This Week In Scotland – Week 39

Women aren’t women anymore

The Lancet’s editor-in-chief Richard Horton apologised, sort of, for giving the impression that they ‘dehumanised and marginalised’ women in their latest cover story by referring to ‘bodies with vaginas’, although he did not apologise for actually saying it.  Then he lumped women together with anyone who has ever menstruated, reinforcing women as a set of bodily functions.

It was meant as an admission that women’s health has been ignored for centuries but ended up ignoring -well- women.

Labour’s Keir Starmer and John McDonnell also floundered on whether ‘only women have a cervix’.  Labour told their MP Rosie Duffield she was ‘just wrong’ to say that. Good thing there are always men out there willing to explain to women how we are wrong.

The statement should not be contentious.  Women transitioning to men are included.  Men transitioning to women are not, because a transplanted womb/cervix does not make them female, any more than a heart transplant from a woman would make them female. 

It’s bad enough being corrected by men.  But who else do we know who says gender-critical women are ‘just wrong’? And why are men not routinely reduced to body parts or functions? 
Maybe politicians will work out by the next election that it really isn’t wise to alienate half the electorate. In the meantime, it looks like we’re going to have to re-write that famous hit, ‘More Than a Body with a Vagina’.

Kier Starmer and Andrew Marr

During his car crash interview with Andrew Marr, Starmer also had difficulty with the dictionary definition of historic Labour policies.  Marr challenged him on the renationalisation of energy companies.  When elected as party leader, Keir thought that ‘public services should be in public hands not making a profit for shareholders’ and supported ‘common ownership of rail, mail, energy, and water’  When asked by Marr why this was not nationalisation, he blustered that there was a ‘world of difference’ between that and nationalisation. Right, ok then.

He also had a pop at Scottish nationalism, claiming it was ‘divisive’ while patriotism ‘unites’.  His sole Scottish MP, Ian Murray, asserted that Scotland has to ‘participate in UK politics’ in order to change the UK government. Someone needs to explain to him that 59 into 650 won’t go. Or as Fr Ted might put it; Scotland is small and Westminster is far away.

Politicians changing policies

Hard on the heels of the Scottish Government going back on their pledge to create a national energy company, this week they also backpedaled on a promise to bring forward a moratorium on large-scale incineration plants, postponing it until next March. It fell to Lorna Slater to make this announcement and which was done via a government question, rather than a statement being put out in advance, leading the opposition to cry foul on the lack of opportunity for scrutiny. Interestingly, this happened just a couple of weeks after a bitter fight over a large-scale incineration plant in Carnbroe in Coatbridge came to an end, with the Scottish Reporter knocking back Simon Howie the applicant. Let’s hope he doesn’t take advantage of the delay and put forward another application, eh?

It joins a growing pile of policies in the long grass on land reform, rent controls, elder care centres, and what was the other one? Begins with an ‘I’? Oh right, we’re not allowed to talk about that.

Edinburgh short-term letting consultation

Edinburgh recently launched a consultation on short-term lets. This is in the face of the rising growth of Airbnb properties and the associated problems. The Local Government, Housing, and Planning Committee is asking the public for views on the proposal for councils to set up a licensing scheme by October 2022, with all short-term lets licensed by April 2024. Existing operators must apply to the scheme by April 2023.  Let them know what you think on yourviewsparliament.scot/spice/licensing-of-short-term-lets.

The economic benefits of increased tourism are never weighed against the people having to move far from their work and friends and children uprooted from school because the landlord has repurposed the let. Tenants contribute to the economy and create vibrant communities, and there is no price you can put on the social disruption involved.  In Edinburgh alone, 12,000 properties have been prioritised for short-term gains ahead of the real community who were living in them.

Property prices are rising out of the reach of ordinary people. If everyone sells to the highest bidder, who may be offering way more than the value, local people soon have nowhere to live.  What happens to local services when local people can’t afford to live there anymore?  Why aren’t we regarding this as a new form of Clearances?

