In this guest post, Beth Thomas discusses what the Scottish Referendum means to her as a medical student and as a citizen of Scotland. Beth is currently a final year medical student at the University of Glasgow who has been working with Medsin UK for the past 5 years. She is currently the Scottish and Northern Irish Coordinator of Medsin UK and as such has been working on numerous campaigns including promoting health equity in Glasgow.
The referendum to decide whether the people of Scotland want independence from England is only days away, and everywhere you turn as a voter in Scotland you are faced by a barrage of information regarding the pros and cons of a yes or a no vote. And yet, whichever way we vote on the 18th of September, a fundamental truth remains; that this will be a pivotal moment in Scottish history. A moment when the government of Scotland, be it as an independent country or as a more devolved part of the United Kingdom, will have an opportunity to set an agenda to revolutionise the issues faced by Scots today. As a member of Medsin UK, as a medical student, and as a citizen of Scotland, I want that agenda to prioritise health equity.
The city of Glasgow is famous for many things; deep fried mars bars and football spring to mind for starters. But one thing that comes up time and time again when I introduce my place of study at international meetings: ‘isn’t that the place with the lowest life expectancy in the developed world?’.
We have the NHS, we have a strong welfare system and we are the largest city in Scotland, and yet some men born in Glasgow today can only expect to live to the age of 54. We have known about ‘the Glasgow effect’ for many years now, a study from 2003-2007 found that premature deaths in Glasgow were 30% higher than Liverpool and Manchester even though both of those English cities are home to populations who have comparable experiences of post industrialised Britain.
Since the publication of the Marmot report (‘fair society, healthy lives) in 2008 and ‘it’s not just deprivation’ in 2010, the Scottish government has begun to address the fundamental inequities in the social determinants of health which underpin the massive gap in life expectancy within the city. But these are not issues that can be addressed overnight, as Carol Tennahill, the director of the Glasgow centre for population health says, the long term nature of the changes ‘do not fit into a political agenda much shorter than that’.
The change in the political system of Scotland that is inevitable after this Scottish referendum gives an opportunity to cement the commitment to reducing health inequities in Scotland into longer term political vision. While the current governing Scottish National Party has been working to address these social issues, that is not a guarantee that future Scottish governments will do so.
It is here, that we as young people need to stand up and be counted. We need to make sure that politicians are aware that we do not want to belong to the city with the lowest life expectancy in the developed world, but the city that revolutionised the health of its people by addressing inequities in the social determinants of health. We are approaching one of the most important days in Scottish history; let’s not miss this opportunity to have our say.
This piece was originally posted on the Medsin blog