The Passion of St Tibulus

Imagine that there was a unit of measurement for quantifying our propensity to anger. And imagine that in addition to weight, blood pressure, lung capacity, cholesterol level, that measurement was one of the standards recorded annually on our medical records. It would then be possible to plot our propensity to anger over time, illustrating it as a graph, anger on the vertical axis, our age on the horizontal axis.

My anger line would pootle about at a negligible level slightly above the horizontal axis through childhood, teenage years, university, starting work, living in Luxembourg, returning to Edinburgh. The line only starts to rise in my early 30s and rises at an increasing rate until I’m 52, at which point it drops sharply, almost back to the halcyon days of my youth. The end of the upward curve was brought about by the passing of my father and a realisation that life’s too short for resentment. As to what lay at the start of the curve, who knows, probably someone put a spoon in the knife drawer.

But the waters aren’t yet completely calm. If we were to zoom in on my graph over the last three or four months, we’d see that there are some blips, where my anger levels momentarily rise to alarming levels, but rapidly disperse.  This is when I read about the current debate surrounding the licensing of short-term let accommodation in Scotland. 

I should at this point declare an interest, or to be precise, a past interest. I used to own a flat in Stockbridge, Edinburgh which I rented out on a secured tenancy basis. It’s not for me to say, but I’d like to think I was a decent enough landlord, kept rent below the going rate, dealt with any issues myself rather than outsourcing them, repainted every year, organised a couple of major repairs required to the tenement roof. 

After three years, I decided to sell but for whatever reason, at that time, there were no takers. A client of mine who ran a holiday letting agency suggested listing the property as a short term let until it sold, which is what I did. This was a bit of an eye opener and perhaps I was unlucky, but a high proportion of my guests were complete idiots, unable to close the front door without smashing the doorframe, disposing of their waste food and other garbage on (literally) every available inch of flooring rather than bins provided, phoning me at midnight twice in a row to say they’d lost the keys, taking the living room door off its hinges and replacing it with a half empty bottle of whisky, that sort of thing.

So, I empathise with those that work in the short-term letting sector, it’s not just a case of sitting back and waiting for the three melons to line up on the fruit machine. But it’s a choice, no one ever forced anyone to become a landlord, and there’s always a way out.

That was then but this is now. 

With effect from 1st October 2023 all short-term let accommodation in Scotland must have a licence. To obtain the licence the property must meet certain minimum conditions concerning the likes of fire safety, gas supply, electrical safety, public liability insurance. Additionally, local councils can set extra conditions and several councils, including The City of Edinburgh, require the property to have planning permission to operate as a short-term let.

None of this appears particularly controversial. On a recent holiday to Mull, I found it quite reassuring to see that the cottage we were staying in had an up-to-date fire safety certificate and that the private water supply had had a legionella risk assessment. And why should the change of use of a dwelling previously constructed as a private residence to one used as commercial short-term accommodation be exempt from obtaining planning permission for change of use?

There are those who disagree and who disagree very vocally. We’re told that the Scottish Government wants to “ban tourism”, the real intention of the legislation is to “destroy the industry”, the impact on Edinburgh “will be catastrophic”, we hear of the “misery inflicted” on the sector and of application fees of “£24,000” (which must surely be outlier, if not simply incorrect). I accept that the legislation is flawed: there seems to be no logical reason for bed & breakfast establishments to be included and there should be an exemption for genuine ‘home sharing’ arrangements i.e. where you rent out a spare room while still living in your house.

But even if those amendments were made to the legislation, I’m not convinced that would be enough for the short-term letting sector. They constantly tell us that they welcome regulation “but not this regulation”. However, we – the public – are never told in any detail what regulation they do want. Without that information, it sounds like a sector that doesn’t want to be regulated.

And then there’s housing.

The housing crisis in Scotland is complicated but I don’t think anyone is saying that the root cause is short-term letting. However – in Edinburgh and Skye, for example – it is undeniably a factor. If a dwelling previously used as a family home (whether owner-occupied or rented) is converted to a holiday let, then that’s one less family home. 

