The Future of Community Land Ownership in Scotland

This is an abridged version of a discussion paper on ‘The Future of Community Land Ownership in Scotland’ prepared for the national Strengthening Communities conference held in Aviemore on 21st and 22nd September. The full paper is available at: http://www.hie.co.uk/community-support/community-conference/presentations.html

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Community land ownership has captured Scotland’s political imagination to the extent of defining and dominating the debate on land reform over the last 20 years. That debate centres on whether Scotland’s extraordinarily concentrated pattern of private land ownership inhibits or encourages land use that reflects wider, shared societal objectives for the common good.

Proponents of land reform argue that concentrated ownership enables the dominant exercise of economic, political and social power by large-scale private landowners that can run contrary to the wider public interest. They consequently advocate democratising property rights through co-ordinated application of legislative and fiscal policy measures to redistribute these rights more widely within the context of an increasingly diverse and transparent pattern of land ownership in Scotland in support of sustainable development. Continue reading

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The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016

For most of the last decade the political answer to Scotland’s ‘land question’ seems to have been “pass”. Back in 2003 the Scottish Parliament launched its ‘flagship’ Land Reform (Scotland) Act with a cargo of access rights, community and crofting community rights to buy amid much overblown chatter about the legislation’s symbolic significance as the lodestar for a new politics in Scotland; then watched on with apparent indifference as land reform drifted beyond the horizon as an issue of serious policy concern. Parliament’s passing of a new Land Reform Act last week confirms that this most emotive of issues was carrying a return ticket.

Much of the rhetoric emanating from Government in the run-up to the new legislation’s arrival on the statute book sought to talk up the Act’s radical credentials. That’s hardly surprising given that the SNP has spent much of the last year promoting land reform as being in the vanguard of the progressive, left of centre policies to which it apparently aspires. Even less so in light of the rude awakening delivered to Ministers by the party’s membership at its conference last October when they voted to reject the legislation as too timid in its early draft form. That, together with demands for more detail on key proposals from the Parliament’s influential Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee responsible for scrutinising the Bill undoubtedly helped beef up some of its contents. Continue reading

Time to move beyond caricatures as land reform enters crucial phase

Scotland’s land reform process is about to enter a crucial phase. The Scottish Government will introduce a Land Reform Bill by the end of June with the intention of passing the new legislation before the current parliamentary session ends in 2016. The Bill’s contents are as yet unconfirmed but, amongst other things, it is likely to include provisions for establishing a Scottish Land Reform Commission; limiting legal entities that can own land; increasing transparency regarding land value and ownership; facilitating Ministerial intervention to remove barriers to local sustainable development linked to the scale or pattern of land ownership or landowners’ decisions; imposing a duty of community engagement on charitable trustees when taking land management decisions; and removing business rates exemptions from shooting and deerstalking enterprises.

According to recently published analysis, the vast majority of the 1269 respondents to the Scottish Government’s consultation on land reform are supportive of these proposals; the notable exception being ‘private landowner’ respondents, who overwhelmingly disagree with virtually all of them. That opposition is scarcely surprising from a grouping of organised interests who see nothing amiss with half of Scotland’s private land being in the hands of 432 owners, and who argue that, in any case, it’s how land is used rather than who owns it that counts. Continue reading

Land Reform Policy’s Return Ticket

For an awfully long time the political answer to Scotland’s ‘Land Question’ seems to have been “pass”. The embryonic Scottish Parliament launched its ‘flagship’ Land Reform (Scotland) Act with a cargo of access rights, community and crofting community rights to buy in 2003 amid much hullabaloo about its symbolic significance as the lodestar for a new politics in Scotland; then watched on with apparent indifference as land reform drifted beyond the horizon as an issue of serious policy concern. A decade later several intertwined developments suggest it may have had a return ticket. Continue reading

The Land of Scotland and the Common Good: LRRG’s Final Report

The Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) published its much anticipated final report, The Land of Scotland and the Common Good, yesterday. The Scottish Government established the Group in July 2012 with a remit to develop “innovative and radical” land reform proposals addressing greater diversity of land ownership and ownership types, support for communities in land acquisition and management and new relationships between land, people, economy and environment in Scotland.

That’s a daunting set of tasks to say the least, particularly given the complex, contentious and expansive nature of the ‘Land Question’ in Scotland. It’s therefore to the LRRG’s great credit that ‘The Land of Scotland and the Common Good’ largely succeeds in fulfilling its remit; all the more so given the Group’s much maligned Interim Report published in May last year and the disruption caused by the resignations of its two original Vice-Chairs, Professor James Hunter and Dr Sarah Skerratt for personal and work-related reasons respectively. Continue reading

Lights Out for Radical Land Reform?: Alex Salmond’s Community Land Scotland Conference Speech

Alex Salmond came to Community Land Scotland’s Annual Conference in Skye last week with a mix of radicalism, pragmatism and Tom Johnston on his mind.  The First Minister’s keynote speech to the conference recalled the Secretary of State for Scotland in Churchill’s wartime coalition Government who in 1943 pushed through legislation establishing the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. Continue reading

Land Reform and the Independence Referendum

The issue of land reform has been simmering on a low political heat amid the white noise of competing claims over Scotland’s constitutional future. Its source is the Land Reform Review Group (LRRG), appointed by the Scottish Government in July 2012 to develop “innovative and radical” proposals for greater diversity of ownership and ownership types in Scotland and support for communities in land acquisition and management.

The LRRG is not due to produce its final report until April 2014, which might look to some like an attempt by the Scottish Government to punt ‘the Land Question’ into the long grass ahead of the Scottish Independence Referendum in September 2014.

Viewed in that light, Johann Lamont’s speech at the Scottish Labour Party Conference on Saturday makes for interesting reading. It contains a policy commitment to extend the currently rural focus of the “community right to buy” contained in Part 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 to also include urban communities.

So far, so progressive. Continue reading