Saturday, 12 March 2011

Edinburgh Divided

Registers of Scotland published a report this week showing 15 of Scotland's 20 most expensive streets are in Edinburgh. Houses in Belmont Drive, Murrayfield, the country's most expensive street start at £2.3million. There are seven of them.
These figures remind me of a speech I made in the midst of the 1990's housing boom to the Edinburgh Tenants Federation AGM. 'Million pound houses are ten a penny now in Edinburgh' I quipped. It appears the the luxury housing market has barely been effected at all by the 2009 financial crash as prices continue to soar. Far too much money is still chasing too few houses. And since its 25 years since Edinburgh built council housing in any meaningful numbers the chronic shortage is unlikely to disappear any time soon.
Working class people have long been forced to leave the city in search of more affordable locations in West Lothian and Fife.
Last year The Guardian, looking at the impact of the 2009 financial crash,concluded that Edinburgh remained the second richest city in Britain. With almost £3trillion worth of equity managed here on a daily basis this city of 460,000 sits behind only London with 7 million people in the UK wealth league table.
But Edinburgh, as anyone who lives here will attest, is a city of shocking contrasts. Geographically compact, enclosed by the Firth of Forth to its North and East and the Pentlands Hills to its south, Edinburgh's affluent never live far from its impoverished. Life expectancy i Belmont Drive for example is 10 years higher than Craigmillar [East], West Pilton [North], the Calders [West] or Burdiehouse [South].
Last week more than 300 families on the Council's waiting list applied for a modest three bedroom house in Saughton under the tenant transfer scheme. The 299 unsuccessful families must therefore continue to endure unsuitable and overcrowded conditions a while longer. Belmont Drive although only a stones throw from Saughton might as well be on the moon for them.
An it is not only housing inequalities which feature starkly in Edinburgh's deep social divide.
Nearly 25% of children here go to private school, paying up to £25,000 for the privileges. Tony Blair, Alistair Darling and Iain Gray all went to them. Edinburgh City Council meanwhile whether Labour, Liberal or SNP controlled, has closed dozens of state schools in he past 10 years and forced class sizes in the remainder to levels twice that of the private sector.
So claims that 'We are all in this together' made by those other private schoolboys Cameron, Clegg and Osborne ring hollow in these parts. We have heard such noises many times before.
Neither the Con-Dems, Labour nor SNP [with the backing of industrialist Sir David Murray, himself a resident of one of Edinburgh's richest streets] has the slightest intention of challenging inequalities, indeed they are part of the problem not its solution. So the question remains how do we turn round this obscene wealth divide?
The Scottish Socialist Party knows how. We can start by insisting the better off pay their share of tax for a change. Look at how the Council tax exacerbates the grotesque wealth inequalities in Edinburgh, and beyond. The residents of Belmont Drive in their £2.3million houses pay a Band G Council tax of £2,338. Those city residents living in the average Band F property pay £1,688. That's right 70% as much as their richest neighbours who are likely to be people like Mr Stephen Hestor the CEO of RBS. The country's biggest publicly owned bank this week awarded him a salary of £6.6milion for the coming year- for running our bank!
The SNP's much vaunted Council tax freeze- now backed by New Labour-means people like Stephen Hestor benefit most. The Scottish Socialist Party's plan to replace the Council Tax with a Scotland wide income tax means the owners of Belmont Drive face a much more realistic bill- 20% 0f their income over £100,000 a year. Meanwhile those struggling to get by on low wages -850,000 Scots- we be exempt from obligations until their incomes rise. That's the enlightened attitude Edinburgh was once famous for across the world before the city became synonymous with obscene social divisions and indefensible inequalities.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Colin.

    I don't know Edinburgh myself but I can easily believe the inequality you've described. And similar (though not as extreme) inequalities certainly exist both in my current location of Glasgow and my hometown Stirling.

    The SNP did attempt to replace council tax with a local income tax. Were there serious problems with the LIT the SNP proposed? (Still too regressive perhaps?) If in parliament would you have/will you support such a bill.

    I'd also like to hear your opinions on the Green Party's land value tax proposals.