Time for Reflection

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 27th June 2007.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 2:30 pm, 27th June 2007

Good afternoon. The first item of business is time for reflection, and our leader today is the Rev George Whyte of Colinton parish church in Edinburgh.

The Rev George Whyte (Colinton Parish Church):

Jesus said:

"The poor you will always have with you", but he did not know about my parish on the south side of Edinburgh. Not only have we managed to exclude the poor by having no social housing, the booming property market is now stripping out people on other income levels, too. If there is such a thing as a sink estate, I am the minister of a swim suburb.

The parish of Colinton, perhaps like some others, is becoming a monoculture of double-income professional couples, most of whom work in the financial sector. They are not bad people—far from it—but as Evelyn Waugh once said, it is neither the quality nor the quantity but the variety that is the problem in a place where only a narrow stratum of the community can afford to live. With a family house starting at more than £250,000, we will simply not have the teachers, the police officers, the nurses, the social workers, the shop assistants, the office staff, the bank clerks and the stay-at-home parents who have in the past provided the range of talents and availability that makes a community work. The super-busy, target-driven, not-home-till-seven people who can buy into my parish do not have the time to lead our youth organisations or, indeed, to get to know their neighbours. The social divisions that rightly concern this Parliament have an effect on those who might be considered to be on the right side of the divide.

It is true that, when the so-called successful in our suburban communities live only with people who are just like them, there is an isolation from the pressing, basic needs of those who are less fortunate. When the dinner party chat is so focused on equity release, there is little stomach for discussing how life is for those who cannot join the property ladder or those who must commute ever-longer distances to service the city's life, never mind those who struggle for survival in the developing world.

The rules of this speaking spot and my limited knowledge prevent me from reflecting on a solution to the issue. All that I do know is that, living in a tied house in a hot spot of the property market, I am in a better position than some to remind my neighbours and friends that, even if they do not live in the same streets, the poor are still with them. Such awareness of our common humanity will enrich their lives in ways that no amount of capital appreciation could. [Applause.]