Behind the Byline: Land reform, the High Street and post-election politics


The team at CommonSpace give an update of their work and highlights of the week

Angela Haggerty, editor, @AngelaHaggerty

I've been doing a bit of work with volunteer William Burns this week at CommonSpace, who has returned to us after an initial stint here in the office last year. William is keen to get some journalism experience and we're happy to offer as much training and resources as we can. This week I've asked him to take a look at the whisky industry in Scotland and the inquiry into abuse at the Kincora boy's home in Northern Ireland. Look out for articles covering these topics soon.

William is a Twitter newbie so I’d appreciate our readers showing him some encouragement and support by giving him a follow.

CommonSpace has built a strong reputation for offering training and opportunities for people coming into the trade and it's been an unexpected, but incredibly rewarding, part of my role here to develop that.

Michael Gray, reporter @GrayInGlasgow

I was wrong when I thought that the passage of the Land Reform Act 2016 would lead to a lull in activity surrounding land reform. Campaigning, debate, and legislative scrutiny has continued – with groups inside and outside parliament determined to keep land reform near the top of the political agenda.

I reported from The Scotsman conference on land reform in this context this week. You gain a far greater perspective as a political reporter when you are in the room compared to depending on sources or post-event releases.

As a result, CommonSpace was the first to report on Andy Wightman MSP’s plan to push for a further land reform bill during this parliament.

This is a significant intervention in the land reform debate, and was followed up by a variety of MSPs in parliament on the following day

Speeches at the conference from Mike Russell MSP and law partner Grierson Dunlop also provided unique insights for the months ahead.

Russell, criticising the high cost of land, opened up a potential alliance with advocates of land value taxation.

Dunlop, meanwhile, explained the perpetual legal threats from private interests that hang above any attempt to restrict property rights through Scottish Government legislation.

Such conferences are usually dominated by political elites – lawyers, politicians, policy makers, professional agency representatives. But what is discussed can have a significant public impact, and so it is valuable for media groups like CommonSpace to attend and report on what is said.

Jen Stout, reporter @jm_stout

Just half a mile from the CommonSpace office is Glasgow’s High Street, one of its oldest, and it’s probably fair to say it’s seen better days. 

There’s a lot of to-let signs, some empty and dilapidated buildings – a bit strange, for the 'historic heart' of a city, which is usually kept spic and span. Some tenants there say it’s because of the actions of their landlords, and this has been a long-running dispute covered in several papers already. 

I picked it up this week because a student at City of Glasgow College had made a short documentary about some of these tenants, who run shops in the area and say they have serious damp and dry rot problems that aren’t being addressed. 

I was interested in this because it’s a well-made, informative (though one-sided) short film, and impressive work from a student, so we ran a piece about this. 

You can read it, and watch Josh Laird’s film, here. 

It’s worth noting that the situation is very complex, stretching back years, and we've just given a brief overview of what’s been going on. One to keep an eye on though. 

David Jamieson, reporter @David_Jamieson7

The weeks after the Scottish election provide a little time for reflection for politicians. Some of the most sombre reflection is taking place within Scottish Labour, whose electoral fortunes have slumped to an all-time modern low.

The collapse of the party into third place has provided the occasion for what looks like its first thorough self-searching exercise since devolution, and has focused firmly around the question of Labour’s approach to the constitutional question.

The debate about whether Scottish Labour should adopt a stance demanding full devolution was kicked-off by leading figures in the aftermath of the election defeat.

But one of the benefits of the CommonSpace’s approach to journalism is that our reportage doesn’t need to begin 'from the top' of political movements. Debates about federalism or 'home rule' have long been a fashion among grassroots Labour activists, particularly on the left of the party.

As well as speaking to some more high profile figures in preparation for a forthcoming feature article on the subject I have been in a position to approach those who have been debating the issue for many years already, and who have arrived at particular and nuanced positions that may lead to policy conflicts down the line.
The forthcoming piece will explore these tensions.

Another party with a need to take stock is the SNP, returned to power on the back of another electoral success but with a dilemma in how to re-approach the Scottish independence issue in the post-referendum era. But another feature on the summer campaign and strategies for independence will have to wait for another diary.

In the meantime, I produced the first in what will be a series of explainers on key issues around the EU. 

Unfortunately for the public the fog of information war seems to be as thick around the EU referendum as it was around the independence referendum, and some accessible but informative explainers represent part of CommonSpace’s service to our readers.

Pictures: CommonSpace

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