FOR all their grand talk about Europe, the SNP seems to pay little attention to what’s happening on the continent. Across Europe, housing is being exploited by the far-right as a bridge to electoral success.

When there’s a political vacuum, extremists move in. Across the west, traditional parties have failed miserably when it comes to decent, affordable homes for everyone, whether privately owned or rented.

Two ingredients are being stirred into a dangerous cocktail. Firstly, the housing market is hell for those without deep pockets, or rich parents: rents and property prices are sky-high, and homelessness among the working poor is burgeoning.

Add the second ingredient – immigration – and you can see why the far-right has latched onto housing with glee.

The Herald: Members of Scotland's tenants' union Living Rent organised a protest outside the Edinburgh City Council Chamber to highlight concerns about the scarcity of housing in 2018 - and things are worse nowMembers of Scotland's tenants' union Living Rent organised a protest outside the Edinburgh City Council Chamber to highlight concerns about the scarcity of housing in 2018 - and things are worse now (Image: free)

Immigration isn’t causing Europe’s housing crisis but immigrants are easy scapegoats. The housing crisis is down to political choice. Governments have repeatedly cut housing budgets and failed to build affordable homes.

Homes aren’t being taken away by refugees, they just aren’t being built.

Let’s look at Scotland. This year, the SNP cut nearly £200 million from affordable housing – that’s 26%. However, the housing budget was slashed two years running, so cumulative cuts amount to 37%.

There’s nearly 10,000 children homeless in Scotland, living in temporary accommodation. That’s an entire town of children in shabby B&Bs. The number of homeless children is up 3% on last year.

Head of Shelter Scotland, Alison Watson, recently told me: “If you’re a couple with children, you’re in temporary accommodation now for almost two years. We’re in danger of creating a lost generation.”

Watson point-blank accused the Scottish government of “gaslighting” voters with claims about ministerial commitments to good housing.

There’s 15,625 households in temporary accommodation – the highest on record and a 4% increase. There were 2,335 unsuitable accommodation order breaches – a 19% increase – issued for councils failing to take homeless people, including families, out of B&Bs within seven days.

There were 1,575 cases of councils failing to offer households even temporary accommodation – an astonishing 1,400% increase in six months. Shelter says councils “now breach their legal obligations on an industrial scale”.

There’s 30,724 ‘open homeless cases’ – up 4% in just six months. ‘Open homeless’ means anyone deemed homeless but not in permanent accommodation.

When it comes to social housing – key to reducing homelessness – numbers of new homes completed in the year to September 2023 fell 2%; numbers of new social homes approved fell 18%; and numbers of new homes started fell 29%. Around 132,000 households are waiting for social housing.

Watson told me: “There are cheap hotels all over Scotland whose main business is accommodating homeless people. There are parents in one room with no cooking facilities. Scotland’s councils cannot provide even decent temporary accommodation let alone permanently house families.”

One family was told to use the hotel shower for drinking water. “It’s a disgrace,” Watson said.

The United Nation’s special rapporteur on housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, says “far-right parties prosper when they can exploit the social gaps that emerge out of underinvestment and inadequate government planning … and when they can blame outsiders … That’s the situation many EU countries are now in.”


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Housing was key to the far-right Dutch Freedom Party winning recent elections. It’s been jumped on by the far-right in Ireland, and helped grow the far-right Portuguese Chega Party. The far-right Alternative for Germany Party has seen support grow in areas suffering the worst effects of the housing crisis.

The average rent in Scotland last year was £841 per month. The Lothian area – dominated by Edinburgh – had the highest national monthly rent at £1192. Glasgow came second at £1050. Rents in Scotland have increased on average by 52% since 2010. In Lothian it’s 79%, and in Glasgow 86%.

Five local authorities have declared ‘housing emergencies’: Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife, and West Dunbartonshire.

Don’t imagine Scotland is worse than England: 73,600 households faced homelessness in England last year. Increasingly, the cost-of-living crisis leaves working families unable to pay rising rents.

Ireland’s far-right has tied housing directly to immigration. There’s been arson attacks on refugee accommodation centres. A politician’s car was torched after he defended refugees. Politicians were trapped in Irish government buildings by far-right demonstrators.

It’s common to hear: ‘Ireland is full’. There’s a simmering atmosphere of violence in a country that was itself one of the biggest producers of immigrants globally.

Here in Scotland, the far-right are already sniffing around the issue. Hotels housing refugees in towns like Erskine have been subjected to long-running demonstrations by extremist organisations such as Patriotic Alternative.

John Swinney is apparently considering a policy shake-up as he eases into his premiership. He must be ruthless in forcing the housing crisis to the very top of his government’s agenda.

Only child poverty deserves more attention. The two issues are clearly linked: homeless children are inevitably poor.

One of the most depressing admissions lately came in a statement by the Scottish government responding to a Freedom of Information request in which ministers and officials admitted: “We have not undertaken any internal work on estimating the number of houses that would be built in Scotland in the future.”

The Herald: There has been unrest in Ireland linked to the housing shortage - which has been exploited by right wing partiesThere has been unrest in Ireland linked to the housing shortage - which has been exploited by right wing parties (Image: free)

Swinney needs to come down on whoever is responsible for that failure like a tonne of bricks. How can we fix a housing crisis unless we know how many homes are going to be built?

Even if you can afford a house these days, it amounts to a lifetime burden. We’re looking at the rise of the so-called 40-year-mortgage across the UK. The new generation of ‘lucky’ homeowners will be paying off their debts well into retirement, storing up a poverty crisis for the elderly in the future.

While our housing emergency clearly poses threats to democracy in the shape of fuel for the far-right, we cannot lose sight of what lies at the heart of this shameful failure: the ordinary human beings – mums, dads, and kids – without homes to call their own.

A home is a basic right. If governments cannot meet that basic right, it’s inevitable that extremists will step in to offer dark solutions.

The Scottish government is playing into the hands of the far-right, and history will damn our political leaders unless they act immediately.