LAST WEEK the Scottish Parliament refused to support a motion declaring a housing emergency across Scotland.

Local authorities in Argyll and Bute and Edinburgh have recently done so but not Glasgow City Council, which arguably has similar if not more profound housing challenges.

At Holyrood, SNP and Green MSPs were successful in amending the motion to recognise “that Scotland is facing significant pressures with homelessness and temporary accommodation”.

That was a bit like saying the weather was rather inclement during Storm Babet.

There’s an unpalatable and spectacular social injustice staring us in the face here.

In our towns and cities, huge tracks of land lie vacant, derelict or land banked as a speculative asset for profit rather than being put to the service of the common good.

Meanwhile, homeless applications are up 15% on last year, with almost 30,000 active cases.

A record 9,595 children and young persons were in temporary homeless accommodation this year - the highest number since Scottish government records began in 2002.

Around 90 per cent of Scotland’s land is classed as agricultural or forestry. Much of it is traded privately between multi-millionaires and billionaires. The ultimate designer item for the uber-rich.

A Land Reform Review Group report in 2014 revealed that Scottish rural land holdings in the period of 2003 to 2013 increased in value by 204% as against house prices, which grew by 32% over the same period.

The only commodity that had a higher value over time was gold.

Remarkably, 67% of all private rural landownership in Scotland is owned by 0.025% of our population. In 1667, Scotland had a land tax. Indeed, we had land taxes for hundreds of years until they were abolished by the Finance Act in 1963.

Why don’t we tax rural landownership?

Agricultural or forestry land and buildings involved in production are exempt from non-domestic rates. Agricultural property relief exempts people from paying inheritance tax on the agricultural value of land and property.

In 2020, the Scottish Land Commission said, “The favourable fiscal environment for these types of land may have pushed up the price of agricultural land, limiting the number of new ­landowners”.

In 2019, the Scottish Vacant and Derelict Land Survey recorded 10,926 hectares of vacant and derelict land spread out across 3,510 sites. Nearly 30% of Scotland’s population lived within 500 metres of a vacant or derelict site.

We have a homeless and housing emergency in Scotland because we’ve allowed it to happen.

There is nothing to stop the Scottish Parliament from enacting legislation to empower local councils to tax large rural land holdings on an annual basis.

Such a tax could be ringfenced to provide an income stream to fund the building of new social housing by councils and housing associations.

Likewise, we could consider new legislation to create a fast-track route for the compulsory purchase of vacant and derelict land for social house building.

Homes for Scotland estimate a shortfall of 114,000 new homes having accumulated across Scotland since 2008.

We have an incredibly expensive Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government in terms of salaries, pensions, allowances, expenses and overheads.

Devolution costs us a fortune. Why isn’t Holyrood using its powers to fix the housing and homelessness crisis in Scotland?