Time to Call the Landowners Bluff

Richard-Scott-556703On Wednesday, 3rd February, the ‘Daily Telegraph’ provided Scottish landowners with a public platform under the headline ‘Eminent lairds warn SNP land reforms may stop farm lets’, in which estates owned by major landowners like the Duke of Buccleuch and the Earl of Seafield lead warnings that allowing tenant farmers with no successors to sell on their secure tenancies would backfire and lead to legal challenges in the courts.

This petulant display by Landowners in the Scottish Parliament was no surprise. The warning that they ‘may stop letting land out long-term to tenants’ should be treated as the empty threat it obviously is. Landowners stopped letting land on long leases many years ago. The most common form of lease now is for contract farming the land for less than a year at a time to avoid the risk of creating a secure tenancy. A few limited-duration, 10-year tenancies have been formed for newcomers to farming but they look suspiciously like publicity stunts. The cry of despair over the proposal to allow a secure tenant to pass a tenancy to someone else or allow the landowner to buy out the tenant is another red herring. The formula of paying a tenant 25% of the market price to relinquish a tenancy has been in existence for more than 40 years. The freehold market price of a farm is about twice its price with a secure tenancy so it was common for the landlord and tenant to split the difference so that the landlord gained the option of selling at the freehold price.

The threat of court action because ‘the move [to allow a tenant to pass on a tenancy] would be challenged under European Law” as it represented ‘the confiscation of the property owner’s interest’ should not prevent changes from being made. Landowners are fond of declaring that the ownership of land is a fundamental human right which should be strictly upheld but this is unacceptable because it is unreasonable. It only applies to those of us who own land now. Those who do not own land have no right to own any, so the ‘right to own land’ is unlike other human rights such as the right to practise one’s religion, which is the right of everyone to claim.

The title deeds which landowners, like me, hold should be open to question. Where and when did those deeds originate? Ultimately they were granted by ‘The Divine Right of Kings’ and the land has been taken from its native occupants by violent conquest or fraud or privileged enclosure. I am certain that the Law confirms the right of landowners to own their land but it is a law which is devoid of justice. If the status quo has to be supported because European Law says so then European Law must be changed.

Many long term farm tenancies will continue because wise land owners are content to leave all the work and risks of farming to their tenants. There are more landowners who need their tenants than there are tenants who need their landowners. The history of landowners in the 1930s who dispensed with their tenants in the days before security of tenure was granted should be a salutary lesson. A lot of land was eventually offered to tenants free of rent until it was restored to productive use.

Comments (25)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Brian Cahill says:

    I would, as am sure many other fair minded people would, fully support land reform in Sotland. The proposition to protect tenant farmers is a noble just cause. I know there are indeed more reasons to reform the demigod status of landowners and their significant lack of financial contribuition to Scotlands Economy. Protecting tenant farmers would be a start

  2. David Barrie Grieve says:

    The question of land ownership, land tenancy etc is all very messy and reeks of greed and power. One begins to understand famous phrases like ‘all property is theft’ as not merely being a soothing and convenient phrase by the have nots in this world, but the actual reality especially related to land.

    The land is everybody’s land first and foremost, is a good place to start from. Usage of land and profit from usage is another consideration. But an intrinsic right to decide that you own land because you or your ancestors have said so or because you have paid money to someone else and hence ‘enabled’ registration of ownership for yourself, stinks.

    Removal of rights from ‘owners’ must be available for the sake of a country. If people are using land to enable an illegal activity, or to deliberately stress other people, including parliaments and governments, then compulsory purchase must be a considered option unless the owners modify their behaviour.


    1. Calum MacNairn says:

      Modifying behaviours – its too late for that, they have had 300 plus years and they have given not one inch voluntarily!

      These landowners are de facto the pond life (apologies to all pond dwellers) remaining that sold the Scottish people down the river in 1707 and have continued in a privileged feather bedded position ever since, largely for political reasons and preservation of the union.

      We can have a policy such as the bedroom tax imposed without consultation on the weakest and most vulnerable in society that have significant and detrimental impacts on hundreds of thousands of Scots lives. I didn’t hear the duke of Buccleuch pipe up about the plight of his fellow Scots, perhaps he was touring the vast number of bedrooms in his castles?

