Fri 18 May, 2018

Patrick Harvie MSP

Glasgow
Finance, Economy, Fair Work, Equalities

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Couples starting out their lives together, whether married or not, often face tough financial decisions, over issues like where to call home. If you’re very observant you might have spotted an occasional mention in the media that there’s a wedding taking place in Winsdor this weekend. Let’s all hope that the happy couple won’t have to face a grilling from their bank manager anytime soon as they set up home together.

Of course I jest. Everyone knows that Henry Charles Albert David of the House of Windsor (Harry to his pals) is getting married to Meghan Markle, and try as you might it’s hard to avoid the gossipy headlines about who’ll be attending and how much the wedding dress will cost. If you’re like me, you’ll be finding something much more interesting to do than watching the televised fawning that accompanies such events.

Meghan and Harry will indeed face a rare dilemma about where to live, struggling to choose between Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Balmoral, Sandringham, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Clarence House, Kensington Palace or one of the many modest wee mansions dotted around the country. This kind of opulence stands in stark contrast to the real lives of people, especially young people, in this age of chronic inequality. Rising house prices, rip-off rents and poor standards, and a lack of social housing combine to create housing market which is failing our whole society.

It’s an issue the Scottish Government says it wants to get an urgent grip of. But earlier this week the Housing Minister caused a bit of confusion at a Holyrood committee by misquoting what was actually in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto. Kevin Stewart denied that his party had pledged to build at least 50,000 new affordable homes, and seemed to suggest that refurbishing empty homes or buying back old council homes would count toward the target.

There is a very clear difference between building new homes, which adds to the overall housing supply, and as the Minister describes it “delivering” affordable homes by these other methods. Bringing existing homes into the category of affordable housing is welcome, but it only changes the use of homes already built; it’s new build which actually increases the availability of housing in our society.

This contrast between opulence for the entitled minority and wildly inadequate provision for the majority says a lot about what the monarchy is supposed to symbolise. We’re invited to ignore the inequality and focus on the celebrity culture of it all. Much the same thing happened recently when I challenged a Tory MSP’s fawning over the birth of the latest Royal baby, when at the same time 30% of the children born across the country are born into poverty.

At Holyrood the Greens are among the loudest voices calling for a democratic alternative to the monarchy, but highlighting the injustice they represent or departing from the inane forelock-tugging is never well received by the drooling right wing press!

I know I’m far from alone in feeling disinterested at best, and sometimes revolted by the mixture of deference to the privileged and disregard for those left behind. Indeed a recent poll showed that 75% of Scots aren’t interested at all in the Royal wedding. It’s another reminder of why we need a media culture which focuses on the things which really matter to people.

That’s an extra reason to be concerned at the loss of 60 jobs at STV in Glasgow, which was announced this week and which led to a walk-out. It’s partly about the future of the people who will be affected directly; STV's staff poured so much into the new STV2 channel and they deserve better treatment. It’s hard to see how STV will improve the quality of its output by sacking so many people - people whose salaries could have been covered by the ridiculous £853k golden hello given to the Chief Executive. How this sits with STV’s status as a signatory to the “Business Pledge” on ethical employment practices, I can’t imagine.

But it’s also about the loss to our country’s TV industry, or its capacity for journalism and cultural output, at a time when the BBC is set to launch a new Scottish channel and Glasgow is bidding to host Channel 4's new headquarters. We cannot let slip the huge opportunity we have to build a creative centre of excellence in the West of Scotland.

Abolishing the monarchy is unlikely to happen before independence, but that shouldn’t stop us working toward a fair housing market that meets everyone’s needs affordably, or a media landscape that puts issues like that to the fore instead of obsessing about the lives of the Windsors.

This article first appeared in The National.

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