Poor quality housing

Poor insulation and design are a blight on older housing stock, and there is a looming problem in bringing the social housing stock up to energy efficiency standards.  Recently, Clyde Properties came under fire from the tenants’ union Living Rent over the case of a radiator that fell off the wall in a damp flat and endangered a one-year-old child. The child’s parents made Clyde Properties aware four years ago of mould problems, but the company claims it is the tenants’ lifestyle that is causing the problem.  At the moment there is a stand-off, with Living Rent picketing five of the firm’s offices in support of the tenants.

Homelessness

Scotland is doing much better in the homelessness stakes than its neighbours, however. It has about half the numbers of England and slightly less than Wales in terms of rough sleepers, sofa surfing, and the use of unsuitable B&Bs. In Scotland all those unintentionally without housing are entitled to local authority help, abolishing the ‘priority need’ which used to apply. The Scottish Government has been proactive in making £10 million available to councils for grants to tenants to pay off or reduce rent arrears and made £39 million in payments to tenants in the pandemic.  It is to be hoped this good work is carried through so that homelessness can be consigned to history.

Winter of Discontent

Three more energy companies went under this week.  In the 1980s, the Conservatives privatised energy, in effect creating a cartel of firms.  New Labour did not reverse this. When consumer prices rose, they told us to shop around, swap to the new pop-up energy firms, and undercut the cartel.  But when the wholesale gas price rose, the new firms could not keep their prices low and have gone bust.

The people affected are automatically transferred to another provider, but likely having to pay about £400 more a year for their supply.  It does not look like the light-touch regulation in place is actually of much use.

Ordinary people are facing the perfect storm of rising energy bills, fuel shortages, empty shelves, and erratic supplies, plus high rents, less protection from eviction than during the pandemic, and job losses as the furlough scheme ends. The Scottish numbers for men and women on furlough are similar (5%) but women’s jobs are in female-dominated retail and hospitality, the travel industry (93% female staff) and arts and entertainment (60%), sectors which may not fully recover, making women more vulnerable to permanently losing their jobs.  And Covid is still here.

However, with the news that the UK government is going to allow some genetic modification of crops in England (coming to a Scottish field near you via the Internal Market Act) at least, we won’t be hungry.

Living Wage

Implementing a real Living Wage would boost Scotland’s economy by £89 million, according to the Living Wage Foundation.  Not something we hear about from many of the captains of industry, who regurgitate ‘trickle-down’ economics as the only way.  Many claim they cannot afford to pay the living wage, preferring to let the public purse subsidise private industry through tax credits to the poorly paid.

NHS Scotland

May have lost as many as 1200 bed capacity under the SNP. Following the damage to society and the economy from covid, the tsunami of untreated illnesses during the pandemic will possibly hit fully next year. It’s not a good time to have capacity reduced and this needs an urgent review, particularly the reduction in step-down beds that means that patients who are rehabilitating after treatment are in the same building as people receiving emergency treatment. Covid threw this into sharp relief, but we now need to plan ahead so that the next time we are faced with a pandemic, we are ready.

Similarly, there needs to be a review of GP practices, the number of GPs available, and the appointments system. Covid has prompted a ‘creep’ towards phone appointments – if you can get hold of a doctor in the first place. GPs seem split on whether this should continue indefinitely, but phone consultations alone cannot always diagnose the problem and is a poor substitute for face-to-face.

And finally

Moffat in Dumfries-shire recently hosted the UK’s first-ever Scots Golden Eagle Festival. Moffat is now officially designated as the UK’s first Eagle Town.  The festival aimed to highlight conservation work ongoing to increase golden eagle numbers in the south of Scotland and involve more people in their conservation.  It also provided a welcome boost to Moffat’s tourist industry just emerging from lockdown. ‘Moan the Moffat Eagles.

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