The short-term letting sector are in denial about this, pointing fingers everywhere to deflect attention. At a protest two weeks ago outside the Scottish Parliament one landlord went so far as to blame Margaret Thatcher’s landmark Right to Buy policy of 1980. She felt that councils should have kept their promises to “rebuild” on the back of the proceeds of sale of council houses. Since councils had to remit 50% of the proceeds to central government and apply the remainder first against existing debt, it’s hard to see how they could do this, although I suspect these 40-year old promises were pure fiction on the part of the protestor. Again, anything to deflect attention.

Sheila Averbuch owns and runs several holiday lets in Edinburgh and, at the same protest, reported that the new rules are having a “horrendous” impact on her mental health. Having been on anti-depressants for a while during that 20-year curve, I sympathise. But she then goes on to explain that the properties are in the New Town and the Old Town and “these are not places that people would want to have domestic housing”. Let that sink in, short-term let landlords are now telling us where we can and cannot live in our own city.

But the award for the most ignorant comment goes to Debbie Klein. We’ve already heard her warped interpretation of Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy. But where she really loses it is when she makes an allusion between the treatment of short-term let landlords by the Scottish Government in 2023 and pogroms, violent attacks directed at Jews, such as those perpetrated by the Nazis in the 1930s. 

In Fiona Campbell, the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) has a strong Chief Executive who, throughout this saga, has acted in the best interests of her members. I think even she might have been embarrassed by the recent protest which appears to have been organised under the auspices of Save Self-Catering in Scotland, the crowdfunding campaign that raised £300,000 for a Judicial Review of The City of Edinburgh’s short-term lets licensing scheme earlier this year. The A4 placards stating PAUSE NOW! held above their heads are inexplicable to anyone outside of the industry, and reminiscent of CAREFUL NOW and DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING from The Passion of St Tibulus episode of Father Ted

Yesterday it was reported in the Times newspaper that the Scottish Government is considering granting an exemption from the legislation for genuine home swaps, their inclusion being “an unintended consequence of the changes to the law”. Although Ms Campbell has welcomed this news, she has suggested the exemption (yet to be confirmed) “would critically undermine the policy objective of licensing upholding health and safety standards” and asks if “further exemptions be offered to other forms of accommodation captured under licensing such as self-catering and B&Bs”. Not to do so, she suggests “would be iniquitous and not offer a level playing field for tourist accommodation”. While the inclusion of B&Bs may have been an unintended consequence, short-term lets were not, the clue is in the name of the statutory instrument effecting the legislation.

On behalf of the ASSC, Fiona Campbell wrote to the First Minister on 11 September asking that he “reset, reflect [and] review” the legislation over the next three weeks and concluded by saying that “the fate of Scotland’s tourism industry and the communities that depend on it, rests in your hands”. 

I suggest it’s a two-way street. A starting point might be for those involved in the sector to turn down the anger-inducing rhetoric, realise that regulation cannot be applied to bad actors only, and accept that short-term lets do have a part to play in the housing crisis. Resetting, reflecting and reviewing works both ways

Comments (28)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    The media are largely responsible for the ‘performative rage’ and exaggerated and extreme language deployed. They appear to think that it makes ‘good television’, ‘sells copies’ and ‘encourages clicks’. Perfectly good words have ceased to have any nuanced meaning. And, since most of the media are owned or controlled (as in the case of the BBC) by a small, very wealthy right wing clique, they tend to emphasise the rights of the wealthy against the rights of the community, and shamelessly portray themselves as defenders of the poor – the aged widow whose rentier flat is ‘her only source of income’. Air pollution measures like the LEZ are a ‘stealth tax on the poor’. The fact that most of ‘the poor’ do not own cars is never raised by the media.

    1. 230921 says:

      ‘…since most of the media are owned or controlled (as in the case of the BBC) by a small, very wealthy right wing clique…’

      There’s that ‘alt-right’-type conspiracy theorising again. There’s a lot of it about.

