Edinburgh In the wake of the Scottish independence vote a bit more than a year ago, a coalition came together that included ACORN Scotland, EPTAG – the Edinburgh Private Tenants’ Action Group, an ACORN affiliate, the Scottish Student Union and others to form what we called the Living Rent Campaign. The demands were not new, but the energy was high in the wake of the election with hopes that the prospects of some devolution of powers to Scotland might make long fought campaign goals around security of tenure and even rent control winnable.
It was fascinating to see how much progress had been made over the last year as I sat through the weekly Monday night planning meeting of the group with ACORN and EPTAG veteran warhorses Keir Lawson, Jon Black, Liz Ely and some other stalwarts as well as new found comrades from the student movement. The discussions of petitions, post card campaigns, stalls, and doorknocking were part of a familiar song, but the new verses involved timelines and dates for submissions and testimony before various parliamentary committees, reports of meetings with yet more allies ready to sign up for the campaign, and briefings on meetings at the party congress of the current ruling party, the Scottish National Party (SNP). This was heady stuff reflecting a hard and successful year of organizing.
Talking to the organizers, it was clear that for all the progress we were a long way from declaring victory and no matter the new momentum and kinder face of the government, the landlords continued to be well organized and a formidable opposition force on most of our points. The legislation was a long way from a done deal and like so many things in the legislative process, the devil was in the details. We were focused on four main themes: affordability, inclusivity for all tenants, flexibility in untenable situations, and security.
Security of tenure is a good case study of the push-and-shove that remains before we can say we have really won. We believe the “no fault” language is still tenuous and under attack on evictions as well continuation of “hardship” defenses that have been in previous legislation dating back to 1988. There are hard fights being waged on whether or not an initial six-month period would hold tenants in bad circumstances. There is a constant tension in our “security” fight on wanting more security in terms of lease periods, but not being trapped in bad leases with recalcitrant landlords unwilling to maintain habitable apartments.
A similar fight is still at issue around rent controls. Once again like with security “in principle” there is movement, but where our concern is affordability, landlords and some of their parliamentary allies are trying to reposition the controls as “predictability” of rent, even in these times of huge increases. The compromise has been a discussion of limiting rent increases to the CPI, consumer price increase, plus 1% based on a factor of “N” with the “N” being a number establishing the fair market rate by local jurisdiction. Our campaign believes that local circumstances are so varied between the red hot market in Aberdeen and even Edinburgh compared to elsewhere that local councils need to be able to set the floor, while others are pushing for a national rate which would make almost no one happy.
In a period of so-called devolution, most organizers are increasingly scoffing at the notion that much of any real power was devolved and in fact in some cases the counterattack on Scotland elsewhere in the United Kingdom may have England setting policies and forcing Scotland by default to have to adapt to them. Ironically, a year after these concessions were made, in situations like the struggle over affordability embedded in our demands for rent controls, we are left still battling for more devolution into local jurisdictions more responsive to peoples’ needs and peoples’ organizational formations and pressure.
Living rent, like living wages, is not a fight with just one battle but a never ending war, so for ACORN we are in this for the long haul.