2015 is shaping up to be a significant year for land reform in Scotland. The Scottish Government is consulting on the contents of a new Land Reform Act to be introduced in the current Parliamentary session. That legislation is envisaged as forming part of a Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy to fill the land reform policy vacuum that has existed in Government for a decade.
Judging by proposals in the consultation paper the policy will encompass institutional change (a new Scottish Land Reform Commission to oversee policy progress); greater transparency and accountability of land ownership (more information on who owns what land and limits to legal entities that can take future ownership of land); scope for Ministerial intervention in land ownership and management (where the scale or pattern of landownership in an area or the conduct of a landowner act as barriers to sustainable development); and specific measures to manage land and land rights for the common good (including a duty of community engagement on charitable trusts regarding land-based decision-making and an end to business rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking businesses). Continue reading
Yesterday the Scottish Government published ‘A Consultation on the Future of Land Reform in Scotland’, a week after First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon announced a Programme for Government in which land reform features prominently. That’s a remarkable turnaround because only eighteen months ago it didn’t look as if land reform had much of a future in Scotland at all.
Back in May 2013, the Land Reform Review Group (LRRG), appointed by the Scottish Government to develop “innovative and radical” proposals for land reform produced an interim report of such limited scope and content that Andy Wightman (someone who, if he didn’t exist would surely have to be invented) declared land reform to be “effectively dead in the water as a matter of public policy”. My own blog on the report was scarcely any more optimistic.
Fast-forward a year and the re-booted LRRG’s final report ‘The Land of Scotland and the Common Good’ published in May 2014 bore little resemblance to its earlier incarnation. Instead, the report’s 62 recommendations, framed within the concepts of the public interest and the common good, challenged Scotland’s political elite to finally get serious about land reform after a decade in which it had been misunderstood and virtually ignored as an issue of public policy. Continue reading
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