Come back paint-spattered Toryglen, all is forgiven. Gordon Brown has announced a return to council house building. After eco-towns, 25-year mortgages and planning reform, it's back to social housing - which, if he's serious, could be the greatest political U-turn in New Labour's history.

The latest dimension to Brown's housing policy emerged over the weekend at Labour's National Policy Forum, where the Prime Minister let it be known that, in next week's green paper on housing, councils are to be allowed to start using their land for new housing and to retain rental income from council homes to fund further building. Shining estates of zero-carbon homes are to spring up across the land-filled with happy families paying rent to responsible local authorities rather than to buy-to-let Rachmans.

But wait a minute. For the last decade, hasn't Labour tied the hands of local authorities and urged council tenants to vote for the transfer of their homes into the private sector? £1.6bn is being spent in Scotland to abolish council housing altogether under stock transfer. I may be naive, but if that money had been used to build council houses might things not have been different? Indeed, if council houses had not been sold off at knockdown prices would there have been any housing crisis at all?

It leaves Glasgow in a very odd place. Labour politicians persuaded council tenants in 2002 to hand their homes over to new and dynamic privately-financed housing associations which never materialised. Instead, the transfer got stuck half way, with one holding body, Glasgow Housing Association Ltd, replicating the costly bureaucracy of the old council housing department. Hundreds of millions were spent on GHA which now says it needs another £350m - and it hasn't actually built any houses yet, though 300 are on the way. Was this an entirely rational use of public funds, I wonder?

Will the advocates of housing stock transfer, such as Wendy Alexander and Frank McAveety, now be speaking up for council house building in the Scottish Parliament? For it looks as if the winners in the new housing policy may be those areas such as Edinburgh which voted against stock transfer, despite the urgings of the Scottish Executive. Under Brown's new policy, the capital city will presumably now be able to start building again, using its annual housing rent receipts as collateral. With 24,000 people on Edinburgh's waiting list and 100 applications for every council home, it will not be before time.

But I'll believe it when I see it. There is such an ingrained prejudice against social housing at all levels of government - indeed a prejudice against building any kind of housing at all - that it will probably take a generation for anything actually to happen. Edinburgh has built only 80 affordable houses in the last six years despite such housing supposedly being a planning priority. Glasgow Housing Association is actually demolishing houses on a vast scale and not replacing them.

Yes, I know this sounds completely mad, but most local authorities in Scotland are reducing their housing stock. They believe that private housing is the way forward and are demolishing thousands of houses in council areas in order to increase house prices sufficiently to attract developers. Glasgow is currently demolishing 20,000 - almost at many as the number of extra homes Gordon Brown says he wants to see built in Scotland under his new programme. In Edinburgh's Craigmillar, an estate the size of a small town is boarded up ready to be bulldozed so that private developers can build flats and tiny boxes which the people who used to live there will be unable to afford. Many will be bought by buy-to-let investors.

The buy-to-let boom, which is currently doing so much damage, was also government inspired. Mortgage interest tax relief was abolished for first-time buyers, and handed to buy-to-let landlords. Now, if you buy a house to live in, you have to pay the interest on your mortgage out of your own after-tax earnings; but if you buy a house to rent out, the interest on your mortgage is tax deductible. In other words, the very people who cannot afford to buy homes are subsidising, through their taxes, the mortgages of the people who can. Often these houses are left empty, as investments.

It's not just Labour's fault, of course. They inherited a policy from the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher decided that selling off council houses cheap would turn Labour voters into property-owning Tory voters. It worked wonderfully - so well that all the decent council houses are now in private hands and only the unsellable dross is left for people to live in. And councils have to rent back, at market rates, houses they sold off at give-away prices.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that if you stop building houses, sell off council houses and give tax breaks to landlords, that you will end up with a housing shortage and skyrocketing prices. But Labour pursued these policies just as assiduously as the Tories. Labour's economic policy has arguably been built on artificially high house prices, which Brown used to keep the economy running after the 2000 stock-market crash. Yet ministers are looking around shaking their heads as if the housing crisis were some sort of natural disaster.

As a new generation of voters comes along who cannot afford to buy and find there is nowhere to rent, the government has discovered that there is a downside to rising house prices. However, they're still wedded to house price inflation, whatever they say. Brown's "three million new homes" is in reality an extra 250,000 by 2020. There's little chance of that making much of an impact on prices - Spain built 800,000 last year alone.

The Prime Minister could cut house prices tomorrow if he really wanted to. He could take away the tax breaks for landlords; restore fair rents which cannot be hiked every six months; introduce a windfall tax on land speculators; allow councils to borrow to build; and include housing costs in the inflation figures. One reason interest rates have been artificially low is that the Bank of England is not allowed to take house price inflation into account when it sets interest rates.

Why does he not do this? Because it would bring down the price of houses, and make the people who own them feel poorer. And since most home owners are middle aged and more likely to vote than the homeless twenty-somethings who have given up on democracy, the government policy will always be skewed to the interests of the home-owning elite.

I'm not saying that the government is unsympathetic - ministers such as Yvette Cooper clearly are, and really want to do something. But they are in a desperate bind, caught in an intergenerational stand off between the property-owning old and the asset poor young.

The average age of a first time buyer in Scotland is now 37. Until people below that age get their act together politically - start making a fuss, staging occupations and demonstrations - little is likely to change. And Scottish families will be raising their children in single-bed flats.