Fay Young – Aye we can, but why?

“When Scotland is told you cannae dae that,  you know what our answer’s gonnae be.  We’re just, like, saying, ‘Aye we can.’”  There was an almost touching naivety about that smiling young face to camera on the news last night.  Or it would be touching if it wasn’t such a chillingly simplistic rejection of all the complexities, all the cavernous unknowns, implied in the momentous decision Scotland will be making on Thursday.

Voting yes just because you don’t like the UK government that’s short term politics with very long term consequences.

I think of that young smiling carefree face and I feel close to tears as I read Professor David Wyper’s heartfelt plea on behalf of medical research colleagues across Scotland. Please think before you vote, he urges. If you care about people suffering from Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, schizophrenia, cancer – any of those conditions which require rigorous and ongoing research – then please don’t vote yes just because you don’t like the UK government. “That’s short term politics with very long term consequences.”

The Professor, a semi retired research physician with 30 years experience of attracting research funding, makes a strong case for not jettisoning the security of UK Research Council funding provided through a  solid infrastructure and research partnerships such as the British Heart Foundation which have developed over decades.  He also makes an interesting point.  Research scientists are no strangers to venturing into the unknown – “That is what research is” –  they are experienced in weighing up the options ( not least, I am guessing, because it saves valuable time and money in the long run). They have looked carefully at the options of independence and they are virtually unanimously voting to keep the UK intact.

The Professor’s plea is all the more moving to me because this skilled and experienced man uses the word ‘please’ four times in his short address, a letter to all of us who value the NHS and the healthcare it provides. People like you and me.  I think back to those smiling young Aye we Can faces, and the comments I see every day on Facebook and Twitter. I know many people are still struggling painfully with the decision, others have come to it after weighing up whatever evidence they can lay their hands on.  But many are  raring to go on a great adventure into the unknown.

“I’ve got my boat ready to cast off on the stormy sea” was the triumphant tweet I received after a long conversation – if that’s the word for soundbite exchange – about the risks involved in independence.

“I’m kind of curious to see what will happen,” says another young friend. “I enjoy a bit of mischief.”

Which is fine if you’re looking forward to an extreme holiday, or a challenging new job: a personal risk which affects only you. Many vulnerable people may not weather the stormy sea ahead. The promise of Yes – said loud and long it sounds more threat than promise – is analysed (psychologically, socially and culturally) by several writers on this blog. (I note that Ewan Morrison’s extraordinarily powerful deconstruction of the Yes movement, How One Word Silenced a Nation, is currently spreading like wild fire through social media).

You will find Professor Wyper’s letter here too. And for whatever reason this is one that has touched me most yesterday. Not just because friends and family have suffered from all of these conditions. Not just because a healthy NHS is evidence of a properly funded welfare system. Not just because I’m wondering how Alex Salmond will deal with today’s leaked story Scotland’s NHS faces a £400m funding gap and cuts will begin after the referendum.  The essential issue is knowledge. World class healthcare depends on rigorous research provided by safe and secure funding .

I am sitting here  trying to imagine how I might pass on the Professor’s message to all these smiley young adventurers waving their blue and white flags, campaigners calling for independence, careless  of  the costs.  What should I say?  If we leave the UK  we cannot be sure  we can continue to fund the research to produce the knowledge we need to treat and cure the people we love.  What will their answer be?

Fay Young is a writer and blogger with special interest in social and environmental affairs

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3 comments

  1. Reading this after the vote (in which I voted No) and it resonates with me. During and after my difficult pregnancy, I saw three world-leading medical teams in London (I was living there at the time but I would have been able to access them had I been living in Scotland). Not just UK-leading teams but world-leading teams. Their expertise was founded on their ability to see large numbers of patients with those conditions drawn from a population of over 60m people. Access to these phenomenal (in some cases, life-saving) experts was free, swift and easy. The Yes campaign’s retort when this sort of charge was levelled at them was always: don’t worry – we’ll set up reciprocal arrangements for access to medical experts on either side of the border. But that – like so much contained in the SG’s White Paper – was not guaranteed. Why would we choose to put all that at risk?

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    1. Thank you NM. You make a very important point about the wealth of world-leading expertise which benefits Scotland as a member of a family of nations within the UK. On a recent visit to Newcastle I was reminded that the Freeman hospital is one of the UK’s leading heart centres and treats patients from all over Scotland. Perhaps we take this kind of arrangement for granted because the system works so smoothly but it comes from belonging to a tightly interwoven network. Many of the White Paper promises seemed to assume Scotland could become a separate country yet keep all of the benefits of being part of the UK.

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