ANDREW NEIL: The SNP’s turned Scotland into the Dying Man of Europe – Life expectancy is falling, and in some parts of Glasgow it’s on par with Nicaragua. Yet its rulers are so obsessed with independence, they’re doing precious little to halt the decline
Vote SNP and die three years early’ has, understandably, never been an election slogan deployed by Scotland’s ruling party. But it would have been brutally honest if it had.
Over the past 16 years in which Scotland has been in the SNP’s tender care, Scottish life expectancy has not just remained the lowest in Britain (and western Europe), it has got worse.
Moreover, for all the egalitarian pieties regularly emanating from Scottish government ministers, the gap between life expectancy in poor areas versus more affluent ones remains obscenely wide — and may even be getting wider.
The latest overall figures are stark enough. Scottish men now live on average 76.52 years versus 79.9 years in England, and Scottish women 80.73 years compared with 83.6 south of the border.
So Scots can now expect to live three years less than the average Sassenach. Worse than that, as a result of what’s been described as an ‘alarming decline’ in Scottish health, life expectancy is actually falling.
Over the past 16 years in which Scotland has been in the SNP’s tender care, Scottish life expectancy has not just remained the lowest in Britain (and western Europe), it has got worse. Pictured: Former leader Nicola Sturgeon and current leader Humza Yousaf
Official figures showed the grim tally reached 1,276 last year, up from 1,245 in 2021. The increase was driven by a sharp rise in deaths among women, to a new record peak of 440
Male life expectancy peaked at 77.1 between 2013 and 2015. It is now back to where it was a decade ago. Female life expectancy peaked at 81.1 between 2017 and 2019. It has also slipped back to where it was in 2012. But the real scandal of shortened lives in Scotland is revealed when you zoom in on specific localities.
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Male life expectancy in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, is now 72.9 years, which is seven years less than the male average in England and only a tad more than the average life expectancy for men and women in war-torn Syria, which is quite incredible when you think about it. But drill down further and the figures are even more appalling.
Take Maryhill and Springburn, two deprived areas to the north and west of Glasgow city centre. Male longevity in both areas is a mere 71.1 years, putting them on a par with male life expectancy in Iran and Nicaragua.
Yet drive only a few miles west to Bearsden, a prosperous Glasgow suburb of big houses, high walls and manicured lawns on the way to beautiful Loch Lomond, and you enter a different world where the average male can expect to live for 83.26 years.
A drive of three miles, which can take 10 minutes outside rush hour — and a 12-year difference in how long you’ll live.
Men in affluent areas live on average 13.7 years longer than men in poor areas, among women the difference is 10.4 years. These are shaming differences. So much for a rough equality and broad social cohesion in Left-wing SNP-land.
So how has it come to this? How have the poorest parts of Scotland ended up with life expectancy among males similar to Third World nations torn apart by poverty and civil war?
It is the SNP’s default position that anything good in Scotland is a result of the Holyrood parliament it controls in Edinburgh, anything bad the product of Westminster, dominated by the evil English. So let’s deal with that canard first. Responsibility for health is entirely devolved to Scotland. The Scottish government has complete control over the NHS north of the border and all the ancillary public health services related to it.
SNP Leader Humza Yousaf joined SNP candidate for the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, Katy Loudon at Cambuslang Miners Monument on September 25
It also has total control over spending on health which, thanks to an over-generous settlement with hated Westminster, is around 20 per cent higher per person in Scotland than England.
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We saw all this in action during the pandemic, when then first minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted on running her own show north of the border and Westminster was surprised to discover just how much autonomy devolution had given her.
The SNP could spend even more on health if it wanted to, either by moving money to the NHS from elsewhere in its multi-billion-pound budget or raising taxes explicitly to spend on health.
Curiously, for all its parading of its compassionate social democratic credentials, it has chosen to do neither.
So let’s be clear: Scotland’s deteriorating life expectancy is happening on the SNP’s watch and it is its responsibility — and its alone — to resolve. So far it has only succeeded in making things worse. It has nobody else to blame but itself.
Of course, Scotland’s low longevity has been a concern for generations, long before the SNP ever got its clammy grip on power. Junk food, alcohol, drugs, obesity and no exercise have all played their part in cutting Scottish lives short, as well as, in years gone by, grinding poverty.
But from the early 1980s through to the early 2010s, rising prosperity brought with it longer lives. Life expectancy in just over a generation rose 7.9 years among men, 5.8 years among women.
Then, just over a decade ago, with the SNP firmly in control of Holyrood, it started to fall — for the first time since records began. The damning charge sheet against the SNP is not that it is the root cause of low life expectancy. That would be absurd. It is that it has allowed it to fall even further.
Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf joins SNP candidate for the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, Katy Loudon on the campaign trail at Ace Place children’s nursery on September 15
All the causes of lives ending early have continued to fester under SNP rule. Perhaps worst of all is an epidemic of drug-related deaths, over 1,000 last year, down a little on 2021, but still 3.7 times more than two decades ago and 2.7 times more than in England.
