Martin Hannan: No place like a second home..

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Not the least of the things that stuck in my craw about the introduction of the bedroom tax was the knowledge that across Edinburgh are quite a number of people who have second homes.

It seems to me to be utterly unfair that poor people are being hammered because they happen to have an extra “empty” room in their house while wealthier people who have entire second homes, which by definition are unoccupied for various lengths of time, are not “punished” for that at all – indeed, some are even given 
discounts on their council tax for a second home.

Now some of those second homes are the result of being left a property by a deceased relative, and I accept that some second homes are necessary for people who need to be close to their business while maintaining a family home elsewhere.

But for the life of me I cannot see how anyone outside of those two categories who can afford to run a second home should get any form of discount on their council tax for that home.

If your second home is in Edinburgh, right now you can apply for a discount off your council tax charge for that home. Since last April, the council has had the power to reduce, increase or maintain discounts of between ten per cent and 50 per cent on the council tax for a second home.

It would be very interesting to see how that power is being used. I hope that people who really need a second home for business reasons or people who have just been left a property are allowed a discount, but for everybody else with a second home, can we presume that the council is not allowing any discount whatsoever?

The bedroom tax was brought in by the coalition government because of the perception that there is a shortage of affordable housing in many parts of the UK.

That is true – there is a massive shortage of such housing. But attacking people on benefits and hurting people with the bedroom tax will not solve the problem.

What would solve the problem virtually overnight would be a law to force people who own a second home to pay not only full council tax on those homes, but also an extra tax of, say, 100 per cent of council tax charge on top of that. It would bring in hundreds of millions of pounds for councils and that money could then be ring-fenced and used only to provide affordable housing for everyone that needs it.

It would also be step on the way to reform of the whole system for paying for local government, which can only be truly fair through a local income tax.

That will be a long time coming, but Edinburgh and other councils can do something to raise more money now. They must stop giving out second home discounts and rigorously apply the new rules on empty properties.

Since January 1, Edinburgh Council has had a policy of penalising the owners of long-term empty properties. That policy includes DOUBLING the council tax on long-term empty homes.

This is a very good move to encourage owners to make use of their empty properties. The council must rigorously pursue this policy and I’ll be checking to see that they do.

Fitting memorial for tragic Jamie

It will come as no comfort to the family and friends of Jamie Skinner, the 13-year-old who collapsed and died of a heart attack while playing for Tynecastle FC on December 22, but there does seem to be a genuine wish on the part of the authorities to find out what happened.

Edinburgh Leisure has suspended two workers while it investigates why a defibrillator on site was not used, and I understand Police Scotland’s inquiries are ongoing.

I cannot comment on those investigations but I sincerely hope that out of them will come a renewed commitment to providing defibrillators – and training people to use them – across Edinburgh and indeed the whole of Scotland. That would be the best memorial for Jamie.

Does he deserve sympathy? Naw!

As an SNP member, I am dismayed that West Lothian Council turned down George Galloway’s application to use Howden Park Centre for his “Just Say Naw” rally against independence.

I want his meetings to go ahead so that Galloway can be asked the questions that he and the other Unionists won’t answer – for instance, why does he support independence for Palestinians and not Scots?

Banning Galloway is giving him a taste of his own medicine. Last February he walked out of an Oxford University debate because his opponent was an Israeli. Let’s hear no wails about freedom of speech from Galloway.

Oh yes, it is a hilarious treat

If you haven’t yet seen Peter Pan at the King’s Theatre, do yourself a power of good and snap up a ticket now before its run ends on January 19.

It’s panto at its best, and principals Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott are simply brilliant.

The whole show is a hilarious treat and kids of all ages will love it.

Cracking up again

Following my recent rant against sleeping policemen, as the city’s mass of speed bumps are known – the pink bumps in Viewforth are breaking up and should be mended now!