Scottish Democracy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:05 pm on 7th February 1994.

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Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East 4:05 pm, 7th February 1994

It certainly is not the prohibition of alcohol. I speak as the secretary of the all-party Scotch whisky group when I say that.

Although Labour subsequently dropped its commitment to Scottish home rule in the 1950s and 1960s, it eventually returned to it, placing it at the very heart of its "Agenda for Scotland" through our support for a claim of right for Scotland and for the Scottish Convention scheme for a Scottish parliament. Opposition Members do not hesitate to proclaim Scotland's right to self-determination and to home rule and its own parliament. These are basic democratic demands, supported by a minimum of three out of four Scottish voters. I believe that the potential exists for a common agenda for three of Scotland's four major constitutional parties; I hope that, by the end of the debate, Conservative Members will have been convinced as well.

There is plenty to form the basis of a democratic critique of Scottish government: God knows enough is wrong with it nowadays. The current housing crisis, for instance, is related to the lack of democracy in Scotland. Homelessness is now at record levels, having increased by a staggering 145 per cent. in the 1980s. According to reports in this morning's Scottish press, in just four areas some 8,500 women are not only homeless but hidden out of sight, not recognised as homeless. God knows what the national figure is.

The first national housing condition survey, completed in 1992, revealed that no fewer than 423,000 Scottish dwellings were affected by damp, severe condensation, mould or, in some cases, a combination of all three. We all know areas in our constituencies which are euphemistically described as "areas of low demand". Housing in such areas consists of damp-ridden boxes and unemployment is at 40, 50 or even 60 per cent; crime and vandalism are rife; the streets are not safe for mothers to walk or children to play in; and drug abuse is common, with hedges and stairwells littered with discarded syringes. Those areas are little better than hellholes, but people cannot escape from them: they have no alternative accommodation because of the housing crisis.

That is a national disgrace, but we have not the democratic means to do anything about it. Not so long ago, locally elected councils were responsible for Scotland's housing. Those councils were accountable to their electorate; if local people were not satisfied with their performance, they could vote them out at regular elections. Now, every local housing scene is dominated by the quango Scottish Homes, whose financial muscle cannot be matched by individual councils. In 1993–94, Scottish Homes has a massive £372 million to invest in housing; with resources on such a scale, it will call the shots. Without an agreement with Scottish Homes to bring part of that £372 million into its area, no council can really be in the housing business.