Friday, 22 March 2019

Land reform - time to get a shift on

From my Daily Record column

The old hippy button badge used to say: “Scotland 19 million acres, five million people. Where’s my 3.8 acres?” 

Times have changed but the facts about Scotland’s land ownership statistics remain as solid as the ground itself. Very few owners own a large tracts of the land.

Andy Wightman MSP, building on the work of John McEwen, reckons that 432 individuals own 50 per cent of Scotland’s private rural land.

It comes as no surprise then that the Scottish Land Commission, the government quango tasked with reform, identifies monopoly ownership and the concentration of power over land use as the biggest obstacle to economic development in rural Scotland.

I suppose to tackle a problem, you must first identify it, but it has taken a long time for the Commission to arrive at what was bleedin’ obvious to themselves.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and its rights for community ownership remains the single, most effective land reform legislation Holyrood has come up with, and the groundwork for that was laid before devolution.

About 562,230 acres of land is now in community ownership, and the economic and social regeneration accompanying the change in the Highlands and Islands is remarkable.

But these mostly crofting communities are the low lying fruit of land reform.

The big estates, the monopoly board owners are still in place.

The Land Commission report wants to squeeze them gently by putting public interest tests on the sale of land and requiring estates to draw up management plans that involve local communities.

Hmm, tax land holding until the pips squeak, I say. Impose transparent ownership registers and force lairds to live, as crofters must, within 20 miles of their holding. 

The Scottish government has a target of one million acres being owned by communities by the end of 2020. Better get a shift on. 

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