SNP in Scotland: no place for the poor

A homeless man in Glasgow

In July the homelessness charity Shelter took to the streets to picket the Scottish National Party (SNP)-controlled Glasgow city council, accusing it of breaking homelessness laws over 3,000 times last year by turning away homeless applicants who are legally entitled to temporary accommodation and support. At the same time Glasgow’s SNP council has been working in partnership with Police Scotland, businesses, property groups and social enterprises, to socially cleanse the city centre and its surrounding areas of beggars and homeless hostels. The council has threatened to use Criminal Anti-Social Behaviour Orders to ban any beggar caught drinking alcohol or taking drugs from Glasgow city centre. Clyde Place, which provides emergency homeless accommodation for up to 54 people a night, is being closed in order to make way for the new multimillion pound site called ‘Buchanan Wharf’, which will house Barclays Bank headquarters and other services. This process of pushing out the poor while welcoming in the rich, placing private interests before public interests, must be opposed as part of a wider fight for decent housing for all in Scotland.

The homelessness on our streets is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the overall crisis of housing in Scotland. For the first time in nine years the number of homelessness applications has risen with 35,000 applications made in 2017-18. At least 2,000 families are in temporary accommodation in Glasgow and across Scotland almost 150,000 households are currently on housing waiting lists.

Nothing has been done to adequately address and redress the wounds left by decades of housing privatisation. There are currently over 34,000 long term privately-owned empty homes in Scotland and the largest kind of housing tenure remains owner occupation, with 61% of households in Scotland owner-occupied; 23% of households live in social rented homes owned by housing associations or local authorities and 15% of households now live in private rented homes, a figure which has doubled in the last ten years.

The Scottish SNP government pledge to build 50,000 new affordable homes by 2021, half of which are to be for social housing, will not meet the need of the working class for truly affordable, safe and secure housing. For example 93% of tenancy terminations (evictions and abandonments) in local authority social housing across Scotland between 2016-17 was due to rent arrears. Neither will the community land ownership schemes which made up only 2.9% of Scotland’s total land area in June 2017, with 93.7% of this concentrated in just two local authorities in the Highlands and Outer Hebrides. Even if the Scottish SNP government target, for one million acres of community-owned land by the end of 2020, is met this will still only represent a small fraction of the land, which will not impact on the overwhelming majority of Scotland’s population, around 80% of whom live in urban areas. The reality is that land which could be used for providing decent housing for the working class remains in the hands of the few (see FRFI 253 ‘Scotland: Who owns the land?’). Almost 90% of land in Scotland is privately owned and 432 families currently own half of it. Records show that Scotland’s private landownership system has remained virtually unchanged since 1872 with trends in private landownership becoming even more concentrated. The largest landowners include Richard Scott, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury, who owns 240,000 acres of land, and the Danish billionaire retail magnate Anders Holch Povlsen with 218,000 acres.

Those who do challenge the private landowners will face their wrath. Green MSP and land campaigner Andy Wightman is being pursued through the courts for publishing two blog posts in 2015 and 2016 about the activities of a company which sells plots of land in Scotland. Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC has brought a £750,000 defamation claim against Wightman which is set to go to trial on 15 October. If found guilty Wightman faces bankruptcy which would entail the loss of his parliamentary seat in Holyrood, according to Parliamentary rules. This is the true nature of bourgeois democracy, where the right to speak and protest are always conditional.

Above the rows of rough sleepers and beggars in Glasgow city centre stand new fancy hotels and student flats. Elsewhere offices, apartments and restaurants are developed to cater for the needs of big business. This ‘vision of the Glasgow of the future’ is one of the rich and for the rich. There will be no space or place for those left with nothing. John Shields, a wheelchair user who has been homeless for eleven years and begging for five years, told Glasgow RCG supporters; ‘I once saw a woman, who had been battered by her boyfriend, turned away from a hostel. They only gave her a sleeping bag…I thought they [the SNP] would have done something about housing but now they’re talking about fining beggars…they want all the beggars off the streets...SNP, Labour, Tory, they’re all the same’. 

Every day the need for resistance becomes more visible on our streets and in our communities. The fight for housing is a fight for land and the fight for land is a fight for socialism. This will require organisation and direct confrontation with capitalist parties such as the SNP and Labour who serve and defend ruling class interests at the expense of the working class.

Dominic Mulgrew

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 265 August/September 2018


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