THE National Health Service really matters to people in this country: its excellent service; its first-class staff; and the ethos that all will receive the best medical care at the point of need regardless of income. That explains why it is a hugely politically charged subject.

In 2016, the central lie of the Brexit campaign was that £350 million extra would be freed up to spend on the NHS every week if the UK left the EU.

Not only was that a big fat lie, but this week we learned the true dangers to the NHS from United States president Donald Trump and how he sees future US-UK trade negotiations after Brexit. During his state visit to the UK, he said: “When you’re dealing with trade, everything is on the table, so the NHS or anything else, or a lot more than that. But everything will be on the table, absolutely.”

His comments followed those of the US Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, who said he believed every area of the UK economy would be up for discussion when the two sides brokered a trade deal.

When asked if that also meant the NHS, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I think the entire economy, in a trade deal, all things that are traded would be on the table.” Asked specifically if that meant healthcare, he said: “I would think so.”

It didn’t take long after these bombshell statements were made before a contradictory position was issued by President Trump, seeking to assure the wary public here that the NHS wouldn’t be up for grabs in trade negotiations.

That didn’t convince many, including former UK Government trade negotiator David Henig, who is now UK director of the European Centre For International Political Economy. He warned that President Trump was “right the first time” and “everything is potentially up for grabs in a trade agreement”.

Henig said it would be up to government in the UK to decide which NHS services could be provided by private suppliers and which would be served by the public sector. Given that health is devolved, no doubt the Scottish Government will battle to protect the integrity of NHS Scotland. However, trade policy is a reserved to the UK Government and there is precious little reason to believe the Westminster government will take Scottish views seriously, especially given their woeful track record ignoring Scotland on Brexit.

A particular area of concern relates to the cost of drugs which, given the size of the NHS, helps keep the price of pharmaceuticals more competitive here than in the US privatised system. The best way to avoid any risks is, of course, for Scotland and the UK to remain within the European Union. If, however, we are dragged out against our will, we must fight tooth and nail to protect the NHS. The most effective protection in those circumstances would be for Scotland to be independent within the European Union.

Unsurprisingly, the future of the NHS is a top-three issue for people in the context of an independence referendum. When Survation carried out a large scale poll with 2000 respondents for Progress Scotland, we asked: “If another independence referendum was being held now, what would be the three most important issues to you when deciding how to vote?”

The issues of the NHS, Brexit/EU membership and the future of the economy were all within one point of each other, and significantly ahead of other issues.

All three are linked. We need independence to have full powers over our NHS, as a country within the European Union with a strong economy to support our public services.

Scottish footballing success

IT’S been a long wait for all Scotland football fans. But finally we can cheer the national side at a World Cup. Boosted by the recent 3-2 friendly success against Jamaica and a record 18,000 crowd at Hampden, the Scottish women’s team kick off with their first match in France against England tomorrow, before taking on Japan and Argentina.

Scotland are currently ranked 20th in the world, England third, Japan seventh and Argentina 37th. Win, lose or draw, the national side are all winners in having made the World Cup.

It has been great to see the support for manager Shelley Kerr and her players from new Scotland men’s head coach Steve Clarke, from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and from a growing fanbase for the women’s game. Now it’s up to all of us to get behind our national side at the World Cup.

The game kicks off tomorrow at 5pm BST and is live on BBC One Scotland TV and BBC Radio Scotland. Best wishes to the whole Scotland squad, the coaching staff and all the supporters who have made the journey to France for the tournament.