In the Herald today:
NEARLY one in three of Scotland’s 32 council areas have registered drops in life expectancy of over a year with levels of deprivation being blamed in many cases. New figures show that Scotland has the lowest life expectancy in Western Europe having increased since the early 1980s but has now remained virtually unchanged for eight years.
Leaving aside the headline problem of how you can have a national slump if it’s been virtually unchanged for eight years, who is to blame for this sad state of affairs?
We know what’s coming. Conveniently forgetting the last century, Scottish Labour will blame the SNP, after more than a decade ‘in power.’ The Cons and the Lib’s will then pile in having long forgotten the responsibilities they had in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Getting Scotland to this position with the lowest life expectancy in Europe took centuries of exploitation of the people living in what was really a colony despite the ‘glorious’ narrative and the rewards for its tiny elite. From 1707 on, it took imperial wars, clearance to city slums to work in the hellfire of the factories making the ships and the guns for those wars, life in the stinking poisonous slums next to them and the brutal suppression of labour movements.
From 1707 until 1886, a series of aristocrats and Tories ran the colony. From then until 1924, Liberals were often in control. In the last 100 years, we’ve seen a shifting series of Cons, Libs and Labour secretaries of state but with extended periods of Labour control.
Even when Labour has not been in power in London, there has been a tacit agreement that at least the worst of Westminster policies would be moderated in Scotland and, of course, considerable autonomy was devolved to the larger urban councils typically dominated by Labour. These, of course, are the places where the life expectancies were shortest. There were achievements but life expectancy remains short.
The SNP has had more than a decade ‘in power’ but it has been a very limited kind of power. We see it clearly right now as Scotland is unable to fully tackle the pandemic without borrowing powers.
With only a fraction of the fiscal powers and crucially no borrowing rights, there have nevertheless been achievements, especially in housing, child poverty and in moderating the worst benefit cuts, but life expectancy change would require full autonomy and efforts over decades to come, to tackle.