Alasdair Codona and Scottish homelessness

Feasgar math h-uile duine – that’s the Gaelic for “good evening everyone”. The first Gaelic speaker I ever met was a music student at Aberdeen called Alasdair Codona. A warm and engaging individual, I shared a flat with Alasdair for a while, before moving closer to the university. We saw each other regularly as we were both involved in the Student Christian Movement, but after I graduated, I lost touch with him. Perhaps, subconsciously, my efforts to try and learn Gaelic now have their origins in my encounter with Alasdair.

A few years ago, however, I saw him completely by chance late one night on BBC Alba, as I was channel-hopping. I don’t now remember what he was singing, but there are some clips available online, for example:

and this one with Jenna Cumming:

and another song with her:

Here he is singing one of his own compositions about Calum Cille (Saint Columba of Iona):

Do take a few minutes to listen to these if you don’t know Alasdair’s music already. Also, if you’ve ever sung ‘Forgiveness is your gift’ in church (no. 361 in the Church Hymnary, 4th Edition, 2005), you’ll see it’s a Skye folk melody arranged by Alasdair.

I wrote to BBC Alba after seeing him on TV, seeking to get in touch with Alasdair, but he never heard from them. And then two evenings ago a friend, Déirdre Ní Mhathúna, not realising that I knew Alasdair, contacted me on Facebook with her page about him: he is on hunger strike, protesting homelessness legislation. The Daily Record newspaper has already run stories about him, but I had missed these: 23.12. and 24.12.

I went to Edinburgh today to meet him, and spent two hours sitting outside the Parliament chatting – we reconnected immediately, and spent some time reminiscing about Aberdeen days, and he then described some of what he has been trying to do. Having experienced homelessness, he has tried to lobby Members of the Scottish Parliament and councillors to change key parts of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, which define who is homeless and give enormous leeway to officials to block people from accessing services to which they would otherwise be entitled. In particular, not having a fixed address of course hinders all kinds of access to services, even to basic ones such as the Post Office Card Account (ironically, run by JP Morgan!). Alasdair feels that he now has no choice but to seek to pressure the Scottish Government to address these issues through his own body, hence the hunger strike, now into the third week.

How you can help

If you live in Scotland, do contact one of your MSPs, especially if you have a connection to one of them or you see that they are on e.g. the Local Government and Communities Committee, or the Social Security Committee. You might ask if they will meet with Alasdair – he is quite literally on their doorstep! – and address the concerns he has. Given the nature of his action, this is obviously urgent. It appears parliament is only in session again from 10.1. – but some MSPs may well be around the Parliament before then.

Wherever you live, a suggestion is emerging about setting up a Scottish Parliamentary petition and anyone can sign such petitions, whether they live in Scotland or not. Do join Déirdre’s Facebook page and follow the updates there for news and possible actions that might be taken.

Finally, if you are in Edinburgh, maybe go and visit Alasdair and offer your encouragement and support – though be aware he is weakening all the time, and you may not be able to stay for long.

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4 thoughts on “Alasdair Codona and Scottish homelessness

  1. Hi Marten,
    Could you clarify exactly what it is that Alisdair is protesting about?

    This Housing Scotland Act 1987 was superseded by the Homelessness Act 2003, so it’s not really relevant to Homelessness services today. Anyone approaching a local authority has an absolute right to be assessed and helped. See Shelter link.

    The Post Office is not a Scottish Government agency (unfortunately). Regulation of financial services is “reserved” to Westminster so the Scottish Parliament has no powers over how the PO runs accounts.

    http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/professional_resources/policy_library/policy_library_folder/fact_sheet_on_the_homelessness_etc._scotland_act

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    • Hi Derick, thanks for your comments. I was not aware of this (this isn’t really my area of expertise), but as I understand it from Alasdair’s experiences as he described them to me, the discretion of council officials to deny homelessness status (as it were) to people who regard themselves as homeless is widely used/abused. There is now involvement from an MSP, and no doubt this will be pursued more properly in relation to the relevant legislation. Your link is really helpful here, and I’ll alert Deirdre to it (she maintains the FB page for Alasdair’s protest). Thanks, Michael

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      • OK – good.

        I’ve done a bit of work on homelessness in the past – for the Homelessness Task Force, which led to the 2003 Act. On single homelessness and a bit of strategy work.

        People’s legal rights are clear in Scotland and, since the 2003 Act, immensely better than elsewhere in the UK. But there is no system that can’t be improved. The Act required councils to prepare and report on Homelessness Strategies, but in recent years those have been merged with general Local Housing Strategies. A mistake which led to a loss of focus perhaps. Driven by civil servants. Should perhaps be revisited.

        If people are genuinely gatekeeping they are breaking the law. But one must be aware of the messy interface where mental health issues intersect.

        Shelter is a good resource and their advisors are more than happy to advocate for anyone that struggles with forms and officialdom.

        I hope Alisdair is OK

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        • Thanks for the pointers. All will be passed on to Alasdair. I have heard that he is doing much better: after meeting with government representatives he has ended his hunger strike and under medical supervision is now taking food again. We’ll see what happens in the coming week.

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