Scottish Parliament election: what the RCM wants to see and what the parties are promising

By Stuart Bonar, Public Affairs Advisor on 30 April 2021 Politics Government Scotland

On 6 May, voters in Scotland will choose who gets to sit in the Scottish Parliament for the next five years. That outcome will also determine who forms the next Scottish Government, which since 1999 has been responsible for the NHS in Scotland.

As part of the election campaign, with parties and politicians setting out their stalls, the RCM has published its own blueprint for better maternity care in the country. We are circulating this right now – during the campaign – but we also want to use it after polling day in meetings and conversations with new and re-elected Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs).

We identify five priority areas for the next Scottish Government: (1) tackling social deprivation; (2) delivering the best maternity care for all the people of Scotland; (3) supporting NHS staff to recover from the pandemic; (4) ensuring Scotland has birthplaces that are fit for the future; and (5) ending Scotland’s midwife shortage for good.

The blueprint calls for the Scottish Government that is formed after the election to make it a priority to tackle social deprivation and inequalities in Scotland through investment in maternity services and staff. The pandemic has starkly exposed deep, stubborn inequalities that hit vulnerable women and those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities hard. Maternity care has a role to play here, and we must all – politicians and healthcare staff alike – do what we need to do to drive down those inequalities.

In the blueprint, we say bluntly that the pandemic has been brutal on NHS staff like midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs). They have continued to work throughout, ensuring safe and high-quality care for women. Many NHS staff have seen their mental and physical health hit hard. They must all be given the time and support they need to recover from what has been, quite frankly, the most monumental challenge the NHS has ever faced.

When student midwives qualify, they generally stay within the regions in which they trained. That can mean that units located away from training hubs struggle to recruit. Therefore we are calling  not only for more training places overall but for training to be offered by more of Scotland's universities.

So, what are the parties themselves saying and promising? We are providing links to the main parties’ manifestos (see links below), so please do take a good look to see in detail what they have to say. But we will also provide a quick summary of some of the main points.

In their manifesto, the SNP is highlighting the 4 per cent pay rise they are offering NHS staff in Scotland, on which the RCM is currently consulting Scottish members. They are also committing to more NHS staff and money to renovate NHS buildings, which we mention in our blueprint.

The Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto commits to a new law that would guarantee rising NHS funding each year. They say a Conservative Scottish Government would expect to be spending £2bn more on the NHS before the next Scottish Parliament election comes around in 2026. They also say they want a multiyear pay deal with NHS staff like midwives. Their manifesto also outlines extra support services for staff in the future, including better mental health support.

Scottish Labour highlight the need to help NHS staff recover from the impact of the pandemic, which the RCM identified as a priority in our blueprint. The party also wants to improve mental healthcare, and has generated ideas to tackle postnatal depression.

Commitments from the Scottish Greens include a substantial pay rise for healthcare staff as well as better mental health support and counselling for NHS workers. The Scottish Liberal Democrats also support a good pay deal for NHS staff, and a workforce report presented to MSPs every year and a debate on it. The party’s manifesto also has a section with multiple commitments on improving perinatal mental health.

Voting in the Scottish Parliament election is slightly different from electing an MP to sit at Westminster. Helpfully, the BBC has a short film that explains how it works. The most important thing to know is voters get two votes: one for an MSP to represent just their local constituency; and another vote to elect a group of MSPs who represent their region of Scotland, e.g. Highlands and Islands.

The Electoral Commission has a simple online tool that can tell voters the names and party label of everyone who is standing in their area. And Who Can I Vote For? provides voters with more information about their local candidates; again, all that is needed is a postcode.

Over one million people, almost a quarter of the entire electorate, have registered to vote by post this time. This election is also the first in which all foreign nationals resident in Scotland will be able to vote, with many also entitled to stand for election.

Rest assured, as soon as all the votes are counted and MSPs elected, the RCM will get to work to speak with them about the issues and concerns of most importance to Scotland’s midwives and MSWs, and the needs of maternity services across the country.