I’m impressed. Very impressed. Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that in Scotland the right to buy council houses has “had its day”.
She said: “We’re building record numbers of houses, but our ambition to substantially increase the supply of homes for rent will be frustrated if we sell them off under the right to buy.
“That is why I believe that the right to buy has had its day.”
She said the reforms to right to buy, first introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, would safeguard up to 18,000 houses, providing rented homes for those who most needed them.
Given the fact that in many respects the engine of huge parts of the economy and in many respects politics of the UK (and for that matter the Republic) over the last two decades or so has been shifting housing stock from public to private ownership, and the associated building boom of private housing, this is a brave, and much-needed move by the SNP. Although it no longer carries the political dangers that it would have in the past, it still is a move motivated by a more communitarian vision of politics than that which has dominated British politics since Thatcher took over.
Public housing goes to all sorts of important issues about the type of society we want – the role of the state and public responsibility, environmental protection (ask anyone whose new house is on a flood plain about this), the motor of economic development and others. The brand new housing estates in the south of Ireland with literally no-one living in them are indicative of the problem of having the construction of new homes as the engine of your economy, never mind the impact of so-called toxic assets worldwide on the economy and the taxpayer, although again it is hard to find a better example than the Republic’s NAMA of the idiocy involved. Much of the debt people labour under is driven by the issue of home ownership, and property speculation.
NICRA raised the slogan not just of one man one vote, but also one family one house. It’s long been my opinion that the drive to have one person one house introduced under Thatcher is environmentally and socially unsustainable. Not only that, but I think that it will be necessary in future to adopt a more continental model of people living in flats rather than houses. As a WP member once said to me, where would you build large factories in west Belfast now – the space isn’t there; it’s all been given over to houses. The need for social housing is all the greater because of the increase in immigration – part of the reason for the increase in racism in Britain has been perceived competition for increasingly scarce public housing.
Given these circumstances, I think that the SNP position is a major step forward, and one which I hope to see extended elsewhere. They deserve a lot of credit. A good job.