      Ain’t it funny how the alt-right theorises that most of the media is owned or controlled (as in the case of the BBC) by a small left-wing or liberal clique? The nature of the conspiracy seems to depend on which particular ‘clique’ you have a grudge against.

      Of course, there is – and can be – no evidence that it’s owned or controlled by any such demonic agency. That’s the nature of conspiracy theories.

      1. Numinus Phuzzz says:

        “a small, right wing clique” sounds fab as a definition of the British Establishment, which clear controls the BBC.

        1. 230921 says:

          I don’t think of ‘the establishment’ in such cabalistic terms. That the establishment is just ‘the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised’, a structural phenomenon, has become a bit of a mantra with me.

          Thus the establishment doesn’t control the BBC; but the BBC is part of the British establishment. We all are; no one stands outside the matrix since there is no ‘outside’ to it; it’s total. Within its totality, we are all more or less powerful and powerless in relation to others.

          The idea that the establishment in its totality is controlled by a self-selecting, closed élite is a typical alt-right trope.

      2. Niemand says:

        You won’t get anywhere with this line of argument. Those who hate the BBC and the “MSM” can only see it through their own lens. The fact that the alt-right say exactly the same things about ‘elites’ running the show will be dismissed because it is the wrong elites doing it for the wrong reasons and is therefore lies. Only one cabal is real and they are the real baddies. Few on here would suddenly side with Russell Brand who only yesterday attacked the MSM, as a cabal, again.

        The fact that those attacking the BBC clearly know little of its output and are so cynical that even when they do see the BBC exposing iniquities the poor suffer, it is all a sham to cover up the fact it is ruled by a right wing clique who are only interested in the rich, tells you all you need know about how blind hatred can warp the brain. The main problem the BBC has on this site is that it has ‘British’ in its title.

    2. Tom Ultuous says:

      Spot on Alasdair.

      230921 would probably dispute that the highly paid prefer lower taxes as well.

      1. 230921 says:

        Every taxpayer would prefer to pay less tax.

        1. Alistair Tuach says:

          I don’t want to pay less tax. Keeping taxes low is a major component of the mess we are in now.

          1. 230922 says:

            Yep, failing to maximise our overall tax revenue is a major component of the ‘mess’ we’re in; we certainly need more money to throw at the problems that currently beset us. We also need to remove more of our disposable income from our economy through taxation in order to put a brake on inflation. But it’s only human nature, as this is presently constituted by capitalism, to want the burden of that taxation to fall more on others’ rather than on one’s own shoulders.

            But, of course, you might be an exception to the general rule in capitalist society that every taxpayer would prefer to pay less tax.

          2. 230922 says:

            Yep, failing to maximise our overall tax revenue is a major component of the ‘mess’ we’re in; we certainly need more money to throw at the problems that currently beset us. We also need to remove more of our disposable income from our economy through taxation in order to put a brake on inflation. But it’s only human nature, as this is presently constituted by capitalism, to want the burden of that taxation to fall more on others’ rather than on one’s own shoulders.

            But, of course, you might be an exception to the general rule in capitalist society that every taxpayer would prefer to pay less tax.

        2. Margaret Brogan says:

          Tax is the price we pay for a civilised society.

          1. 230922 says:

            Indeed, it is. But everyone would still rather pay less than more of it. Anyone who says they wouldn’t is just virtue-signalling. Taxation is a necessary evil.

  2. GS says:

    Our local town (2,000 folk) has apparently 36% of homes as short term let’s, average prices are £366k and a third of folk earn less than £25k a year. We had a 25% increase over the last 5 years of short term let’s.

    The local housing needs assessment had 68% of businesses stating that the lack of affordable housing was directly affecting their business.

    203 people are looking for affordable housing in the next 5 years.

    The local GP unit in the hospital couldn’t open because the doctor couldn’t find anywhere to live.

