Impossible Scotland

You live in a country where nothing can happen. This is accelerating as the death spiral of the SNP continues. There’s now a convergence, a perfect storm of opposition to (almost any) legislative change.

Stop drilling for oil? Ridiculous. Heat pumps? Impossible. Glass re-cycling? Can’t happen. Protect the seabed? You Metropolitan Elite! The latest policy that is getting intense lobbying and media pressure (from a very wealthy client group) is the efforts to legislate STLs and Air BnB. The fact that this is about a decade too late and can’t retrospectively restore whole communities and neighbourhoods that have been destroyed by the phenomenon is by the by.

Check out the hysteria and the sense of entitlement from this lady here:

As Gordon Maloney of Living Rent wrote (‘Holiday Lets, Air BnB and our Housing Crisis‘): “Across Scotland, short-term holiday lets are devastating communities. In parts of Edinburgh, there are now more holiday lets than ordinary flats for rent. In some areas in the Highlands, almost 20% of homes are Airbnbs … And while the figures for the number of holiday lets are shocking, the truth is that we don’t really know the full scale of the problem. Most available statistics only include listings on Airbnb.  However, there’s a number of other, similar platforms, and an unknowable number of properties being rented out in more informal ways. And that’s a big part of the problem – right now, the complete lack of regulation means we don’t even really know what’s going on.”

The loose coalition of groups that Don’t Want Anything to Happen in Scotland is very wide. It obviously includes the Conservatives and all their networks of benefactors and lobbyists, but also now a wider coalition including elements within Labour and opponents of the SNP which span an unhealthy reactionary spectrum of populism. But it also includes people from within the upper echelons of SNP, and this is one of the core reasons why the party faces its own demise. A prime example of this is Andrew Wilson, who wrote the sustainable growth commission, the SNP’s last attempt at an economic plan for an independent Scotland, who has stepped into the row about regulating short-term lets.

The Scottish government has brought in legislation to ensure that short-term letting properties meet recognised safety standards. It’s not very radical. This is standard stuff. Under the new rules, anyone providing a room or home for rent has to apply to their local council to obtain a license. They must also show evidence of their buildings and public liability insurance as well as up to date energy performance, fire safety, gas and electricity compliance reports.

The response has been hysterical.

Now Andrew Wilson, who now works for Santander bank said: “Scottish government looking increasingly dug in on a policy with [sic] very hard to find benefits and clear and definitive risks to economy. Far better to pause and get right.”

This is now a predictable cycle. Legislation is drafted, consultation takes place, then as the time nears for the legislation to be introduced the hostility gets ramped up. The media have a field day and this convergence of forces come together. ‘Business people’ express their fears and ‘legitimate concerns’. They are always represented as apolitical, independent and fair-minded. Eventually the politicians buckle and a ‘delay or a review is agreed.

And so it goes.

Now even the most modest legislation to regulate an industry that has driven social cleansing in Edinburgh and the highlands and hugely exacerbated an already dire housing crisis is under threat.

It is no coincidence that Charlotte Street Partners were advising Airbnb and thus the ASSC about regulation. As I said back in 2021 (Charlotte’s Web): ‘Scottish politics and media is dynastic. The swirling mass of PR, media, lobbying and politics in Scotland is putrid.’

But the forces at play here are very wealthy. Take ‘Save the Self-Catering Sector in Scotland‘ now the highest grossing litigation crowdfunder in Scottish legal history, basically landlords suing over AirBnB regulation in Edinburgh – to the tune of £270,461.

This is a highly privileged powerful group of people – resisting any attempts to safely regulate their businesses – now being supported and lobbied for by a senior figure of the SNP. Edinburgh and Skye are probably the worst affected parts of Scotland and this legislation is far too late for these urban and rural communities as this report lays out in detail.

The whole story raises questions not just of who the city is for (I think we know the answer to his) but also, who is the whole economy for? Whose economy is at risk here?


Comments (34)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    Don’t lose your nerve Mike. I still think there’s life in us left. And compare with the chaos south of the border!

  2. Graeme Purves says:

    Just so. 🙁

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Is it merely a coincidence that this highly privileged clique disproportionately come from the kind of schools currently the focus of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry?
    Inflicting boarding school syndrome for the purposes of running an Empire may have additional consequences.

    1. Derek Thomson says:

      It is my belief that the sociopathy exhibited by various members of the present UK government is a direct result of their boarding school experiences.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Derek Thomson, I agree, but it goes far beyond the UK government, to all kinds of British Empire institutions (often royalist ones, but also arts and media in Scotland and elsewhere) and allied nations (the children of dictators are often schooled in elite UK educational institutions).