      Yet, these people, idle rich, hereditary landed gentry who don’t pay taxes, supported by the establishment (because they are the establishment), largely parasitic, backsides growing fat on the house of lords benches, can make the lives of others an absolute misery and are a millstone round the necks of the whole country.

      Radical change must happen and fast and be demonstrated to the people it has happened!

      Where there are model landowners, adopt and spread their best practice. This could be moving away from the elite shooting estates to reintroduction of extinct species that tourists with cameras can visit.

      I am normally an advocate of progressive policies that take the majority of people with them, in this case it is time to rail road through change so we can have people and opportunity in the glens, not pond life from a bygone age!

      Be bold Dr MacLeod, embrace the views of the SNP members and others keen for radical land reform – the time and land is ours!

  3. liz g says:

    Would “if you follow the landowners logic ” it not also be reasonable that landowners should also be forbidden to pass on land.
    This would allow all land to eventually come back to the people without messy court case’s and allow the children of landowners to be in the same position as the children of tennans ie if you want it being a position to buy it when it comes on the market.

    1. Ian Kirkwood says:

      It is important to get a handle on rent. This was originally the public sum collected by representatives of the crown and passed to the Exchequer to fund the nation’s activities. Today it is the private privilege of landowners. What went wrong? The transition was organised by landowners who side-lined the sovereign at Magna Carta, took control of the legislature and privatised the public purse. The damaging taxes we endure today are the landlords’ replacement revenue system (…they would not be affected by the 1:1 deadweight losses) funded by non landowners. The answer is for us to understand, embrace and promote Annual Ground Rent (AGR) which is nothing less than a return to rent as national revenue and an end to regressive taxes, impoverished public services — and insecure tenant farmers.

  4. Terence callachan says:

    A good start would be an open book showing who actually owns the land in Scotland ,amazingly this information is not available but is kept secret.Huge parts of Scotland is owned by Lords in the House of Lords who inherited their land which was originally just taken into ownership by ancient kings and queens and gifted to relatives of these Lords who now proclaim rightful ownership.Inheriting this stolen land is criminal and should be stopped otherwise we are supporting this theft and even if the theft took place a long time ago it is not right to say it is too long ago for it to be corrected and reversed.

    1. Ian Kirkwood says:

      Such information would be useful. But it is worth noting that if the Annual Ground Rent (AGR) is collected, then the country (i.e. its citizens) has the rents. Knowing the identity of the contributor is not important. As Henry George said in Glasgow City Hall in 1884, “It is not necessary to divide the land, when you can divide the income drawn from the land.”
      Under AGR there is nowhere for a tax evader to hide because the ground cannot be secreted offshore. Non-payment of AGR would lead in the end to state repossession and resale of such sites. Zero tax evasion is just one of the useful contributions of AGR.

      1. C Rober says:

        AGR is the way forward , cant pay take away sounds like a c5 programme waiting to happen , not simply handing over estates and land to national heritage for a couple of weeks in summer , to avoid selling off the silver , while the Lord simply lives in the Gardeners cottage having avoided death duties via the 7 year rule for gifting.

        I would like to know Prince Charles view on land ownership in Scotland , in some ways his estates are roll models for management and use , but then again theres always the stigma of the tales of refusing to renew leases of tenants. Was he not sending mail to Hollyrood in some respect regarding the failure of land ownership to protect itself for the future , perhaps he is a perfect go between here on how he works his estates?

        But will the AGR backfire , sounds very like something in Ireland during the famine , where the taxes are simply put onto tenants , crofters and farmers , and we know how that worked out.

        1. Ian Kirkwood says:

          It is absolutely the role of the future sovereign to speak up for ‘his people’ over ‘his nobles’. His predecessor’s humiliation at Magna Carta at the hands of the nobility, started Britain’s journey in the direction of privatising public value (rents) into the hands of the landowning aristocracy. By the 1840s the journey from 100% rent-as-revenue to 0% was complete. The country was left with the substitute tax system we now endure. One in which non-landowners must fund the lifestyles of those owning land. To see how this works please ruminate on how tenants funding landlord mortgages provide the owner with untaxed capital gains (accrued on the value of the site ) that more than offset the total tax bill of the owner. In other words a free ride.
          But whilst Scotland was being cleared in the early 1800s, the Danish monarch directed the redistribution of land to the people and tax reforms that repressed the avaricious schemes of ‘rentseekers’. Thus is Denmark today the world’s happiest country. Even Prince Charles can find a useful radical role by promoting Annual Ground Rent (AGR) in place of the Landlords’ Taxes.

