IF new year is the time to make resolutions, can I humbly urge an end to the culture of 'whatabootery' in debates about Scotland's health services?

I already know it is far too much to hope for, but it would do a lot to focus the debate on the things that really matter.

To the uninitiated, whatabootery is the practice of downplaying poor performance by pointing out that someone else's results (usually NHS England's in this context) are much worse.

This is a technique readily deployed by die-hard independence supporters for whom any criticism of the Scottish Government is an attack on the SNP and, by extension, tantamount to all-out war on the case for independence.

But it is equally resorted to pro-Unionists who hold up anything England is doing better as proof that Scotland is far too stupid, corrupt or shambolic to get things right.

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen these arguments played out on social media or in the comments section of news websites. They get us nowhere.

Patients waiting too long for a CT scan or a colonoscopy to diagnose cancer are unlikely to draw much comfort from knowing that they might wait even longer if they were in Birmingham.

For the record, the most recent available statistics for both nations - covering July to September 2019 - show that on both sides of the border, 96% of cancer patients began treatment within 31 days of diagnosis.

The main disparity was in the 62-day target, which includes time spent waiting for diagnostic tests. In Scotland, 83% of patients started cancer treatment within 62 days of first being referred for tests (against a target of 95%), compared to 78% in England (where the target is 85%).

But does any of this really matter?

In assessing how Scotland's NHS is doing, the focus should be Scotland. We must face up to areas where performance, here, has deteriorated: in waiting times for cancer tests, A&E bottlenecks (record numbers are spending more than 12 hours in emergency departments) and the decline in the GP workforce.

It is not good enough just to say our A&E waiting times are "not as bad as England" or that we have more GPs per head.

Nor does it help sell the case for independence one way or the other, unless you assume an independent Scotland would be a one-party state with the SNP in charge forever.

Our benchmark should be about making Scotland better than it is - not just being better than England, or Wales, or Northern Ireland.