Gina Davidson: Building a new way out of Brexit blues

Cala Homes are looking to build a mixture of houses at the Waterfront.. Picture; contributed

Cala Homes are looking to build a mixture of houses at the Waterfront.. Picture; contributed

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THE woman behind the counter didn’t beat about the bush. “Why would you vote to leave Europe?” she demanded to know of my husband as he was counting out Euros.

While he attempted a surprised reply - he didn’t personally, but democracy and all that - she declared there would soon be revolution as people’s pay packets had fallen so sharply.

Bit strong we thought. No-one really knew what Brexit would mean - apart from making this, our first fortnight abroad in over 12 years, far more expensive, given the collapse of the pound.

But we were in Greece where anti-austerity protests have been a common occurrence and where a take home pay of 400 Euros a month was, she said, impossible to live on. She had a point - and many were prepared to make it loudly and with flares.

The moment global politics interrupted our no-newspaper, social-media-free holiday - she also enlightened us about the coup in Turkey - we were wandering around a gift shop outside a local tourist attraction; a cave full of stalactites and stalagmites. The ups and downs of centuries in the mineral world.

What has gone up in Greece more recently are the prices as people struggle to make a living and pay tax (some for the first time). Costs were like for like - 5E for two pints of milk anyone?

What’s gone down are wages - and perhaps all those souvenir Grecian evil eye trinkets surrounding her gave some insight, for this week it was revealed that wages in Britain have suffered as big a fall as those in Greece. Both countries have seen real wages drop by more than 10 per cent since 2007. Not something of which to be proud.

Austerity policies are what both countries have in common too. Which of course could well increase as we leave Europe - at least that’s the prediction.

Maybe she was right about revolution. It’s not really in our blood, but the heightened dissatisfaction of our political system and our economic position being expressed by so many - particularly on social media - suggests that tempers are fraying.

More important than ever then to have a government - at Westminster and Holyrood - focusing on the economy. A new deal with Europe is not all that’s needed; a new deal to ensure well-paid jobs are available - that work actually works for people, that pays, is a necessity. Not surprisingly Owen Smith - the contender in the ring with Jeremy Corbyn for the heart and soul of the Labour Party - talks of introducing a Minister for Labour. It might sound like a 1970s throwback role, but a focus on job creation is vital.

Similarly it’s no surprise that Scottish Labour this week launched a Brexit action plan which focuses on ending austerity, guaranteeing existing workers’ rights and bringing forward infrastructure spending - particularly on affordable housing.

Sounds relatively straightforward but in Edinburgh we know different. While tens of thousands of houses need built, getting it done is tricky - particularly when most developers would rather look at greenbelt land than brownfield sites. Which is why it’s great news that Cala is looking once again at the Waterfront to build a new mix of homes - colony houses in particular being of historical significance to the city. It will be great to see that style rejuvenated.

Great to see the whole area at the centre of new building once again - perhaps relieving pressure elsewhere. It could even put new life into the idea of the tram running down to the Forth.

With just one housing announcement, potential for growth and forward movement seems possible. Think what a nationwide - government-backed - housing programme could do. We might even be able to get off the bottom rung of Europe’s wage league.