US Vice-president Joe Biden once said “don’t tell me what you value – show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value”. Tomorrow, we have the chance to see what the SNP government truly values when the Cabinet Secretary for Finance will set out the SNP government’s spending plans for the coming year.
Much of the political debate in Scotland over the last few years has focussed on powers. The powers we have, the powers we want and the powers that the SNP tell us that we need. What has been lacking is discussion of how these powers are used to help people in their daily lives.
Nowhere has this lack of focus on the part of the SNP government been more obvious than in mental health.
We have seen reports of young people being forced to wait more than a year for crucial treatment. With no dedicated mental health beds for young people north of Dundee, patients from Highlands and the North East have been forced to travel hundreds of miles to see doctors.
In Tayside, just 30% of children and young people requiring treatment were seen by doctors within the 18 week waiting time target. Earlier this year, we raised concerns over how badly some health boards were doing on mental health waiting times and were told that the SNP had a detailed action plan to help improve performance. Since then, performance has actually got worse.
Charities and campaigners have called for big increases in the amount we spend on mental health in Scotland. They are right to do so. All too often, mental health has been a Cinderella service, never receiving the support it deserves.
Last month, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an additional £600 million for mental health services in other parts of the UK. Scotland will receive around £60 million as a result of this spending.
I have called for all of this money to be spent on improving services in Scotland too. This funding is no silver bullet, but it will make a big difference to the young person or vulnerable adult stranded on a waiting list.
The Cabinet Secretary for Finance has the chance to take a big step forwards and send a message that the SNP government recognises mental health as a crucial issue. It is a chance he cannot afford to miss.