Recently, a picture has emerged of a soup kitchen in George Square, Glasgow, organised by Kindness Homeless Street Team, with a queue that was around two hundred people long. The surprising thing about this is that people were surprised.
Homelessness is all around in Glasgow. It is not something that is hidden like it is in other parts of the country. A short walk from Glasgow Central Station to Buchanan Street would show you that, with people sleeping rough at the side of the road. In the period from April 2019 to March 2020 a Scottish Government publication reported that there were over fifty-one thousand people who were homeless in Scotland.
The viral post gained 11,300 likes and 4,700 comments. The comments were a mix of disbelief, criticism of the government, and haphazard comparisons to the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Only one of these is warranted.
There are currently over one hundred thousand empty homes in Scotland. The reader will note that this figure is almost double the number of homeless people. Of course, it is not as simple as putting homeless people into empty homes. We live under a capitalist system. Homelessness exists as a threat. A threat to people who live in permanent accommodation. It is a threat that tells them that if they do not pay their rent or their mortgage then they will end up on the street. Without the threat of eviction tenants and mortgage payers would find it a lot easier to collectively bargain for a fairer deal.
The issues I have briefly raised are issues due to capitalism. This makes comparisons to the USSR in the 1930s even more ludicrous. Turning something that should be a critique of capitalism into a critique of socialism deflects from the problem. A system based on vast private accumulation for a few while the rest of us fight over the scraps. To add to that, the bread lines seen in the USSR were during a nationwide famine where resources were scarce. Scotland has not had a famine since the 1690s and the nature of modern international trade makes this increasingly unlikely. No comparison can be made between a semi feudal state and a nation which is at the heart of an imperialist empire.
So, let’s call it out for what it is. The pictures do not show “communism in action” nor are they a shock. It’s a visual picture of how capitalism functions.
The Tory and SNP governments have paid out billions to inefficient private contractors throughout the pandemic, yet they are unwilling to help working people who are facing sleeping rough in sub-zero temperatures. This would be possible if we had a government that was not subservient to capital.
It is clear that this is not going to come from the SNP and it especially is not going to come from the Conservatives. It will have to come from us. A mass movement of people demanding that homelessness and unemployment should never be held over our heads to prevent us from asking for better. It’s time that we recognise that food and shelter are basic human needs and any system that prevents us getting them should be smashed with no hesitation.