  5. Tony Rozga says:

    Accurate account Duncan, the lairds have threatened us before with not allowing land to be let out, if reform is not silenced. This issue needs revisiting early in the next parliament, hopefully we are beginning to see things clearer. Too often agricultural tenancy issues are framed as being confrontational, with the solution being better dialogue and stronger working relationship between tenant and laird. This is a massive red herring continually pedalled by land agents, NFU and even STFA. Our land ownership crisis in Scotland has nothing to do with personal/professional relationships, it is a result of ill formed law. I know a few landowners with large estates and they are pleasant people, who are easy to talk with. These landowners operate within the law and if we feel that we want reform, then we must change the law, not our relationship with landowners.

  6. James says:

    Landowners and their land agents want to offer only short term tenancies and contract farm agreements so that there is no security for the tenant or contract farmer . Higher rents are achieved by this so that landlords are happy and land agents smug by getting a bigger commission . This churn of short term farming does not do the community any good . But I noticed there is no churn with Landowners who have owned ” their ” land for hundreds of years . What is good for the goose is surely good for the gander .

  7. Emily says:

    Many landowners bought their estates many years ago from the proceeds of their activity in the slave trade .

  8. deBeausoleil says:

    So called ‘Divine Right of Kings’ never existed under the Catholic Church. That phrase if part of modern social control propagana. Before the rule of Stupidity, the Catholic Church owned the land and administered the vast commons under a tripartite system which balanced Church, Military and Hereditary King, which ruled until the protestants confiscated church lands, then used this stolen land as collateral to pay mercenary thugs to win more stolen land and that is the history of present day land ownership, and perhaps there are exceptions. Keep trying to figure out your history without acknowledging the Catholic Church, which for Scotland was based in Constantinople for many years. It’s very amusing to see the confusion that is created by this insistence on pretending that the Catholic never existed. Why do people deny their own heritage? Such is the power of social engineering. It makes one hate oneself and act against one’s own interests.

  9. Bob Agassi says:

    It boils my blood to see working farms run down as a result of these ancient leases coming to an end. In Ayrshire where the Kennedy’s own God knows how much land we have seen good working farms neglected. The good Marquis runs his empire from a farm near Culzean but many local farms which thrived with tenant farmers have been abandoned for dubious reasons. Let the Marquis reply here and tell us his plans for prime Ayrshire farmland… come on David tell us!!

    1. C Rober says:

      He isnt the only one , how about NAC and LDP zoning Lorded farm land for executive housing , completely ignoring their own legislation and promises in doing so.

      But then considering the FM is from there they probably think they have a free hand in fat pockets from housing , as they ignore the council waiting lists , setting legislation for bypasses for Glagow commuter towns for the privileged few to the new houses front doors.

      If the SNP was serious at all on land reform they would tax the Lords to hell , but instead its watered down land reform. They are corrupt and wanting , at least in Ayrshire.

  10. All Shaw says:

    Land reform has a viable model from New Zealand where the massive Cheviot Estate was broken up over 120 years ago.

  11. Gordon Benton says:

    A much-needed addition to this vexing problem of Scottish land ownership. The idea, as indicated in comments above, that the idea that ‘one’ can own land, and by definition the ground below, the sky, rivers, lochs and the sea can be ‘owned’, to repeat your commentator, does ‘stink’. Perhaps half the price of a home in Scotland is the arbitrary cost of the ‘place’. There should be a ‘right to use’ clause in our law, which is then taxed according to what is done with the property. The Holyrood Government has in effect been required to do something about this, but I suspect is faced with what I may call the Establishment, and it’s substantial power. Yes, we have ‘Establishment’ here in Scotland, as intransigent and well-placed as those further South.

