Wednesday will be a historic day in the Scottish Parliament as we vote to create a social security system for Scotland.
A moment that might never have happened had it not been for this paper’s Vow just days before the independence referendum. A move credited with giving the Parliament many of its new powers.
It’s an opportunity for Scotland to build a welfare system with fairness at its heart, making different choices from the Tories.
Just a matter of weeks after my friend Gordon Aikman’s death, the Health Secretary Shona Robison promised a fast-tracked benefits system to end the injustice of terminally ill people waiting months for benefits. A chance to do things differently from the Tories.
Until now, you could only have your benefits fast tracked if a doctor signed a form which said that not only were you terminally ill, but you had less than six months to live. Many desperately ill people missed out on a vital safety net of support because bluntly, they just weren’t dying fast enough. Opposition parties joined forces together during the passage of this new Bill to change that rule from six months to two years, knowing it would help many thousands more people.
All looked well until last Thursday when Social Security Minister Jeanne Freeman tried to undo this progress with her own amendment – the purpose of which was to knock the system back to six months. She cited worried doctors and her spin doctors briefed that it was just too expensive.
Within 24 hours, heroics from MND Scotland and Marie Curie staff launched a campaign with 3000 emails sent to MSPs overnight. A letter in the Times the next day from 50 eminent doctors warned the Government they were making a mistake.
I was able to use that at First Minister’s Questions, forcing Nicola Sturgeon to say the Government’s position on the amendment remained open. By Friday lunchtime, the Government had changed their mind once again.
Some people have campaigned for this change for years, watching their loved ones die in the process, but when it came to the crunch it all boiled down to 24 hours of manoeuvres in the Scottish Parliament.
There are 140 amendments to go through on Wednesday before MSPs vote on the bill for a final time. Not every one is as life and death as Amendment 111, but a number of them are hugely significant and this story goes to show how important dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s is. It shows how diligent our MSPs and their staff leading on the Bill have to be. It shows both the best and the worst of our politics.
By the end of this week, Scotland will have the beginnings of a social security system we can be proud of, but only if we’re brave enough to do what’s right.
There’s nothing truer than the adage that you get what you pay for. If we want a social security system that doesn’t let people fall between the cracks, we’re going to have to pay a bit more for it and I for one would be proud to do so.
This article was first published on the 24th of April 2018 in the Daily Record Newspaper.