        The Guardian coverage of the Women’s World Cup was notable in backing the kinds of cheating inculcated in these institutions. Barney Ronay wrote an extraordinary article defending time-wasting which was shot down in flames in a very unusually united comments section (time-wasting of the kind employed by England’s Women).
        Time-wasting is essentially the defence of the Matthew Principle, that the rich get richer (in football terms, who is leading in goals scored), and the fundamental basis on which the elite class (who are vastly over-represented at the Guardian, BBC, Channel 4 etc.) maintain themselves, and probably second nature to many of their writers.

        But where is Bella’s coverage of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry? Surely these cases are intrinsic to explanations of how the powerful cliques of such interest to Bella operate? Surely they would provide a key insight into ‘Impossible Scotland’?

  4. Chris Ballance says:

    I understand that the real problem with the short term lets legislation is that a loophole in the legislation means it excludes “serviced apartments” – i.e. aparthotels – and this has to be addressed.

    And continuing the attacks on anything Green or SNP, did you know that gangs of young people are descending into Inverness every weekend to shoplift – and it’s all the fault of allowing young people free bus travel? That’s the latest story up here.

    1. Mark Howitt says:

      “Loophole” suggests an ambiguity in the legislation that has been exploited.

      In fact aparthotels were specifically exempted from having to obtain a short-term let licence after lobbying by the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers; they felt they would be “further burdened by these unfair additional regulations.”

  5. Hugh McShane says:

    Great piece& I share the palpable sense of outrage- it’s horrible to feel your city’s been sold out,legally, by the lobbyists&vested interests- the tentacles of such as Underbelly make me glad I’m a Gentleman of the West, as Agnes Owens would’ve said!

    1. Michael Farrell says:

      hard agree

  6. greenergood says:

    I live on the Rosneath peninsula (just down the road from the UK’s ‘independent deterrent’; in between RNAD Coulport and Kilcreggan (around four miles), there are over 50 Air BnBs, – around 2 or 3 are actual BnB’s, i.e., a bedroom in someone else’s home. The rest are flats, cottages, etc. – on a peninsula of less than 4000 people, i.e., we’re not Edinburgh, we’re a small place, like the villages up north – no change of rentals until AirBnB finally collapses (hopefully).; There was an article in Bella in the past few weeks (sorry, didn’t bookmark) talking about what will happen to Scotland soon, as people in England, and northern European countries realise that their holidays in Greece and Spain are going to become untenable due to the global heating crisis, and they’ll all want to come here – and how’s our tourism infrastructure working? I.e., NOT working. Observe the ridiculous situation in the NC500: a few people make a load of money, but most residents are completely inconvenienced . Is there any governmental structure now built in to deal with the onset of heat-escaping tourism? Probably not …

    1. Ian S says:

      Hi, regarding your question of planned infrastructure I would agree there is almost certainly nothing planned. The government is, probably partly by design, slow and so will probably be always on the back foot. The tourism industry will continue to be delighted at money pouring in and I don’t know about your area but it’s very hard to speak out against tourism in any way where I live. They will talk about jobs and communities and benefits. Yes, it’s nice to have nice cafes in town but it’s nicer to have decent quality housing, roads and services that are designed to work for the people who live in a place. At the moment the whole focus appears to be making life more pleasant for tourists who on average turn up for a week or two then leave.

  7. Doug Hepburn says:

    Are you saying that as this should have happened sooner it is now too late and nothing should be done?

    Plenty of other cities have successfully managed to deal with the blight caused by Air BnB and the like, through legislation.
    The usual speculators and profiteers might not like it, tough. We need to claim our country, cities, towns and villages back,
    and we need to do it now.

  8. 230825 says:

    I don’t mind the visitors, and I live in the heart of the most popular short-breaks destination in Scotland. The Southlands are fairly hotchin wi folk visiting from the Central Belt and other, Northern Europe urbanities. Some of my neighbours quip that we should build walls around Edinburgh and Glasgow to keep the b*gg*rs in.

    My gripe is that our government down here in Dumgall is sh*t* at exploiting visitors as a resource, at using the money they bring into the country to develop the land, labour, and captial we need to increase our productivity and grow our commonwealth. We need to invest in housing to accommodate those visitors and the workers who facilitate their visits and in amenities like medical centres, schools, policing, transport, etc. that are sufficient to support the needs of that population.

    Above all, we need to optimise the taxation by which we might raise the revenues required for such investment. Our problem is that our government down here in Dumgall has hardly any of the decision-making power it would need to raise and invest those revenues. Nearly all that power is concentrated in central government, in Edinburgh and London.

