Thursday 6 June 2013
Labour and Land Reform in Scotland
Four hundred and thirty-two people own half of Scotland.
Nowhere else in the European Union or, indeed, the rest of the world is land ownership so skewed to benefit so few.
Land ownership is an economic lever that can make a huge difference in the hands of the community.
We have seen buyouts that have transformed communities such as those of Gigha, Uist, Harris and many more.
They are not without their problems and squabbles, but they promote economic and social development.
Distant landowners can be a dead hand over communities.
Many tenants and crofters do not know who their landlord is—it is just some faceless company.
The Land Registration etc (Scotland) Bill provided an opportunity to register beneficial ownership but the Scottish Government squandered it.
The UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee is taking up the challenge with the support of the UK Government, which was given in an answer to Ian Davidson MP recently.
The Scottish Affairs Committee also led the charge on the ownership of lands by the Crown Estate—a fact that Rob Gibson did not acknowledge.
We must ensure that landlords are accountable and work with communities.
Where they do not, the community must be able to buy.
Alex Fergusson asked about our motion.
The Scottish Government’s rhetoric suggests that it believes in land reform, but its actions say something entirely different.
It set up a land reform review group, but I understand that that has now become the community ownership review group.
It says that it is no longer looking at the issues of tenant farmers, the Crown Estate, inheritance and a load of other issues that impact on our communities.
That appears to be at odds with what the minister said earlier.
What is the direction of travel?
We have had an interim report that lacks detail and direction.
If the Scottish Government is committed to the issue, it must take responsibility.
Jim Hunter, who was previously a member of the group, said this week that the cabinet secretary should be leading on that work.
I had hoped that the interim report would produce proposals and a clear and radical agenda.
Let us take, for example, community buyouts.
Everyone knows that legislative changes are needed to make hostile buyouts possible.
Pairc estate in Lewis has shown that the legislation does not work.
A solution to that could have been in the interim report.
That would have been a great start, but nothing was forthcoming.
The minister says that the issue will be looked at in phase 2, but surely it should have been in the first report.
. The commitment to extend community right to buy in urban areas should have been in the report, too, because ownership of economic drivers would have a similar impact on those communities as it has had on rural areas.
Empowering marginalised communities could lead to their sustainable growth.
Extending the right to buy to tenant farmers and giving them the same security of tenure as crofters would also have been a very welcome step.
That group in particular is so oppressed that tenant farmers dare not even speak out.
Farms that have been in families for more than 100 years are being repossessed and the evictions smack of the Highland clearances, and yet the review group has washed its hands of them.
What will the minister do?
Following the interim report of the land reform review group, a number of people are asking just how serious the Scottish Government is about land reform and how radical it is prepared to be—hence our motion.
Jim Hunter’s stinging rebuke this week shows how much the Government has neglected land reform when it could have been powering ahead on the matter.
Is that another example of Scotland on pause and a Government afraid to annoy the vested interests ahead of the referendum?
If that is the case, the Government is mistaken; the Scottish people will not stand for that.