7 Days Remaining

Saturday 3rd
posted by Zoe Streatfield in Features

Labour’s Edinburgh Northern and Leith candidate GORDON MUNRO talks to the Star about the rise in foodbank use and how wealth can be redistributed with fair taxation

EDINBURGH is a beautiful city and has long been a tourist hotspot with its historic castle, world-famous fringe festival and prestigious university.

But as with many cities like it, areas have been gentrified, increasing the cost of living for ordinary people who feel pushed out by sky-high rents and a lack of affordable housing.

Despite often being seen as affluent compared to cities like Glasgow and Dundee, Edinburgh and its surrounding areas suffer many of the same problems, like poverty, unemployment, poor pay and housing shortages.

Gordon Munro, pictured, has been a Labour Party member since 1982 and has been actively involved with the left of the party since then — particularly with the Campaign for Socialism — and was a contributor to the Red Paper on the constitutional debate in Scotland.

He has also been a member of CND since the 1980s, been involved with many human rights campaigns and is a member of Unite the Union.

Munro has been a councillor for Leith, where he was born, since 2003.

During this time, he played a central role in using regeneration funding to set up teen health clinics to tackle drug and alcohol problems as well as supporting teenage parents, and has worked to ensure that housing, including council housing is built on the site of Fort House.

He is “proud of the role I played in helping the local community secure Custom House in Leith so that we have a building where Leith’s rich history as Scotland’s main port can be discovered and enjoyed.”

When I ask him what the most serious concern for people in his constituency is, he replies: “The biggest issue is poverty.”

With insecure work and low pay on the rise, in-work poverty has become a huge issue.

“We have 42,100 people in in-work poverty and over a quarter of those are in North and Leith. There are more people in in-work poverty than there are unemployed in Edinburgh.”

Munro also says that in Edinburgh more than one in five children live in poverty, and pensioner poverty is also rife.

He tells me that foodbanks have sprung up in the constituency since the Tories returned to power in 2010, and a new credit union, Castle Credit Union, has been set up “to try and combat the growth of payday lenders who have set up shop here.”

“These are local initiatives filling the gap left by a lack of political will by power to tackle poverty by both Scottish and the UK government.”

The response his campaign has been getting from the public has been positive, Munro says.

“People have been talking to us about our policies and wanting to get beyond the binary nationalisms of the Tories and the SNP. I have people who voted Yes in the referendum supporting and working for me locally.”

He says Labour’s manifesto’s commitment for a fair deal at work has been popular with voters.

“We have a 20-point plan for those in work for security and equality. No-one else has this plan.

“When you say that we will raise the minimum wage to the level of the living wage for all workers aged 18 and over and end zero-hours contracts, people welcome these commitments.

“I met one woman who told me that she had been waiting on a phone call from her employer for work for three months. She was not claiming benefits and living off her savings, which were getting perilously low.”

These are all too familiar situations, he says, which should not be happening in the sixth-richest economy in the world. A Labour government would work hard to tackle these issues.

Ensuring fair taxation and making rich corporations pay their way has also been very popular on the doorstep.

“People are tired of seeing the Mike Ashleys and Philip Greens of this world dodging what they should be paying.”

He says unpaid tax was “money that is in effect stolen from hospitals, schools, public services and pensioners, and as a former employee of the Inland Revenue I know that my former trade union (the Public and Commercial Services Union) estimate this at a whopping £120 billion a year.”

On a personal level, Munro, who is no stranger to international solidarity having been a supporter of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the International Brigades Memorial Trust, says the party’s commitment to internationalism had made him proud and will help combat nationalism, “which threatens not just this country and Europe but the world.”

He is pleased with the way Labour has changed under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and welcomes the influx of new members and believes: “The new members have revived the party across the country and this has energised politics for the good and is why large numbers are turning out to hear what we have to say.

“This change is here to stay beyond this election. We have had 20 new members join locally in the last two weeks, three of whom turned up to our street stall in Leith last Saturday.

“People are helping in whatever way they can, whether it’s leafleting in their area, old-fashioned doorknocking, or just talking to friends and family and there have also been voter registration drives locally in Leith and by Momentum with students in the city.”

As the polls draw nearer, voters in Scotland could make all the difference in securing a Labour victory, yet many are still attracted to the anti-austerity rhetoric of the SNP.

Gordon is critical of the argument that the SNP is anti-austerity and message for these voters is simple.

Voters could, Munro insists, “end austerity now by electing a Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn at the helm.

“Look at the track record of some of my fellow candidates and you will find comrades who have a track record of working for the many not the few.

“The SNP have held power for 10 years now in Scotland and austerity has grown, as have the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

“Choosing not to use their powers to tackle austerity by saying it may come with independence is an illusion.”