Kezia Dugdale: Think independently and buy gifts locally

For many traditional high street shops its make-or-break time. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
For many traditional high street shops its make-or-break time. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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THE John Lewis advert is already a fortnight old and the Christmas decorations have adorned The Dome’s George Street pillars for weeks.

The festive season is now in full swing for retailers, with just four shopping weekends to go before Christmas Day.

This year, I’ll try not to leave it to the last minute again.

But while Black Friday and Cyber Monday events run by giant online stores prove as enticing as ever, it’s make-or-break time for many ­traditional shops.

Store numbers in Scotland are down four per cent over three years – steeper than anywhere else in the UK – and nearly 6000 retail jobs have ­disappeared over the same period.

It’s little wonder that the Scottish Retail Consortium has called 2018 an ‘annus horribilis’. Debenhams recently revealed plans to shut up to 50 stores across the UK, and Toys R Us and Maplin both collapsed earlier this year.

Perhaps nowhere is the impact of online shopping more visible than on Princes Street, where the iconic House of Fraser department store now stands empty. The building has been home to a department store since Queen Victoria was on the throne in 1894, when Maule’s first opened its doors. For older generations, it’s still referred to as Binns, where young couples met “under the clock at Binns” before a date.

Rather than transform the building into another shop – thankfully, it’s too large to become another tartan tat outlet selling See You Jimmy hats – it was revealed last week it could become a flagship visitor centre dedicated to Johnnie Walker whisky, set to rival the Guinness factory in Dublin.

Our high street thoroughfares are changing fast.

But if you visit Morningside, or Stockbridge, or Marchmont, or Portobello, or Corstorphine, you’ll find that it’s not all doom and gloom. Edinburgh is an entrepreneurial city, and there are scores of independent retailers operating across the Capital.

This Saturday is the annual Small Business Saturday, when we’re encouraged to ‘shop local’. It’s a great opportunity to explore your local neighbourhood and hunt down some unique Christmas presents that you simply can’t buy in chain stores or online.

There are some wonderful initiatives this festive season, such as the Summerhall Christmas Market on December 9, where local businesses come together under one roof to sell their gifts. Or the Montrose Terrace and Abbeyhill Festive Open Night on December 6, where independent retailers will be selling artisan gifts, organic beauty products and other stocking ideas.

We know that shoppers like ­convenience, so initiatives such as these – bringing independent shops together – are a great idea at this time of year. But our local high streets need support all year round – both from shoppers and from governments.

Retailers are already reinventing themselves to face the future, yet they can’t do it without a helping hand.

It’s not just successful independent shops which are vital for the survival of our high streets.

We also need the Post Offices and banks that people rely upon.

This weekend, the Communication Workers Union is holding a national campaign day, highlighting the ­closure of 74 ‘Crown’ Post Offices – the largest outlets – as well as 11,500 other Post Offices across the UK. Post Offices do a lot more than just sell stamps – they are vital for elderly ­citizens collecting their state pension, as well as a host of other services.

I know the anger that recent ­closures have caused, particularly in the south of Edinburgh, which is why the Financial Conduct Authority should have the power to veto plans to shut branches where possible.

To rescue our high streets we also need to work to stop bank closures and the disgraceful rise in charges at cash machines. When a bank closes, it has a knock-on impact on the local shops.

This is a difficult time for the retail industry, but a brighter future is within grasp. We just have to work – and shop – for it.

Homelessness cost revealed by hostel baby

I met a man in one of my constituent surgeries recently who was living in a hostel with his baby. Mum was a drug addict and not on the scene. He was many years clean and many miles from what he’d call home. He just wanted to care for his daughter.

Imagine living in a noisy, dirty hostel with a tiny baby. How would you bath it? How would you cope with people shouting every time your baby cries? I was able to help the person in question, and by that I mean help him get a private rented flat which he can barely afford, but at least he’s out of that situation.

Horrified by that case, I naively thought it was an exception, until I discovered the work of investigative journalism organisation The Ferret, which through Freedom of Information requests, have revealed that nearly 600 families have been placed in temporary accommodation over the past 12 months in this city alone. As many as 466 of them for more than seven days, which is not only horrendous, but against the law.

The council is battling rising rents and the debacle of Universal Credit. There also isn’t enough suitable housing in the city - something that demands we rapidly increase the number of new homes we’re building, ensuring that many of them are affordable and for social rent.

That’s not easy and will take cash and time. Surely though, in the meantime, as citizens of this city we should be doing far more to demand that the quality of temporary accommodation vastly improves. It’s our money that’s paying for families to live in these ­

flea-ridden pits of hell.

Hats off to the super Scouts – my new First Aid skills are a badge of honour

LAST week I received my very own Scouts badge.

Just like all young Scouts do, I had to achieve four out of seven requirements for my Youth Advocacy Award.

As part of the process I learned First Aid skills, took part in high ropes activities in Bonaly, raised youth issues in the Scottish Parliament including the provision of free sanitary products at Scouts Adventure Centres, and – most recently – took the Meadows Explorers on a tour of Holyrood where they taught me how to tie a sling using a Scout neckie.

The Youth Advocacy Award is a great way of ensuring MSPs learn about the work of Scouts Scotland and I’m proud to be one of the first to complete it.

Every week, nearly 40,000 young people in Scotland have the opportunity to enjoy fun and adventure as part of the Scouts, while developing skills that help them succeed in life.

They build great friendships while being encouraged to do more and learn more.

Compared to young people not in Scouting, surveys suggest those who take part are one-third more likely to take an active role in their communities. Too often when there are stories in the media about young people, it focuses on anti-social behaviour. I get it – bad behaviour has always been more newsworthy whatever someone’s age.

But it’s deeply reassuring to know there are thousands of young people out there who are active citizens, being taught to engage with their communities and working towards social change.