I have been involved in politics for 20 years and community campaigning for even longer. There’s always a tiny danger that, when immersed in issues for so long, one loses the capacity to be shocked at some obvious wrongs.
No such problems with the so-called supermarket tax though. The proposal came from the SNP Government and I know that, in the best traditions of Scottish tribal politics, I am meant to nitpick at it.
But it is actually a good idea. It is not enough, of course, but if it helps level the playing field between the likes of Asda and Tesco, on the one hand, and my local shops, on the other, it is fine by me. And if the revenue raised helps to protect threatened public services from budget cuts, then what’s not to like?
In my part of Edinburgh, over the last fifteen years, my neighbourhood has lost a butcher, fishmonger, baker, post office and now our chemist. Co-incidentally, Asda, Tesco and Sainbury have opened massive stores within a mile. The local shops cannot compete. But, as one my neighbours, Joanna Blythman has shown, in her remarkable supermarket expose, ‘Shopped’, each new supermarket is a net destroyer of jobs.
Here in the Shandon area of the capital, our local food group has just launched our own Shop Local Shandon campaign. We’ve been talking to our local shops about extending the range of produce they offer and, in turn, giving residents new information to explore their local shops, as well as the various food-box schemes that deliver to our area. So there are positive things that communities and individuals can do.
But the really shocking thing about last week was the way party and big business interest became entwined. I am grateful to Green MSP, Patrick Harvie, for exposing just how much Labour, Lib Dems and Tories have received in donations from the supermarket giants, before all three parties combined at Holyrood to defeat the proposal for a modest tax on the largest retailers.
I’ll remember that the next time I hear pious words from any of these three parties about the need to protect local shops.