Land and Power
“It is about our future. As Scotland. As a nation. As a society. As a community. For hundreds of years people have campaigned for change and for hundreds of years that change has not come. We can be the generation that ends the wait or we can waste another hundred years complaining. Let us choose change. Let’s reform Scotland’s land.”
So argues Our Land – a bold and ambitious plan for land reform published today.
The groundbreaking report outlines a comprehensive vision for reclaiming land in Scotland. The report by the New Economics Foundation and the Common Weal think tank has been described by land reform expert Andy Wightman MSP as ‘the tipping point in the debate”. ‘Our Land’, commissioned by REVIVE the coalition for grouse moor reform, provides an analysis of why concentrated land ownership is harming Scotland; and sets out a comprehensive plan for proper reform.
Duncan McCann from the New Economics Foundation said:
“Significant land reform is vitally important if we want Scotland to be a more equal society as well as address the massive challenges of climate change and rural regeneration. The recommendations contained in this report, all of which can be implemented by the Scottish Government under the existing devolution arrangements, would go a long way towards creating the foundation we need to create the just and prosperous Scotland we all want to see.”
Leading land reform activist, journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch who contributed the foreword for the report said:
“All the recommendations in this landmark report are legal within the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament, in line with international law, practised elsewhere and ready to be enacted now in Scotland. All that’s missing is the political will to mobilise a cross-party alliance, tackle age-old fears of confronting Scotland’s big landowners and finally achieve the transformation dreamed about by generations of our forebears who finally settled for less or took their energy, culture, language and dreams elsewhere.
“Merely tweaking the developed world’s worst landownership system won’t save precious habitats, repopulate the glens or give Scots affordable leisure-time in their own country. This report is a policy roadmap showing how the land question can be tackled and what a normal Scotland might actually look like. I hope it puts land reform right back on the agenda for the Scottish Parliament and its parties.”
The report lays out the litany of some of the negative impacts that the land management practices has on Scotland, including:
- It enables various forms of ‘rent-seeking’ which reduces economic performance and increases economic inequality
- It reduces the capacity for business start-up and business expansion
- It inhibits rural community development and expansion
- It is a key driver of the rural housing crisis and leads to depopulation and the inability of business to source a workforce
- It leads to poor land management which reduces the carbon performance of Scotland’s land and harms biodiversity
- It creates significant power imbalance over influence on rural policy and so distorts Scotland’s democracy
- All of this suppresses Scotland’s human, environmental and economic potential
The report then sets out a package of measures, all within the powers of the Scottish Parliament and legal under international law, which can be used to transform the pattern of land ownership and management in Scotland. The recommendations include:
- Complete a comprehensive land registry to provide full transparency on who owns Scotland’s land
- Introduce some form of land taxation to incentivise better productive use of land
- Reform agricultural and business subsidies to emphasise the quality of land use
- Introduce a cap on the maximum amount of land one ‘beneficial owner’ can own
- Use Compulsory Sales Orders to encourage and where necessary require some landowners to sell land to the public. This can be required to be broken into small plot sizes to enable land access by small and medium-sized businesses, communities and small investors
- Use Compulsory Purchase Orders to buy land for public good purposes
- Extend the planning system to rural land to ensure a public-good criteria for land use
- Give communities a legal right to a say in the planning process for land in their vicinity
- Create a proper system of local democracy in Scotland to empower communities to shape land use
- Introduce a rural housebuilding strategy to tackle the rural housing crisis with communities empowered to address this directly through local democracy
- Reform the regulation of key practices in rural areas such as deer and grouse moor management to require more environmentally-sustainable practices
- Task the Scottish National Investment Bank to create a substantial land investment fund to support start-up and expanding businesses and community development
- Establish a National Land Agency to oversee all of the above
All that is required now is for this vision to be given enough political priority – and create enough of a movement for change to achieve results.
Could radical land reform be a non-constitutional point of unity and convergence for progressive forces in Scotland joining the left, community activists, ecologists and cross party support?