    Neither centre shows any willingness to divest its power in favour of governments like ours down here in Dumgall. That (nationalism – the idea that places like Dumgall are too wee or too stupid to manage their own affairs) is the core of the problem, not short-term migrants and other incomers.

  9. WT says:

    There has been a housing shortage in the Highlands for decades and it will continue whether or not there is an Airbnb. The problem is the lack of social housing, I assume this is the same in the cities. In the highlands people from the outside outbid the locals which particularly affects the young. Outbid locals go without. That’s the problem of the importation of ideas such as the housing ladder, some folk have an elevator right up to the fourth or fifth rung. There would not have been a lot of airbnb lets in the Castlemilk I knew, lets have a few more proper council owned housing schemes with reasonable rents. Contract the private sector and get rid of the awful housing associations, which are just another example of the costly outsourcing of government social responsibility, where top officers can get paid a fat wage for the same job as a grade 5 or 6 would have done in the old days for a tenth of the wage. Really, “the death spiral of the SNP” us due to their inability to gain independence for Scotland. If they cannot do that (their raison d’être) one has to ask, why vote for them?

    1. 230826 says:

      Indeed, it’s a ‘problem’ that pertains only to the private housing. The solution to homelessness isn’t the regulation of the private housing market; the solution is to provide more social housing outside of that market. Local governments need to take to themselves more power and to show greater political willingness to build and/or requisition homes according to need rather than just license the development of housing for private ownership in their localities.

    2. 230826 says:

      I’m actually a big fan of housing associations and their political model. I worked for three yeatrs with one such group of local residents, to help them develop their capacity to buy-up private properties in their street and convert them to good-quality social housing and to reinvest surplus rental income in local amenities (e.g. streetscaping, a community garden, supported accommodation, and day care services).

      Unfortunately, the association subsequently let itself become over-dependent on local authority contracts, which it saw as a route out of its hand-to-mouth dependency on short-term charitable grants, and whose value declined drastically throughout the first decades of the 21st century, and the association eventually failed. Since then, voluntary housing associations have become little more that arms-length executive agencies of statutory government, which is why they’re failing in common with most of out statutory agencies.

      The silver lining is that, as those statutory agencies continue to fail, people will be once more thrown back on the principles of ‘independence’ (self-help, mutual aid, and subsidiarity) to provide for their local needs.

  10. John says:

    My daughter is a mid-twenties health professional with a degree working in Edinburgh. She has experienced a variety of private landlords- some helpful and some trying to get as much money out of her as possible. From her experience I would think that regulation is required to protect people like her from the the less caring, more avaricious landlords.
    On a wider point she has little prospect of purchasing property in Edinburgh due to a combination of high house prices and difficulty saving up for a deposit due mainly to her outgoing in high rent.
    Unfortunately I am not in a position to financially help her at present and can contrast this with my own situation in 80’s when as a Health professional in eighties I managed to purchase a flat in mid twenties without any parental help and I was not a great saver.
    This is all leading to an unfortunate situation where the current generation in 20’s & 30’s are reliant on bank of mum and dad to buy property. People are becoming more reliant on inherited wealth rather than their own earned income to progress in life. This is us and will lead to a less fair and healthy society where wealth is more entrenched and social mobility suffers.

    1. 230826 says:

      Access to social housing would make people like your daughter independent of both the private rental and mortgage markets and their burdens and insecurities.

      Of course, in our post-Thatcher aspirational society, recourse to social housing rather than private ownership is often viewed as a regressive rather than a progressive move in life.

      1. John says:

        I agree that we need to build more good quality social housing which apart from supplying people with an affordable living space it would also help address the demand/supply imbalance driving up house prices and rentals. When council houses were sold off, on the cheap, in 80’s & 90’s the money made should have been reinvested in replacing the social housing stock.
        My wife also benefited from a Housing Association when she was a single parent in her late 20’s and she is still grateful to help the local councillor gave her at this point in her life.
        Not withstanding I still think that due to many people under 40 effectively being blocked out of housing market and having to pay debilitating rents to keep a roof over their (and their families) heads at present that some regulation is required to help them. It would also potentially help redress the generational imbalance in housing (legacy from 80’s & 90’s policies discussed above.

      2. John says:

        Re your comment on post- Thatcherite aspirational society.
        The word aspirational seems to have become mixed up with acquisitive in politics.
        There is nothing wrong with being aspirational it is what you aspire to be that is the issue. Many people aspire to help others but this does not appear to enter political lexicon. Another Thatcherite legacy I would suggest.

        1. 230826 says:

          Indeed! But, strangely (and sadly) enough, most dictionary definitions also seem to associate ‘aspirational’ with having ambition to achieve social prestige and material success.

          I’m just happy to still be drawing breath.

