Tom Peterkin: Houses move hints at big differences

The Butterburn and Bucklemaker multi storey social housing blocks in Dundee were demolished this week. Picture: PA
The Butterburn and Bucklemaker multi storey social housing blocks in Dundee were demolished this week. Picture: PA
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WHEN Nicola Sturgeon announced the end of Maggie Thatcher’s council house right-to-buy scheme, she was at pains to say that this move was not driven by ideology.

The Deputy First Minister said the decision to halt the scheme from 2017 was not a criticism of right-to-buy on “ideological grounds”.

“I am simply saying that a policy, which may have and did help people into home-ownership in the past is not right for the circumstances which we live in today,” she said.

Despite the SNP’s antipathy towards all things Thatcher, Sturgeon’s comment did appear to acknowledge that the Conservative policy introduced in 1980 had its supporters. Although it did not persuade Scotland to vote Tory, supporters of the policy believe it is one of the successes of Thatcherism – an initiative that promoted social mobility and encouraged aspiration.

Since its introduction, 455,000 council houses have been brought into private ownership north of the Border, transforming Scotland from a nation of renters into a society where 65 per cent of homes are owner occupied.

But with David Cameron’s government enthusiastically reviving Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy south of the Border, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that a major ideological difference has opened up between Edinburgh and Westminster.

The symbolism involved in dismantling one of the key planks of Thatcherism will fuel suspicions that, 
in fact, much of this is about ideology. By diverging from Westminster, the SNP ministers have created another policy that plays to the idea that Scotland has its own set of distinctly “Scottish values”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are those in the Tory party who see the move as an attempt by the SNP to please those on the left of the party.

As one prominent Tory put it yesterday: “Simply ending right-to-buy without introducing any replacement policy, is arguably a simplistic and politically motivated move which is little more than a sop to the left of 
the SNP.”

While Sturgeon’s move will keep the left-wing Nationalists happy, it is more difficult to explain to those who look to the SNP as a party for those aspiring to get on the property ladder.

Most accept that right-to-buy was a flawed policy in that it has led to a shortage of social housing. But there are those who would argue that right-to-buy policy could have been adapted so that money generated from sales was ring-fenced and used to build social housing. That in turn would have stimulated construction and provided jobs as well as created homes for the disadvantaged.

But one suspects, however, that retaining right-to-buy in any form would not have gone down well with SNP left wingers and housing charities, who disapprove of the policy. What’s more, there is also the small matter of ideology to consider.