And a happy new year to you, too. Now that We are all agreed that the new millennium has commenced, let's start on a suitably apocalyptic note. Let's look at Scotland's newly published version of the NHS plan, a 96-page glossy entitled The NHS Plan for Scotland.

do not conclude from the evident similarity that the Scottish first minister, Henry McLeish, or his health minister, Susan Deacon, have merely aped the Milburn formula south of the border. Even though they're in close touch, It is not that simple.

And There is the apocalyptic rub.

It begs a fundamental question left unresolved by the 1998 devolution acts: the relationship between services provided in Scotland (Wales does not present such an acute dilemma - not yet) and the taxes needed to pay for them. More precisely, whose taxes?

As you may already know, the McPlan will finally abolish the Tory internal market by blending trusts into single health authorities ('NHS Glasgow', for instance), cutting the Scottish boards from 43 to 15 and doing away with 100 appointments. Staff will have more representation and - another key difference - local health councils will not be abolished as their English equivalents will be.

Yes, there was a whole chapter devoted to patient involvement (unlike the Milburn plan), with£14m devoted to improved patient information - not just leaflets, but videos available to explain hernia procedures and (maybe) touch-screens in public places to let voters access medical data alongside the NHS 24 system that is being introduced later than NHS Direct has been in the south.

Scots seem to demand more rights and information - whinge more, if you prefer.

Thus the proposal to pilot NHS 'smart cards' - the plastic chips with everyone's medical data encrypted on them - ought to be welcomed, as it was by the politicians in Edinburgh.

But civil libertarians at the Scottish Human Rights Centre took fright that it might be the 'thin end of the wedge' to Big Brother intrusion. Well, That is a pretty fat wedge already, as the CCTV cameras remind us every time a child is murdered in a shopping area. A mixed blessing, then? Yes, though I did spot the inevitable, 'If It is controversial, test it on the Scots' whinge in The Scotsman (what about NHS Direct, I wonder? ), which reminded its readers that Margaret Thatcher tested out the poll tax on the Jocks.

And a fat lot of good it did her. But talking of old ladies gets me closer to my earlier point. The plan was generally welcomed, by the BMA in Scotland, as well as by Unison, which talked about re-nationalising the Scottish NHS, a very un-Milburn turn of phrase, I fear. The old will get better screening of their needs, health and social, to help keep up to 15,000 oldsters independent.

Fine, but Henry McLeish, who succeeded the saintly but wily Donald Dewar, is in hot water for announcing that he wants to implement the Sutherland report in full: that is to say, to pay for personal care as well as healthcare for elderly people in care homes - a£110m gesture that goes further than England. He was mocked for delay in the Scottish Parliament before Christmas amid claims that Ms Deacon does not regard it as a priority.

Mr McLeish is a Westminster veteran. Ms Deacon, aged 36, is a novice from the business consultancy world who is, a Scots chum briskly tells me, 'not quite as smart as she thinks she is'. By all accounts she realised early on that she would need more handholding than she'd assumed, and now talks a lot to Minister Milburn, who makes sure we are all heading the same way.

But are we? I suspect the real delay lies with the brooding lad o'parts at the Treasury, McLeish's fellow Fife-boy Gordon Brown.

He will not want to see McLeish spend£110m which might force him to spend squillions to do the same down south. Ditto the planned abolition of student tuition fees in Scotland.

Scotland has long had a better-funded NHS.

Hence Ms Deacon's plan to cut maximum waiting times from 12 months (18 in England) to nine by 2004. Encouraged by the likes of William Hague and Mayor Livingstone (who 'wants London's taxes back'), English voters are starting to notice they are subsidising a better deal. In 2001 the cry may go up: if Scotland wants it, let Scots pay.