    The GP surgery has the greatest percentage of folk aged 85+ and yet we have an accute shortage of PAs.

    Private profit is all well and good but if you own more than one property you are doing well.

    I grew up in Devon and the towns I knew 30 years ago had 50% holiday homes (the bakery shut in the Winter!) are now are at 70%, one place comprises 95% holiday homes. So it moves in one direction only it seems.

    So unless we want rural Scotland to end up like that, with “pop up summer communities”- something needs to be done to manage (democratically through the Council) the number of permanent homes turned into second homes/ AirBnB.

    Ironically you need Planning consent to change a purpose built holiday home into a permanent home, so it seems sensible it should also apply for turning a permanent home into a STL/second home

  3. Jennie says:

    The mother of an acquaintance in the Highlands ( let’s call her R) died about ten years ago, leaving her small house in Portree to R and her two sisters, none of whom lives in Portree. While they were discussing what to do with the house they tidied it up and advertised it on Airbnb.

    The last I heard they owned four houses in Portree and are expanding their portfolio across the Western Highlands.
    My son, working in Glencoe, told of an ad in the Lochaber Times offering up to £1.5. milion for any 2/3 bed house in Ardnamurchan.
    No normal local person can buy a house in the Highlands now, outside the urban estates, without parental help. School rolls drop, and schools close. Shops can’t survive on holiday visitors who order from Tesco or Asda anyway.

    Meanwhile large estates are bought by foreign billionaires through “tax efficient ” companies.

    The Scottish government has to stop these New Clearances now. Land value tax. Punitive tax on second homes. An end to ownership of land by non- citizens. Now, or it’ll be too late

    1. Mark Howitt says:

      Thank you for reading the article and taking the time to comment.

      Your last paragraph hits the nail on the head. A land value tax would seem to be the solution, or a partial solution, to this and other related issues in Scotland (and of course, elsewhere in the UK eg Cornwall).

      1. 230922 says:

        Or we could simply take all property into common ownership and charge rent for its use, thus eliminating the competition between private owners that drives up property prices. We might even invest the revenues raised in building more socialised housing and associated infrastructure in response to demographic demand rather than ability to pay.

        1. Tom Ultuous says:

          With you on this 230922. Hope you are no relation to that silly billy 230921 who thinks the media isn’t generally right-wing.

          1. 230922 says:

            The [mainstream] media does seem to be ‘right-wing’ in the perception of the left and ‘left-wing’ in the perception of the right, ‘unionist’ in the perception of separatists and ‘separatist’ in the perception of unionists. I suppose the nature of its bias all depends on where you stand in relation to it.

          2. Tom Ultuous says:

            The mainstream media is run by the wealthy. The wealthy tend to be right wing as a right wing govt will more likely be on their side.

          3. 230922 says:

            The mainstream media is run the world over by managers. In the broadcast media, public governance of these managers (as well as the industry’s other factors of production) is a more pervasive trend than governance by families and other private corporations. In the printed media, private governance is more pervasive.

            I don’t know why you think that wealthy families and corporations tend to be ‘right-wing’ and support ‘right-wing’ governments (whatever that means), but the conspiracy theory that the mainstream media is run (along with society generally) by some clandestine, malign, and plutocratic elite tends to be a populist trope, and it’s fashionable nowadays to locate populism on the ‘right-wing’ of the spectrum of political opinion; it is, for example, a fundamental of the ‘alt-right’ in America.

            There is no evidence (and, because of the internal logic of conspiracy theories generally, there can’t ever be an evidence) that the mainstream media is run ‘behind the scenes’ by Jews, plutocrats, cultural Marxists, freemasons, Bolsheviks, Opus Dei, or whoever. Such theories can never be verified or falsified and are for that reason ‘bogus theories’ (as Karl Popper called them).

            My old mucker, Nietzsche, wrote extensively on conspiracy theory and the psychology that gives rise to them. He reckoned they were a form of ‘ressentiment’, a feeling of hostility that’s directed toward an object that one identifies as the cause of the frustration of one’s own will to power; that is, an assignment of blame for that frustration.

