Holyrood 2016: Death, taxes and love of the NHS

NHS surgery Image copyright Christopher Furlong
Image caption The BBC poll suggested maintaining NHS budgets was the top priority for voters

It is frequently said that nothing is certain, save death and taxes. But there are perhaps one or two other facets of political life upon which one can generally rely.

Chief among these is the voters' adherence to the National Health Service. It is sufficiently well entrenched that political leaders tend to follow.

Indeed, it would be a courageous leader who went against this tendency. "Courageous", that is, in the Yes Minister sense of "foolhardy and certain to lose votes."

So it is no surprise at all that the Gold Medal in our poll goes to health spending. Voters seem to want a guarantee that spending in Scotland will be increased, at the very least to keep pace with spending in England.

Different perspective

Certainly, that view was reflected when I chatted with my informal focus group, comprising the staff at the Edinburgh Beer Factory. They accorded priority to health spending.

Intriguingly, though, I also found one or two prepared, with decided caveats, to take a slightly different perspective. To question, for example, whether NHS spending can continue to be ring-fenced when other areas of the public sector are facing cuts.

To question, further, whether true value for money has been obtained from the cash invested in the NHS thus far. To emphasise, however, the preponderance of opinion was that spending on the NHS must be defended.

Image caption The poll also suggested widespread support for free university education

The Silver Medal went to education or, more precisely, to the notion that a Scottish university education should continue to be free of charge, either pre matriculation or post graduation, for students from Scotland.

This general outlook towards spending can be interpreted in one of two ways. Either, respondents in Scotland are ideologically and/or pragmatically attracted to the concept of universal public sector provision, believing that it underpins social cohesion and strengthens the wider economy, in the medium to long term.

Either that, or folk like free stuff.

You can find all the details of the poll, with a full data breakdown, elsewhere on these pages. You'll learn about views on housing, fracking, APD, GM foods, and others.

Independence referendum

But perhaps I might also draw your attention to the question on the constitution. The issue at stake is whether there should be a second independence referendum in Scotland in the event that Britain votes to leave the European Union.

That exercised my brewery focus group. For example, one said the Scottish government would be entitled to go for indyref 2 if Scotland were to be taken out of the EU against the will of her people.

Another speaker, one with an investment stake in the business, voiced concern about uncertainty: an EU referendum followed by a possible Scottish plebiscite.

In our survey, this topic rated 5.6 - which is almost precisely down the centre in a range from one to ten.

But there's more. One third gave this plan top billing. One third said it should never happen. The final third dispersed across the territory in between.

Welcome to Scotland.

PS: Now sport. That was an outstanding victory by the mighty United at the weekend. Great fight, incredible determination. Something along similar lines at Firhill would be just fine and dandy.


BBC Scotland Holyrood election 2016 poll

Eleven questions on health, education, fracking, independence and sectarianism (plus mean score)

  1. Guarantee that for the next five years spending on the NHS in Scotland will be increased by at least the same rate as spending on health in England - 8.3
  2. Allow all students from Scotland to attend Scottish universities for free - 8.1
  3. Subsidise the cost of developing new sources of energy that are less harmful to the environment - 7.7
  4. Give schools with high numbers of children from poorer backgrounds more money to spend than other schools - 6.7
  5. Give first time home buyers who have saved £3,000 an extra £3,000 towards their deposit - 6.5
  6. Ban all drilling for shale gas, known as fracking, in Scotland - 6.2
  7. Reduce the tax on aeroplane tickets in Scotland - 6.1
  8. Ban farmers in Scotland from growing genetically modified foods - 5.7
  9. Hold another referendum on Scottish independence if Britain votes to leave the European Union - 5.6
  10. Introduce charges for prescriptions for those of working age in order to raise money for the NHS - 5.3
  11. Scrap the ban on people at football matches singing songs that some people find offensive - 4.9

All figures are mean scores based on answers provided between one and 10. One means the policy should never be put in place, and 10 means that it is very important and should be put in place quickly

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