Calls to resist the November eviction of Haddington tenant farming families


Tenant Farmers Association: threatened eviction is “Scotland’s shame”

THE PLANNED EVICTION of farming families by their landlord in East Lothian requires action and resistance, according to the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association and land reform campaigner Simon Brooke.

Four adults and seven children face eviction from the Colstoun Mains farm near Haddington following a prolonged legal dispute over rents.

Tenant Andrew Stoddart, who has lived and worked on the estate for 22 years, has spoken out against the eviction, which he says is due to a desire for the owner to make more profit at the expense of the current tenants.

Simon Brooke, organiser of the Birnam Land Reform Conference, has called for action to be taken to oppose the eviction: “I think there’s no doubt that he’s being evicted because of his land reform activism, and because of his activism within the Scottish Tenant Farmers’ Association.

“It cannot be tolerable that a man can be turned out of his livelihood and his home because of his political views: that has to be an affront against any idea of democracy and freedom of speech, whatever you think of the legitimacy of land ownership.

“This is urgent. Andrew is being evicted on the 28th of November. Not only will he and his family lose their home and income, his tractorman’s family will be losing theirs too. I’m trying to assess how many people are prepared to how much effort into defending him.”

Brooke has called for the landlord’s lawyers, Turcan Connell, to be challenged on the case.

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA) said it was “appalled” at the treatment of Stoddart and other tenant farmers, who have been denied participation in the Scottish Government’s mediation process.

STFA director Angus McCall said: “This whole episode has become Scotland’s shame which has seen the victims of a legal error hung out to dry by uncaring government lawyers and an inflexible government process.

“This tragic episode stemmed from legislation passed in 2003 which was proved to be defective. The UK Supreme Court then instructed the Scottish parliament to remedy the situation and, as a consequence, 8 families will lose their farms and livelihoods.

“However, rather than seeking to fulfil commitments made by government to parliament and the industry, government lawyers are abdicating all responsibility and liability and refusing point blank to consider any compensation package for the affected tenants. These tenants are now faced with a lengthy and expensive court battle to exert their rights.

McCall added that the government and MSPs have been “held to ransom by lawyers” over the case.

“This affair has been a well-kept secret, but it must be time for the Scottish people to wake up and realise what is going on and allow common decency and a sense of fair play to prevail and put an end to this sorry affair before any lives are tragically lost as has happened in the past?” McCall added.

The eviction case also featured in a recent Channel 4 documentary considering the moderate Land Reform Bill proposals.

Stoddart was previously interviewed by CommonSpace , where he described the stress and uncertainty of facing eviction: “I’m 52. I’ve been here 22 years – the best years of my life. It’s a horrible feeling. Now you know how the fox feels when the master releases the hounds. It’s like being a hunted animal.”

The Scottish Government’s Land Reform Bill has been criticised by land experts and campaigners for failing to tackle concentration of ownership, derelict land in urban areas, transparency of land owned in tax havens and the lack of tenant farmers’ rights.

Campaigners have raised concerns that fears of legal action are being used to block land reform proposals.

Last week SNP members rejected the party’s land reform policy in a call for far stronger action .

Wealth management law firm Turcan Connell was contacted for comment on the case. A spokesperson for the firm said: “As a matter of principle we don’t comment on confidential client matters.”

Picture courtesy of Channel4