Scottish Parliament: Here are the issues that should be MSPs' biggest priorities – Neil Findlay
When MSPs returned from their summer recess, I’m sure they all bounced into Holyrood full of vim and vigour, keen as mustard to get stuck into the big issues facing our communities.
Well, I hope so because the issues facing citizens across Edinburgh, the Lothians and all over Scotland are huge.
The National Records of Scotland recently published their latest statistics on inequality and they are damning. The research highlighted a huge gap in healthy life expectancy across the country.
Men born in the poorest areas can expect around 25 fewer years in good health compared to those in affluent parts of Scotland, and the gap is over 21 years for women.
Low pay, job insecurity and exploitative working practices are endemic, driving levels of in-work poverty that are resulting in more and more families having no option but to rely on emergency charitable food provision.
Scotland has the shameful record of having the worst level of drugs deaths in Europe – four times greater than in England and Wales where the exact same drugs laws apply – and if you live in a poor community you are 18 times more likely to die from drugs than someone in a wealthier one and 4.3 times more likely to suffer an alcohol-related death.
Over the years, we have been told education is the way out of poverty for people of my class, yet this year only 14.4 per cent of new Scottish students will go to university from the poorest areas of Scotland, the lowest figure since 2016.
In our NHS, patients are supposed to have a 12-week treatment-time guarantee – before the Covid pandemic struck, waiting times were at record levels, now they are off the scale. There is a mental health crisis and a huge dental health backlog.
In the year Scotland hosts world leaders at Cop26, train operating company Abellio ScotRail is proposing to cut 300 train services a day.
And in the make-believe world where Abellio operates, they justify this by claiming cutting trains will help in the fight against climate change. You could not make this up.
Across the country, there is a housing crisis but in Edinburgh it is now way beyond crisis point.
House prices and rents are now completely out of the reach of ordinary people – average house prices are over £300,000 and with rents averaging well over £1000 a month. At the same time, council and housing associations waiting lists continue to grow with huge amounts being paid to private landlords and hotel owners for temporary accommodation. And, let's not forget the impact of Airbnb.
Across Scotland’s councils, over a decade of budget cuts sees our public realm in a dreadful state. Weed-spraying has ceased and the regularity of grass-cutting has reduced, with gullies blocked and litter piling up.
These are the issues that should be concentrating the minds of our new MSPs and political leaders of all parties in this new parliamentary term. These issues should be their priority. I hope they are listening and prepared to act.
Neil Findlay is a former Labour MSP and is now a director of social enterprise Unity Consulting