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Landin In Scotland Finally, some common sense in the housing debate

EDINBURGH Council’s plan to force the owners of empty homes to sell up is the kind of common sense approach that’s missing from much of our housing debate.

Last November it was reported that Scotland has 80,000 empty homes — a seven-year high. Meanwhile, it is thought there could be as many as 200,000 Scots waiting for a council home.

A foothold in our sordid private-rented sector, therefore, is thought of by many young people as a blessing. But while it may give you a roof over your head, a room in a shared flat can arrive with unsolicited side orders of damp, broken facilities, unresponsive landlords, sky-high utility bills and exorbitant rents (especially in Edinburgh).

It’s no wonder that a new report this week, The “Frustrated” Housing Aspirations of Generation Rent, warns that renting is having a detrimental effect on young people’s mental health.

It calls for more affordable housing to be built — both for sale and rent. It says tenants should be educated about their rights, and landlords and letting agents required to undertake training on their legal obligations and duties.

The study, by Dr Kim McKee of the University of Stirling and Dr Adriana Mihaela Soaita of the University of Glasgow, also says the Right to Buy must be ended across Britain.

Thanks to the campaigning efforts of organisations like tenants’ union Living Rent, progress has been made in Scotland with the introduction of greater tenant security. 

But McKee argues that reforms “may not fully address tenants’ concerns about the affordability of private sector rents” north of the border.

She’s right. And while the compulsory purchase orders in Edinburgh are welcome, on their own such a piecemeal approach cannot begin to fix this crisis.

Unsurprisingly, yesterday’s Scottish Daily Mail presented McKee and Soaita’s report as an indictment of young people “never being able to buy a property.”

McKee herself sees things differently. “Put simply, for those in low-paid and insecure work, social-rented housing would provide a better safety net than the private-rented sector,” she said.

Amen. If you think housing insecurity and exploitation will end with your home being owned by a bank rather than a landlord, you’re in for a nasty shock.

Haggis and whisky for breakfast

WHEN I arrived to see Sergio de la Pava at the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s closing night on Monday, I only knew he was “a writer who does not live in Brooklyn.”

This was the sole biographical note on the back of his debut novel, A Naked Singularity, which I picked up some years back after a rave review from a friend. A gripping account of the New York justice system and its failings, I was bought and sold.

Now De la Pava’s back with Lost Empress, which returns to the theme of the justice system and adds a dose of the NFL for good measure.

De la Pava was appearing alongside fellow New York novelist Gary Shteyngart, whose book is another state of the nation piece, tackling hedge-funders and Greyhound buses in the age of Trump.

Shteyngart was equally keen to give his first impressions of Edinburgh, however. “I love haggis, and I wanted to have haggis and whisky for breakfast,” he said. “There was a place called Haggis and Whisky. But they said: ‘We can’t serve whisky until 12.30, it’s the law’.”

Shteyngart was aghast, thinking: “What part of Scotland don’t you understand?” The waitress, however, eased his pain by stressing she had no personal objection to morning drinking.

De la Pava was more sceptical. “I must confess I’m not down with haggis,” he said. “The whisky before 12.30, I can be talked into.”

Shteyngart, however, has a more tricky objection. His late friend and hero Philip Roth, he recalled, gave him “just one piece of advice,” which he has followed to the letter ever since: “Don’t eat butter.”

I thought I’d heard it all

BACK in January, another paper asked me to write a humorous profile of Richard Huntington, the chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi.

Former Scotland first minister Alex Salmond
Former Scotland first minister Alex Salmond

I thought I’d heard it all with the crowdfunding appeal launched by his lifestyle boutique-owner wife Annabel Bird to raise a £5,000 to pay a vet’s bill for their welsh terrier Edward Lear.

Alex Salmond’s high-profile appeal to outsource his legal costs, gleefully promoted by current SNP politicians, would seem even more farcical were it not an outright disgrace.

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant called the move “a signal to those who have made allegations that he has the upper hand” — and she’s not wrong.

The £50,000 target that Salmond quickly smashed is not for defence costs, but a bid to secure a judicial review against the Scottish government’s entire complaints procedure.

Having turned from the Civil Service to RBS, then Westminster, then Holyrood, then Westminster again, then Holyrood again, then Westminster again, and now a lucrative media career, Salmond cannot be short of either paycheques nor pensions. It’s no wonder his move has caused a rift in his party.

The women who made the allegations against Salmond did so in spite of the likelihood of facing a backlash from his most ardent supporters. Their accusations of sexual assault must be taken seriously. Due process must be followed — and not destroyed in a game of power play.

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