    1. John S Warren says:

      I would respectfully refer you to Dr Duncan Pickard’s earlier article in Bella Caledonia (18th January – scroll down to earlier articles on the homepage) titled “The Fair System to replace Council Tax – Annual Ground Rent (AGR)”, which spells out a solution for a replacement to the Council Tax, which has much wider and even more important possibilities, that offers the prospect of developing a fair system that does not at the same time destroy economic growth with ‘deadweight losses’ (which is what prevails now – and the current argument in Holyrood by the political parties makes no attempt to fix). There is also a helpful FAQ on AGR supplied with that article.

  12. Elma Brown says:

    Death Duties in the past were a good way of breaking up large estates . In this way more people were able to occupy farms . Unfortunately , several ways of ducking Inheritance Tax have been found , and large country estates still exist .

  13. John Digney says:

    These two Dukes and the rest of them are threatening to withhold land from use if they don’t get their own way. This amounts to land hoarding of the most pernicious and spiteful kind, and they should be ashamed of themselves. The land is there ready to be used and there are plenty of people ready to use it. Why should we allow privileged individuals to stand in the way of that for the sake of personal gain?

    We don’t need someone else to “own” the land before we put it to use. We shouldn’t have to rely on a system of landlords and tenants. The landowner per se contributes nothing that wasn’t there already, yet he can charge a fee for us to use it. It is he, not the tenant farmer, who should become redundant.

    The answer is to implement Annual Ground Rent (or Land Value Taxation as it is better known), which would cancel out any financial gain from merely owning land. It would thus reflect the neutral role played by the landowner and reduce production costs by providing an alternative source of public revenue to our current punitive system of taxation.

  14. Elma Brown says:

    The two Dukes are only part of the landed Establishment . There are about 430 individuals who own half the private land in Scotland . This is a disgrace on modern Scotland . They want total control over their land and everyone who lives and works on it .

  15. john young says:

    “The poor had no lawyers” think that is he correct title is a good place to begin with,fraudulent and corrupt like most capitalist schemes.

    1. C Rober says:

      And some would say thats where wealth is created and protected , through the hand of lawyers , the way the SNP has weighted many of the legislation changes only serves to make lawyers richer , not surprising really given how many of them are actually lawyers including the FM herself . LAW changes Including…

      Removal of RTB , rather than amending it , its bailing out developers instead of creating more Social housing with the 3 billion first time buyers fund. Just how many council homes could that have built , forcing BTL landlords to offload housing in the process.

      Removal or Innocent until proven guilty , see Claires law and Cyclist law.

      Removal of Double jeopardy , which actually was a way to protect people from the wealthy destroying those poorer than them , ie against Lords and landowners vs tenants.

      Talk of removing Not Proven , Right to a Jury of your peers , and corroborating evidence.

      Allowing English law in Benefit appeals on Scots soil , and the removal of the claimants rights is also ignored.

      Allowing the English supreme court to rule over Scottish appeal cases , against the Act of Union protection.

      Ignoring their own legislation on the creation of Local Development Plans.

      And thats just off the top of my head.

      The talk of watered down land reform , from a party that was not so long ago vociferous about it , is par for their course.

      They have settled in , dug in even , keen to have that wage and power , and forgetting the very values and core directives the party had once stood for including land reform.

      For me the Land Reform they speak of is a lie , I have seen it in action , community empowerment my erse , community ignorement mair like when they aid LORDS in Ayrshire to build on supposedly Hollyrood protected prime grade farm land more than once.

  16. Ian Kirkwood says:

    Interesting to find an item whose comments exhibit unanimous agreement. Landlords threatening to stifle food production whilst contributing zero to the economy (‘rentseekers’ produce nothing) highlights the fractured and ruinous nature of Scottish society. If the landlords wish to modernise (like any industry must) then they should embrace Annual Ground Rent (AGR) and its capability to relink them with society by requiring that the privilege of landownership demands a measure of social responsibility. This is how they may begin to undo the misdeeds of their predecessors and become a useful element in Scottish society.

  17. Elma Brown says:

    “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps , the end of the beginning.”
    Land Reform is good for Scotland ! .

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.