The National:

THIS month, I stayed at Alex Cole-Hamilton’s AirBnB – a wooden shed in the back garden of the Liberal Democrats leader’s house in West Edinburgh.

You may be wondering why. To be honest, I wondered the same thing several times during my stay. But this week, I was certainly given a reminder.

The Scottish Government’s short term lets licensing scheme has been under intense scrutiny.

Due to come in on October 1, it requires hosts to display energy performance ratings on listings, have adequate buildings and public liability insurance as well as various fire and gas safety precautions.

The legislation came after a boom in platforms such as Airbnb, which led to complaints about anti-social behaviour from tenants and concerns that it was contributing to a lack of affordable housing in Scotland’s cities and even rural areas.

READ MORE: See the list of MSPs with links to rental sector who backed short-term lets delay

And now, there is a large pushback due to concerns about its impact on Scottish tourism - including opposition from Cole-Hamilton's party. 

Half of his party’s 4 MSPs (Liam McArthur and Willie Rennie) were among a total of 37 who signed a letter on Wednesday calling on First Minister Humza Yousaf to pause the scheme, which was originally pushed back by six months following scrutiny from industry leaders.

Now, to be fair, Cole-Hamilton’s shed wouldn’t be suitable as a long-term rental but it will still be impacted by the scheme. And as a party leader with legislative influence, this could be seen as a potential conflict of interest at a time when the legislation is under scrutiny.

The National can also reveal that Cole-Hamilton – who sits on the cross-party group for housing – has previously been lobbied twice by Halogen, the same communications firm often employed by AirBnB, on behalf of the Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers, who have been lobbying strongly against the scheme. 

In one of those meetings in 2018, they discussed a “number of suggested amendments to the bill on short-term lets,” according to the Scottish Parliament’s lobbying register.

Cole-Hamilton hasn’t yet commented publicly himself on whether or not to pause the scheme – despite a request for comment made to his party’s press office. He has also not yet signed up for the scheme or been accepted yet as of August 21 according to the Edinburgh Council website.

Cole-Hamilton has said in the past that he was in favour of regulations, even telling Edinburgh Live in 2021 that he would “hold AirBnB to account”. But it’s hard to argue that the party leader doesn’t have skin in the game - particularly now.

Reports in August 2021 estimated the MSP could be taking home as much as £10,000 a year renting out the “utterly private, beautifully built, warm and welcoming cabin” at £57 a night.

With the cost as of August 2023 now jumping by over 150% (I paid over 180£ for a one night stay), the Edinburgh Western MSP could be raking in around the equivalent of the median pay in Scotland thanks to his Airbnb side hustle.

But is it worth it?

Well, I’ve certainly been to better AirBnB’s, and I would expect more for over £180 a night. But that isn’t to say it was unpleasant.

The day of my stay, I got a long message from Cole-Hamilton detailing everything I’d likely ever need including how to gain access to the “Cabin” via its private entrance, food recommendations, bus routes into the city centre, and WiFi code.

I never actually met my host but did briefly say hello to his very cute wee dog as I opened the glass door and made my way into the small wooden shed.

The National:

The main room is fairly spacious, with a double bed adorned with a floral cover facing a small wall-mounted TV and a counter top which featured a small assortment of teas and coffees, including a Nespresso machine. 

The National:

The ensuite bathroom was clean and fit for purpose, and the general decor across the shed was pretty basic but bright and welcoming enough.

That being said, I simply dropped my bag and left pretty snappily, making my way into Edinburgh city centre for the evening. The bus connections were irregular but it was a Sunday, to be fair.

It was only when I returned for a good night's sleep that I noticed some issues. For one, the blinds were difficult to operate and I had to give up halfway through.

Then I noticed the spiders – one crawling amidst the blinds and then another large one scampering along the walls.

The National:

When I went to brush my teeth, I noticed a slight damp fusty smell and then when I lay down in bed, I noticed my feet slightly poked out the end.

Despite all this and the impending danger of Alex-Cole Hamilton’s shed spiders, I slept surprisingly well in what ended up being quite a comfortable bed. My morning shower was less than satisfying, however, as the temperature was difficult to regulate and the water pressure was very weak.

As I left, I noticed the bus on weekdays stopped just outside – which was convenient. And as I sped away, I was fairly rested and found it to be a pleasant stay.

But £180? For roughly that price, I could stay at a number of 3 or even 4 star hotels in Edinburgh city centre including the Holyrood Hotel – which is right by the Royal Mile and Cole-Hamilton’s place of work, and has a swimming pool and spa.

In the spirit of the Channel 4 show, Four in a Bed – my ratings:

How were your hosts? I never actually met my host, which I believe is part of the appeal of the “private” shed. But he was pleasant enough via message and gave some good tips and tricks ahead of my stay. (6/10)

How clean was the shed? Quite clean, although I noticed some cobwebs (ergo spiders) and the bathroom did have a slight fusty smell. (8/10)

How were the facilities? Nice tea and coffee making station. TV with Netflix, although I didn’t use it. Basic furniture. Fit for purpose but nothing above and beyond given the high price point. (5/10)

How did I sleep? Quite well despite the spiders, although I was up early because of the light streaming through the main window because of the difficult blinds. And the bed was too short. (7/10)

How much would I pay to stay at Alex Cole-Hamilton’s shed? £60 usually and £80 during the Fringe - in other words, an underpayment of £100-120.