Everything is politics, said Thomas Mann. Everything is political, said Bob Marley. Everything has moved on a bit from the heady days of Captain Tom and #bekind when people’s first response to a 4% pay rise for nurses and hospital porters is to label it a cynical election ploy and a kick in the teeth to every other public servant, said Morag Lindsay.
Okay that last quote might need a bit more honing if it’s going to stand the test of time but at least it proves the other pair had a point.
With little else to distract us and all but the most essential hunkered down behind closed doors, much of the drama of the past year has inevitably been presented through a political prism.
So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by some of the reactions to the pay offer for 145,000 Scottish NHS staff that sneaked in under the wire on Wednesday night ahead of the 2021 Holyrood election kickoff.
The pandemic response has often felt more like a popularity contest between Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson than a public health crisis, as government figureheads on either side of the border raced to plot the most palatable path out of lockdown.
The roll out of the Oxford AstraZenica vaccine is currently degenerating into a third rate Brexit sequel – plucky little Britain squaring up to protect its citizens from jab-snatching EU bullies and not a squabble over the small print in commercial contracts.
Meanwhile, we’ve had a real life political drama to grapple with here as the two inquiries into Holyrood’s handling of the Alex Salmond harassment allegations dragged to their sorry conclusions, leaving everyone feeling that bit grubbier than when they started.
This week’s ruling by James Hamilton that Nicola Sturgeon did not breach the ministerial code during her part in the probe made a non-starter of Tuesday’s Conservative-led vote of no confidence in the First Minister.
But the dust is settling on a sourer society and the virulent reaction from some quarters to the Scottish Government’s NHS pay offer shows how far we’ve come from the happy clappy, all in this together glow of the first lockdown when Nicola Sturgeon was topping the opinion polls and support for independence was starting to soar to new – and now vanishing – highs.
The proposal – backdated to December and at least 3% more than the much-slated 1% on the table in England – was announced just before the start of the Scottish Parliament election campaign, when big spending announcements are not the done thing, and just after publication of the draft independence referendum bill, which sets out plans for indyref2 if the SNP win a majority in May.
With the big prize in its sights and support for independence on the wane again, it’s little wonder the party was so keen to squeeze in a policy that suggests differing priorities between Holyrood and Westminster and harks back to the Sturgeon in command of the Covid briefing podium and not the one struggling to brush off the stink of the Salmond affair.
The offer will mean £1,200 more a year on the average frontline nurse’s salary in Scotland and £1,000 for staff including domestics, porters and health care support workers described as “the backbone of our services”.
Will unions south of the border use it to try to lever a better deal for their members? Maybe.
Do other public service workers deserve similar salary increases? Yes, probably.
Are any of the parties proposing that and do they have plans for how to fund them? Let’s ask them.
Will other services be sacrificed to pay for the NHS deal? Good question; there’ll be politicians on our tellies and our Twitter feeds, if not our doorsteps, at every hour of every day for the next six weeks, there’s never been a better time to pin them down for answers for which they can be held to account.
Is it political? Show me something that isn’t these days.
But do NHS workers in Scotland deserve their pay rise? Of course they do. And if your politics are so partisan that you’re prepared to turn up your nose at 4% for the nurses and hospital porters who have worked through the worst pandemic in generations, knock yourselves out. I just hope you didn’t have the gall to stand on your doorstep and applaud them in the summer.
Another thing. The Scottish NHS pay offer was the third item on the radio news on Wednesday, coming after a proposal by Home Secretary and bona fide ministerial code breaker Priti Patel to kick out asylum seekers who she deems “inadmissable” and new guidance requiring all UK government buildings in England, Wales and Scotland to fly the union flag.
We don’t have a monopoly on nationalism in Scotland, but if it’s a choice between fair pay for public sector workers, an immigration crackdown that human rights lawyers have branded cruel and undeliverable under the Refugee Convention and a farcical fixation on flags, I’ll take the political debate we’re having on this side of the border any day.