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Bill Magee
Scotland Closely Monitors Brexit Developments

Brexit seems a lifetime ago. The 2016 EU referendum vote to leave Europe (but not by Scotland voters) still has economists remaining in a 50-50 split as to the advantages or otherwise. This is to be expected, given the old chestnut - if you place two economists in a room you come out with three opinions.

Respected political scientist and TV's favourite analyst and pollster Sir John Curtice points to Redfield & Wilton polling, revealing public attitudes towards Brexit have changed as the UK economy finds itself in the grip of the worst inflationary spiral since the 1970s and facing the prospect of a record decline in living standards.

The poll was carried out for "UK in a Changing Europe" and points to a slight majority - 53%/47% - now in favour of re-joining the EU, a swing reflecting the outcomes of a number of recent polls reflecting a change of mood on Brexit.

I'm finding that central to this change in attitude is summed up by a Nuffield Trust report, highlighted by the British Medical Journal (BMJ). It reveals a lingering downside, that of a profound effect on the NHS with numbers of nurses from abroad continuing to fall dramatically since the result.

Initial effect was a 28 per cent reduction in nurse and health visitors on the UK register, who qualified in the European Economic Area (EEA), a net loss of 10,000. This has been compensated to a degree by an increase in recruitment from the rest of the world but the trust says this does raise questions about the ethics of recruiting from other countries themselves facing often critical shortages of health workers.

Importantly, any rise from overseas has been "nowhere near" enough to meet NHS needs. We're talking of severe shortages in specialist staff including dentists, anesthetists and cardiothoracic surgeons leading to a knock-on effect placing greater pressure on remaining staff in terms of morale and retention. Not to forget our furry friends as there's also a severe shortage of veterinarian surgeons.

Add to this growing shortages of drugs, to the point where it is illustrated by a rapid rise in waivers allowing pharmacists to pay more when they cannot find a medicine at the usual price. The trust's authors put this down to a decreased value of the pound plus the falling value of drugs imports since 2016.

It represents a marked contrast with increases in every other G7 country. This is telling. Such problems were shown to be obvious from the outset of Brexit but dismissed by supports as "Project Fear". Whatever one's personal feelings re the Brexit outcome, history will show one Boris Johnston has much to answer for.

There remains some scope for mitigation by a future government (a General Election will occur later this year) as Nuffield concludes there is no escaping the fact Brexit will continue to damage health and the NHS for the foreseeable future.

Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, has written of efforts to "relaunch and reset" the Tories after the COVID-aftermath "partygate" scandal and a disastrous mini-budget as coming to "naught". Why this matters? The governing UK political party now faces a rising threat from Brexit party Reform UK. There's some irony in this political state of affairs.

Given the, some would say unfortunate, traditional UK two-party political system it's a myth to believe voters are not interested in a future referendum to reverse matters and rejoin the EU, and where ever-escalating rows over immigration - most visible being boat people - could still bring Brexit down.

It's not that there's an overwhelming demand for a 2nd referendum, but basically polling does suggest a majority of those people who want to be inside the European Union are in favour of having a referendum within the next five years, suggests latest polls.

Personally, given the traditional English reserve mixed with some would point to, a unique blend of British Empire jingoism plus powerful everyday traits like being proud of where you come from, pulling together in a crisis and eating depending on the day, like Fishy Friday. I just cannot see such a radical turnaround happening so quickly...

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