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Scotland’s drug death rate per million of the population is an appalling 14 times — yes, 14 times — the European average. It is a shaming statistic.
Alcohol is also a Scottish killer. Drink-related deaths were almost 1,300 in 2021, up 25 per cent on 2019.
Poverty is a killer, too. In the affluent suburbs the rate of premature deaths is 210 per 100,000 people. In deprived areas, it’s 820 per 100,000.
When it comes to health inequalities, SNP Scotland is an especially unequal country. Given the prevalence of bad diet, illegal drugs and too much alcohol, it is no surprise that 7 per cent of Scottish men suffer from coronary heart disease and 4 per cent of women. It is a major cause of premature death.
But not as big as obesity. With two-thirds of Scots overweight, obesity is now Scotland’s biggest killer, linked to one in four of all deaths. Cancer also takes a bigger toll than it should, thanks to horrendous waiting lists for treatment.
You might think that this litany of health woes merits being treated as a crisis, deserving coordinated government measures to deal with it and get life expectancy rising again. And you’d be right.
But that’s not how the Scottish government sees it. The SNP only really gets fired up about independence; nothing else quite gets its juices going. Instead the Scottish government touts itself as a ‘world leader in public health’ — a lie of Orwellian proportions.
Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2023
When challenged about Scotland’s ingrained social and health inequalities, the SNP trots out its ‘frees’: free prescriptions, free university tuition fees, free ‘baby boxes’, repeated council tax freezes. Taken together, it implies, it is well on the way to creating a Scottish social democratic nirvana. But these giveaways are essentially subsidies to the middle class, which could afford to pay for them.
They have been paid for by cutting public services, especially funds to local government (in the frontline of coping with falling life expectancy) and help for the most vulnerable. Glasgow is the capital of Scotland’s life expectancy problems, its poorest areas the epicentre.
It suffers under the triple whammy of having Sturgeon as its most famous SNP member of the Scottish parliament, an SNP city council which is a byword for incompetence and, of course, the SNP government in Edinburgh, which has starved it of funds, as it has most local authorities.
After years of decline as its heavy industries headed for the knacker’s yard, Glasgow had the most wonderful renaissance and transformation from the late 1970s onwards, epitomised by the ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ campaign. Today, it is back in the doldrums, under an SNP tutelage best symbolised by an epidemic of rats, a profusion of litter everywhere, fly-tipping, street after street of boarded-up shops — and the return of Victorian diseases such as rickets.
A friend recently walked the length of Sauchiehall Street, once the city’s most vibrant thoroughfare. She counted almost 40 empty units plus derelict building sites and abandoned tenements.
Other major streets are in not much better shape. Outside peak shopping hours, much of the city centre is a desert — filthy, boarded up, intimidating — a depressing Scottish version of what’s happening to U.S. cities such as San Francisco, Portland and Seattle under their Left-wing regimes.
When my friend told me she’d written about this on social media I feared she’d be the victim of a pile-on. In fact, scores of Glaswegians queued up to agree with her.
It is the kind of urban wasteland in which drug-dealing flourishes — thereby ensuring that life expectancy will continue to fall. The Scottish government’s response has been bizarre.
First Minister Humza Yousaf pictured on August 5
Instead of marshalling all the power and resources of the state to deal with these multiple problems, it has opened what is euphemistically called an ‘enhanced drug treatment centre’.
In a miserable, long, grey building in Glasgow’s East End, drug addicts will be able to go with their illegal drugs and take them under medical supervision to make their ingestion safer. Addicts have been assured they will not be prosecuted for possession.
Let us just note what is happening here. Drugs supplied by organised crime will be taken in a so-called state-run ‘fix room’, making the government complicit in crime, at a cost of £2.3 million — in a country where hospital waiting lists are at record levels.
No wonder there is a palpable sense of decline in Scotland. Glasgow may be decaying everywhere — even its posh West End now looks down at heel — but now much richer Edinburgh is fraying at the edges. Economic growth is becoming a distant memory. As a share of GDP, business investment has been flat since 1998. New company formation is 50 per cent of the UK level.
Other than a second road bridge across the Firth of Forth, there has been no new infrastructure of note for decades.
North Sea oil is running out. Banking has never really recovered from the Great Crash of 2008. The population will start falling before the decade is over — and then age more quickly than England.
It’s a dismal record after 16 years of SNP rule and a grim legacy for anybody who has to takeover. It’s a depressing prospect for all Scots, at home and abroad.
We’re a patriotic bunch and wherever we are in the world, we want to see Scotland prosper.
Yet the more independence fades as an option, the more the SNP wants to talk about it.
It doesn’t seem to have anything else to offer.
Perhaps ‘Vote SNP and die three years early’ is not so much a sick joke as the best the SNP will be able to put before voters.
It’s already been criticised for presiding over the Sick Man of Europe. But never in our worst moments did anybody think the SNP would turn Scotland into the Dying Man of Europe. Yet, somehow, that is what it has managed to achieve.
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