            The idea is that one’s sense of weakness or inferiority or jealousy in the face of the cause of one’s frustration generates a rejecting/justifying value system (or ‘morality’), which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. This value system is then used as a means of justifying one’s own weaknesses by ‘flipping’ source of one’s envy as morally inferior to oneself, one’s morality thus serving as a defence mechanism that excuses the resentful individual from addressing and overcoming their insecurities and flaws. The ego, in short’, creates an enemy or ‘other’ to insulate themselves from culpability or personal responsibility for one’s own life by becoming a ‘victim’ of that other.

            Nietzsche’s analysis of conspiracy theory still has considerable traction within psychology. Ressentiment is viewed as an influential force in the creation of differential identities, moral frameworks, and other value systems. It’s also viewed as a key consideration in evaluating the existential validity or ‘authenticity’ of those creations; that is, the extent to which particular identities, moral frameworks, and value systems are maladaptive and destructive (‘unhealthy’) on the one hand or useful and constructive (‘healthy’) on the other.

            There’s a current consensus that conspiracy theory is existentially as well as logically invalid or ‘unhealthy’. As such, it’s something to be avoided.

          4. Tom Ultuous says:

            In my world there are various news outlets. The mainstream newspapers such as the Telegraph, Express, Mail, Sun, Mirror, Record are all owned by right-wing greedy, lying c****. The latter two are pretend left of centre rags that are always ready to stick in the odd right-wing view where and when it matters. Their circulation far outstrips more liberal and generally more truthful newspapers such as the Guardian or National which are more dependent on donations.

            In his final interview with Melvyn Bragg, the dying Dennis Potter spoke of a scenario where you’re dying, you’ve one bullet and you have to decide who to take with you. DP stated he’d have great difficulty choosing between Thatcher and Murdoch who, in his opinion, were responsible for the moral decline of this country. At the time I’d have been stuck on the exact same two.

            In your (and Nietzsche’s) world, adorable little girls cuddle Rupert Murdoch dolls? Is there truly no one you could think of to put that bullet in?

          5. 230922 says:

            In my world, there are many media, though which many opinions are expressed, all of which are questionable. The opinion of the late Denis Potter (for whose writing I have a great deal of time), that Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch were responsible for the moral decline of the country, is questionable in a number of ways.

            And, no; I can’t think of anyone I’d like to put a bullet in. Declaring that you’d like to put a bullet into someone for whatever reason seems a perverse form of virtue-signalling.

          6. Tom Ultuous says:

            Declaring there’s no one you’d like to put a bullet in is surely virtue signalling.

          7. 230923 says:

            Indeed, it is. But you did ask me to nail my moral colours to the mast.

            Also, my demonstration of moral correctness is more attuned to the ‘normal’ sentiment that it’s generally wrong to put bullets into others. That’s why I qualified the demonstration of the contrary sentiment as ‘perverse’.

            BTW I achieved some notoriety in the 1990s by publishing the view that all rule-based moralities (‘Thou shalt not kill.’ ‘Lying is wrong’. ‘One should always repay one’s debts/keep one’s promises.’) admit exceptions, and that the primary question of ethics is when and under what circumstances might one be justified in breaking the rules; an ethics of transgression rather than obedience, in other words. I got the distinct impression that a lot of God-botherers and other authoritarian types would have liked to have put a bullet in me then, which (as I pointed out at the time) kinda proved my thesis. Even for deontologists (who say that actions are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ according to a clear set of rules), there are circumstances under which transgressing the rule against killing is morally permissible.

          8. 230923 says:

            In any case, I’m squeamish; I couldn’t put a bullet into anyone, however much I hated them. Where’s the virtue in that?

    2. Margaret Brogan says:

      Jennifer, I completely agree with your comments.

    3. Margaret Brogan says:

      Jennifer, I agree completely.

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