these stories this morning won’t be the last we will see on differing levels of public service in the two countries.