The transcript of the interview is below.
Cathy Newman (CN): “Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has warned that her SNP colleagues at Westminster could vote on English NHS matters if there’s a hung parliament after the election. Usually Scottish nationalist MPs don’t vote on specifically English or Welsh issues in the House of Commons, but Nicola Sturgeon says that if decisions affecting the public funding of the health service in England arise, they would have a direct knock-on effect for Scotland’s budget, and her party would vote in their country’s self-interest.
The row fuels the debate over restricting Westminster votes on English laws to English MPs, and it highlights the SNP’s potential sway in supporting a minority government. One poll today gives the party double Labour’s support in Scotland which if borne out in May could dramatically increase the number of MPs on SNP benches.
Well we’re joined now from the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh by Nicola Sturgeon herself.
First Minister, why should SNP MPs vote on laws affecting only English citizens?”
Nicola Sturgeon (NS): “First, let me make clear that where a matter doesn’t have any impact on Scotland and where it affects only people in England, I don’t think Scottish MPs should vote. I think the argument then for English votes for English laws is a very strong one.
But of course on the NHS, that’s not the case: votes in the House of Commons that affect England’s health service and affect the funding for England’s health service have a knock-on effect to Scotland’s budget through the Barnett formula, so I’m signalling today that if there are votes in the House of Commons after the general election that would propose halting the privatisation of the health service we’re seeing in England, that would propose restoring the health service as a fully public service, then SNP MPs would vote for that because that would help us protect our own budget in the future. It would also be part of our progressive alliance with others in England who also want to see a halt to NHS privatisation.”
CN: “Ok, I’ll come back to that. But David Cameron has promised to protect NHS spending up to 2020, and in fact in this parliament he has done rather better at protecting spending on the English NHS than you have, because spending on the Scottish NHS has been cut whereas it’s gone up in England.”
NS: “First of all that’s not true. Since the Conservatives came to power in Westminster the revenue budget of the health service in Scotland has increased by 4.6%. We’ve passed on all consequentials and we’ve increased the revenue budget of the health service in real terms. I’ve given a very clear commitment that if the SNP is re-elected to government in 2016 we will do exactly the same for every year of the next parliament as well.
But the first part of your point there, if I can address that: I don’t know that there’s many people – I certainly don’t know anybody in Scotland, I can’t speak of course for every part of England – who believe that the Conservatives are increasingly privatising the health service so that they can increase public funding of the health service over the long term. I think most people would take the view that that increasing privatisation is over the long term about reducing the public contribution to our national health service. If that happens in England…”
CN: “That’s a big hypothetical though isn’t it? It’s potentially a completely unrelated issue.”
NS: “Why else would the Conservatives be going down the privatisation route that they are? Now there are many other objections of course to private sector involvement in the health service but I think most people and certainly most people I know who work in the health service share my view of the motivations for that.
Now what I am saying is that that is what gives SNP MPs the interest and the reason to vote for any move that would take the health service in England away from that in order to protect Scotland’s budget, and as I said earlier it would also I suspect put us on the same side as many other progressive forces in England who also like me don’t think that the privatisation of the National Health Service is a good thing to be doing.”
CN: “And it puts you on side with Labour as well, doesn’t it?”
NS: “On this issue? Of course. My central message in a Scottish context is that SNP MPs – unlike Scottish Labour MPs over many years – always stand up for Scotland’s interest and make our voice heard, and ensure that we are a progressive force. SNP MPs yesterday in the House of Commons with our colleagues in Plaid Cymru and the Greens forced a vote on the renewal of Trident. Unfortunately many Labour MPs either voted with the Conservative government for the renewal of Trident or didn’t vote at all. So that’s another issue where SNP MPs would be progressive voices in the House of Commons, and I suspect the Westminster establishment is crying out for more progressive voices.”
CN: “Well let me be clear where you do stand on other parliamentary votes after the election. Can people voting SNP on May 7th trust that you won’t help a Conservative government by voting with the Tories on any key issues at all after the election?”
NS: “I’ve made it absolutely crystal clear that SNP MPS, the SNP, would not formally or informally prop up a Conservative government. There’s a very simple democratic reason for that. People in Scotland tend not to vote for Conservative governments at Westminster. The current Tory government has one MP in Scotland.
Now we don’t know how people will vote in May of course but I’m fairly confident in predicting that Scotland won’t suddenly decide to vote Tory. So Scotland doesn’t vote for Conservative governments. It therefore would be completely and plainly wrong for the SNP to in any way prop up a Conservative government. But what we can do is make sure that whoever is in government in Westminster, Scotland’s voice is heard and our interests are protected – and those extensive new powers of course that we were promised for our parliament during the referendum campaign are actually delivered.”
CN: “On another issue of crucial interest to Scotland just before you go, is the drop in the oil price the best economic news for the whole of the UK?”
NS: “Obviously the drop in the oil price has significant downside for the oil industry and for the North-East of Scotland economy. I’m meeting the Prime Minister tomorrow [22/01/15] and one of the things I will be pressing him to do is to very quickly not to wait for the budget but to immediately introduce tax cuts for the North Sea to help them through this particular down-turn. Of course for the wider economy a lower oil price does have potential benefits for consumers but that benefit is…”
CN: “But it’s a bit of a blow for your economic projections isn’t it, because you based your entire economic projections for independence on an oil price of $110 a barrel and it’s currently $50 a barrel?”
NS: “That projection of course was lower than the projection made by the Department of Energy and Climate Change in the UK government, but put that to one side for a second. You don’t hear any other oil producing country in the world respond to lower oil prices by suddenly saying ‘We can’t afford to manage our own resources any more’. If you look at Norway, it’s got its massive oil fund of course to drawn down on. The fact of the matter is, successive Westminster governments have mismanaged our oil resources and I think one of the questions for the future for Scotland is as oil prices rise again, as they inevitably will, are we going to allow that to happen in the future as well?
But the point I was making which I didn’t quite finish is that benefit to consumers of lower oil prices is only felt if we have companies pass that on and I hope that’s what we see in the weeks and months ahead.”
CN: “First Minster, thank you very much for joining me.”
NS: “Thank you.”