Scots votes on English NHS laws

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Media captionExtended extracts: Nicola Sturgeon interview with Nick Robinson

I have been speaking to Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about how SNP MPs will vote after the next election.

With the polls predicting a doubling in the party's support and, potentially, a huge increase in the number of their MPs this really matters.

Specifically, Nicola Sturgeon says that SNP MPs will vote on the English NHS. Given that the Scottish government has complete control of the Scottish NHS, this is likely to fuel calls for "English votes for English laws".

She says the move is necessary to protect the Scottish NHS from the knock on effects of cuts and privatisation in England.

"We would be prepared to vote on matters of English health because that has a direct impact on Scotland's budget.

"So if there was a vote in the House of Commons to repeal the privatisation of the health service as has been seen in England to restore the National Health Service we would vote for that because that would help to protect Scotland's budget.

"If there are decisions taken to further privatise the NHS in England, and I don't think anybody thinks the Tories are progressively privatising the health service in order to increase the public funding of the health service, so decisions are taken, that reduce over time the public funding of the health service in England then that has a direct knock on effect to Scotland's budget."

Traditionally, the SNP position at Westminster is not to vote on matters which don't impact on Scotland unless they have a direct impact on the budget of Scotland via the so-called Barnett funding formula.

In recent years they voted to oppose the creation of Foundation Hospitals and the introduction of student tuition fees.

I asked the First Minister about figures that suggest spending on the English NHS has gone up faster than the Scottish NHS in recent years. Between 2009-10 and 2015-16 NHS Scotland cut spending by around 1% whereas the Westminster government has increased spending on the English NHS by around 4%.*

I also read out to her a quote from the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies which said that "Scottish Governments in Holyrood have placed less priority on funding the NHS in Scotland (and more on funding other services) than governments in Westminster have for England".

This was her reply:

"[The figures] don't take into account for example our non profit distributing capital investment in the health service we gave a simple commitment that we would pass on all of the consequentials to the health service to the revenue budget of the health service, we've increased the revenue budget of the health service in real terms.

"I've given a commitment if we are re-elected to be the Scottish government in 2016 we will do that for each and every year. ... we have protected the budget of the health service exactly as we said we would do."

I also asked her about whether Alex Salmond would, in effect, be back in charge of the SNP if the party did as well as opinion polls currently suggest in Westminster

"The SNP operates as a team, we always have and we always will, I know it's difficult for people schooled in the Westminster ways of politics who have watched the tensions and the rivalries between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair for many years to understand that, but Alex Salmond and I are not in competition, we are on the same side and on the same team, just as we have done for past 20 years we have been working together to make sure Scotland gets the best deal."

I couldn't help notice that before she answered she smiled.

UPDATE, 5pm: I've also been speaking to Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy who has urged Scots to vote Labour rather than SNP, saying this is the best chance to remove David Cameron from No 10.

He said an SNP vote would "by accident" help keep the Conservatives in power.

When I asked him if voters wouldn't want the best of both worlds, a Labour government in Westminster backed up by the SNP, Mr Murphy told me:

"The Scottish Labour Party is going to stand up for Scotland's interests. The Scottish Labour Party is changing, we're changing our constitution, changing the way we in which we work - we're confident, we're patriotic and we're determined.

"But the truth is, come the election in May, this isn't a re-run of last year's referendum where Scots were divided. In May it's about how do we come together, make Scotland a fairer country and get rid of David Cameron. There's only one party big enough and strong enough to do that - any seat the SNP wins in Scotland reduces the size of the Labour Party, increases the opportunity of David Cameron being the biggest party again and him holding on to power. That would be dreadful for Scotland."

On Nicola Sturgeon's comments saying the SNP would vote on the English NHS after the next election Mr Murphy said:

'I worry, I worry of course that some Scots who are tempted to vote SNP in the belief it's the re-run of last year's referendum, when of course the referendum was last year's disagreement, who governs the UK is this year's decision. Is that if Scots do go out and vote for the SNP in any number what it does is reduce the size of the Labour Party, increases the chances of David Cameron holding on to power and being elected Prime Minister again. Scotland doesn't want that. Now, in terms of the SNP voting on the health service - there's a way of getting a better health service, there's a way of getting more money into Scotland's health service and it's by voting for the Labour Party."

He went on to say "one of the strange things about the SNP is that they've been in power for over seven years and the fact is that they are spending less on the NHS proportionately than what David Cameron is, in terms of the increases. So it's remarkable for the SNP not to be as generous towards the NHS as even David Cameron and the Tories. So Scots know the SNP hasn't prioritised the NHS. We're in the middle of a winter crisis in Scotland's NHS and the only way to save the NHS is to elect a Labour government and get rid of David Cameron from office, not these games the SNP are playing. This is serious business, it's a matter of the future of the NHS and the last thing we need is David Cameron back in power."

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