Jamie Glackin, running for selection to the regional list in Mid Scotland & Fife, and a former Chair of Scottish Labour, says house building should be Labour’s keystone in the May elections.
My local pub in Perth is a well-known watering hole for tradesmen. Of a Friday night, squads of them let off a bit of steam with a few (?) well-earned pints and talk about the issues of the day. I have learned that in order to understand what’s happening in the world, spending time in the company of joiners and brickies can be more enlightening than sitting in a policy seminar from a dusty politician.
My pals were never shy in breaking the cardinal sin of the bar-room – never talk about politics. The independence referendum dominated discussions, before and after. Almost every one of them became passionate Yes voters. They are all now passionate SNP supporters.
I don’t go to the pub as often as I used to.
But they all experienced the downturn in the construction industry and, if truth be told, not much has improved. Who could blame them for thinking that independence might be a magic bullet for their industry’s woes?
In the past, all of these people were Labour supporters. We had a proud tradition of investment in construction in Scotland, but that investment has withered on the vine of late. Scottish Labour needs now to be bold when we talk about construction, and in particular house building.
Because at the root of many of Scotland’s ills is poor housing. Life chances are fixed by the standard of the property that children are born into, way before they even get to school. If 6,000 kids are leaving primary school unable to read to the national standard for their age, you can safely bet that the majority of homes they live in are not up to standard. They might be overcrowded. They will almost certainly cost a fortune to heat.
Health outcomes too will be affected by the quality of people’s homes. Cold, damp houses lead to cold, damp people and that’s when sickness occurs. The strain on our NHS in winter can also be traced back to the quality of housing.
Crime is a fact of life in our most deprived communities. And at the root of it all is poor housing. When combined with low incomes, its easy to predict how all this turns out.
So we need to change it. Going into the May election, Scottish Labour needs to be talking about embarking on the most ambitious house building programme that this country has seen since the Second World War. There are over 150,000 households on waiting lists. Almost a million are in fuel poverty. A further 60,000 homes are overcrowded.
And at the same time, people can’t afford to get on the housing ladder, because prices are simply beyond their reach. Excessive rents mean that people can’t save a deposit so are stuck in private renting.
If we kick-start the construction industry the economic benefits are enormous. Those brickies and joiners and plumbers and electricians will have work for years, rather than living from week to week as many currently do. But there are so many more that such an ambitious policy would help – architects, engineers, planners. Local shops and burger vans. Even pubs!
If we are to have any impact in the election next year we have to be bold. And a good place to start is housing. Crucially, we will have the borrowing powers to do it. So lets get building.