        2. Wul says:

          Why can’t we simply separate “dwelling house” from “holiday house” in our planning legislation?
          Two distinct categories of buildings and never the twain shall meet, unless in very exceptional circumstances.
          People would be free to create/build new holiday accommodation, but turning an existing dwelling house into a short-term letting business would be forbidden.
          This would collapse the market in buying up housing to turn it into Air BnB and mean that hooses for people stay as hooses for ever.
          I can’t see any downside, other than for social parasites.

  11. Hector says:

    The 2003 land reform act was dismantled by the same lobbying groups who support air bnb and unregulated tenancies.
    2015 land reform act is still not implemented.
    Farm tenants wither on the vine while the landlords grow fat on scotgov subsidies.

    1. 230827 says:

      The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 is being implemented.

      The trouble is that act itself hardly sets the heather alight. All it does is:

      a) establish a Scottish Land Commission, an expensive new arms-length Scottish Government organisation or ‘quango’ (there are now around 98 of them), which is tasked with consulting the public and providing the government with evidence-based guidance on land issues, and

      b) ‘make provision’ for various changes to land ownership and management.

      This latter ‘provision’ is entirely bureaucratic and consists in publishing sets of forms and guidance relating to asset transfer, a community mapping tool, and a statement of land rights and responsibilities. The Act doesn’t actually change anything ‘on the ground’.

      1. Hector says:

        Agreed, its a wet lettuce of a bill, but useful changes to right to buy have still not been implements six years later.
        Why is that??

        1. 230829 says:

          The Scottish government is generally dysfunctional. It struggles to implement the decisions of the Scottish parliament. Land reform is just one example. The government’s also struggling big time with the implementation of the parliament’s digital strategy for justice (for which end my partner works) and the parliament has also had to delay the transfer of more powers over social security from Whitehall to St Andrew’s House because the government is struggling to organise the necessary infrastructure, despite the eye-watering amounts of money that’s being drained into it.

          ‘Bureaucratic sclerosis’, my partner calls it. It doesn’t bode well for independence.

          1. Hugh McShane says:

            Some ‘Scottish’ civil servants are certainly servants of Albion, esp. the upper echelons- but surely not all? Why the sclerosis tween them+ their nominal political masters? Some things seem weirdly inexplicable- CMal/CalMac, Jack McConnell’s returned millions?

          2. “The Scottish government is generally dysfunctional.”

            I mean, this sounds just like the ‘everything in Scotland is shit’ narrative

          3. 230829 says:

            No, it’s neither sabotage by a conspiracy of ‘servants of Albion’ nor an example of how ‘everything in Scotland is shit’. The dysfunctionality of the Scottish government is a structural problem. In our nation-building, we’ve contrived to build a sclerotic bureaucracy rather than an agile democracy. It wad gar ye greit!

  12. Wul says:

    Why can’t we simply separate “dwelling house” from “holiday house” in our planning legislation?
    Two distinct categories of buildings and never the twain shall meet, unless in very exceptional circumstances.
    People would be free to create/build new holiday accommodation, but turning an existing dwelling house into a short-term letting business would be forbidden.
    This would collapse the market in buying up housing to turn it into Air BnB and mean that hooses for people stay as hooses for ever.
    I can’t see any downside, other than for social parasites.

    1. Hector says:

      Spot on
      All rural housing should be designated as such with section 75 slapped on them. All farmhouses, cottages, and farm buildings.
      Any change of use from home to holiday let should require planning.

  13. Wul says:

    More on this topic (with clear-headed analysis) on Andy Wightman’s “Land Matters” blog:

    …”The simple fact is that hundreds and possibly thousands of STLs in Edinburgh have been operating unlawfully for many years. For example, in research I conducted in 2020, we examined all the STLs on the Valuation Roll for Edinburgh and discovered that of 1609 properties being used for commercial short term letting, a mere 6 had planning consent to operate as STLs.”….

  14. Meg Macleod says:

    Head above the wall…hoping to avoid the shrapnel

    Did anyone consider how lovely it used to be to book into a local home for bnb..hospitality…welcome…a crofting family making much needed revenue to supplement meagre income….not everyine .making a fast buck or taking advantage of visitors…..its illogical to sweep aside a long standing tradition with over the top regulation…somewhere the happy medium has become lost…tho the council with l count the revenue as first priority….something is bring lost .

  15. Mutteringnutter says:

    You forgot abput the huge rise in the building of student flats, whcih are then rented out in holiday season for short-term lets. They totally change the character of the areas in which they are built twice; once when the implicitly transient student population turn up, and then again when it’s the turn of a different set of tourists every fortnight for four months, mostly booking on Air BnB. Just try living next to one. It’s a nightmare.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.