The Scottish Conservatives have abandoned their long-held opposition to free prescriptions, and now accept that free prescriptions are popular and practical. A Conservative spokesman explained: “There is no doubt people in Scotland value the idea of free prescriptions. We have listened to them and changed our policy.”
The case for free prescriptions is straightforward. As things stood before the policy, and as I believe they still stand in England, five out of six prescriptions were exempt anyway – for pensioners, for children, for people on low income, for prescriptions issued by hospitals and for a wide range of specified medical conditions. There is already a means-test to make sure that richer people pay; it is called ‘taxation’. Introducing a further means test for people on lower incomes simply adds to the administrative burden. So people were being subjected to an awkward, complex and sometimes intrusive process which raised relatively little money.
The Conservative announcement has been met with howls of derision by the opposing parties. The change in policy has described the change of heart as ‘opportunistic’, ‘untrustworthy’, ‘shambolic’, ’embarrassing’ and ‘humiliating’. I suppose that that reaction might make sense to politicos of a tribal disposition, but credit where credit is due: the new policy should be welcomed. This is a triumph of reasoned argument over political prejudgment, and if it is a reflection of the fact we’re now in an election campaign, it’s also a triumph of democracy over ideology. There is joy in heaven for the sinner who repents.