OpenSpace Q&A with Lesley Riddoch: Talking land reform, community governance and more!

Maxine Blane

All the questions and answers from the OpenSpace Q&A with broadcaster and journalist Lesley Riddoch

Broadcaster and land reform campaigner Lesley Riddoch was online answering questions on Thursday 22 September from 6-8pm. Riddoch is the author of the popular book ‘Blossom’, and has been involved with the Our Land campaign for land reform. Riddoch was answering questions about community governance, her work on land reform, her work with policy campaign group Nordic Horizons, Lateral North and more.

If you missed it, don’t panic: We’ve collated all the questions and answers below, and they are also available to download as a document over on the OpenSpace page on CommonSocial. We’ll be uploading all the Q&A sessions hosted on OpenSpace to CommonSpace, and as downloadable documents that you can use as resources to share or start a discussion, so even if you can’t be online when a discussion is happening you can still get involved.

Join the OpenSpace page on CommonSocial now to make sure that you stay up-to-date with all the upcoming guests and what they’ll be talking about. If you’re not on CommonSocial, our editor Angela Haggerty has written a wee guide on how to sign up, and once you’re on you can join OpenSpace, or any other space you have an interest in and get a discussion started!

Q: David Inglis

Hi Lesley,
How do we stop the "gold brick" property effect currently taking place in London and the South-East where investors, particularly cash-rich ones from the Arab countries and China, which is causing serious ripple effects across the capital as the traditionally wealthy get pushed into midddle-class neighbourhoods and so on and so forth.

Additionally, how do we make property more affordable without causing a price crash, leaving heavily-endebted recent buyers with negative equity problems?

A: Lesley Riddoch

Ive been thinking about the transition that would have to happen once we deflate property prices by reducing scarcity through effective land reform (not sure we have anything that will make a big difference yet). Theres the argument that anyone receiving less for their home will also have to pay less for a new one. But it may still hurt to lose housing equity. In 1903 the British government gave Irish tenant farmers 60 year land to buy out their farms. It was the biggest ever financial exercise of its kind – obviously this isn't the same proposition but I wonder if there is a model there to soften the blow. have you any thoughts?

Q: David Inglis

Hi Lesley,
In Edinburgh, there is very little information about who owns any of the land. In particular there are some communities e.g. Niddrie and Craigmillar where rubbish and not caring for the land has turned large parts of it into a wasteland. How did you start engaging with the community to clean the area up and instil a bit more of community spirit? I stay in Prestonfield and so far have found nothing.

I would also like to ask about the red tape surrounding cheap sustainable homes such as earthships. In countries like America and Germany it is very easy to build such homes, but in the UK it is next to impossible. Do you see any change coming that would make this easier?

A: Lesley

This is all difficult – nae doubt. There is no real structure or framework for democracy at genuine community level. "Local" councils are the largest and most remote in Europe (170k average against 14k EU average) and community councils have nae clout. So if you want something done you feel u r on your own. Generally communities need to get really annoyed by one big problem/development to embark on a difficult uphill battle – and no political parties bar the Greens are interested in changing our council structure. So its no surprise communities aren't sapping their energy fighting every little battle with no clout or resources. I'd suggest you pick one winnable fight and see what allied groups exist — there are also groups around just not necessarily with your main grievance on the front. 

On earthship and groovy alternative designs everything has been against that. First is the difficulty of getting land, then the price, then planning – then trying to get a loan or mortgage for a "non-standard" design if you need that. the 1000 huts campaign has been chipping away at this – there are now planning regs that recognise "a hut". 
But its far tougher than it should be to build your own house- I was talking to a group of Norwegian house builders in Edinburgh today – mystified as to why we don't build in wood.

Q: David

It sounds to me to be very difficult to get at least the Norwegian style of engagement in community – something we have lacked over the last 50 years. I'd really hope we can get more Green MSPs in the next Parliament.

Have you found a reason we don't build in wood in any of your research? Other than the climate we live in. Personally I would love to live in a sustainable house.

A: Lesley

honestly – the norwegians don't engage in community more than us — quite the opposite. the key difference is their democracy IS the local community. Here we are double dunting. i think the reason we don't have wood houses is that Uk building societies wouldn't offer a mortgage on a wooden house and local authorities here have been reluctant to give planning permission. we have unthinkingly imported the design outlook of southern England without question. Time to change now — folk like Neil Sutherland near Inverness and Bernard Planterose near Ullapool have been trying to lead on this for donkeys years.

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Q: Gordon Cuthbertson

Hi lesley, I believe there's an urgent need for proper planning to be done about our position on currency and eu membership before we go for a second indy ref. What do you think?

A: Lesley

sure – but before planning we should have some debate. no organisation would let two folk decide on such key issues. we sd brainstorm first and be open to all arguments – then decide. I've been v struck by the tiny EU nations like the Faroes who can't understand why Scotland feels the need for EU protection. Doesn't mean Ive changed from being a Remain voter but I realise we have never really had the debate.

A: Gordon

I was kind of hoping the snp might take on board some of the work done by the likes of the Common Weal on currency, yes let's have that debate and form our policy so that we don't get stuck like last time

Q: Scott Glen

Hi Lesley,
It seems to me that there is still a genuine misunderstanding of what Land Reform actually means as I often still hear this referred to it as a “Mugabe style land grab”. How do you think we can best tackle this misapprehension? What actions would you like to see from the Scottish Government on land banking and why do you think they have been so reluctant to take action thus far?

A: Lesley

It just isn't that difficult.
The SNP can accept the Greens proposal to end the 100% exemption form non-domestic rates for vacant and derelict land. This would cost nowt, bring us into line with every other northern nation, raise money for councils and promote development. If such easy measures are problematic its hard to think about more ambitious measures like land tax – though of course Andy Wightman and the Greens have been trying too explore that as a partial replacement for the council tac until SNP vetoed it.

Q: Alex Stewart

Hi Lesley, I'm interested to hear your thoughts about the Labour Party and the leadership contest – what do you see for the future of Labour? Did you see the Dispatches programme the other night about Momentum 'takeover'? What does all this mean for Scottish Labour?

A: Lesley

I didn't see the Dispatches prog. basic thing is that Corbyn POLICIES are getting big support. New Labour can put up well groomed PEOPLE but what good is that if they support Trident unreflectively, won't make their minds up about denationalisation of key public assets etc. The problem for Scots is that Corbyn just doesnt get Scotland and hasn't tried. This may be a barking analogy but Lenin "allowed" satellite states like Finland to become autonomous after 1917 and social democrats led indy cause in Norway. Its not impossible that Corbyn – if he thought about it — could decide to support scots indy, to win back labour voters in Scotland in time for him to win a general election. After that of course, English Labour voters would be on their tod. 
Unless he takes the lead in some way on the present constitutional impasse, Labour is simply irrelevant in Scotland =- no matter which "side" Kezia Dugdale takes. What do you think?

Q: David Inglis

Is it possible that he is being led down the garden path with Kezia and some of the advisors in Scottish Labour? From what I have seen, a lot of the folks in Labour have a pretty hardline view of independence and therefore the SNP.

A: Lesley

i don't think Corbyn gives a toss about Kezia's views. He just hasn't spent the time thinking about it or questioning received wisdom.

Q: Alex Stewart

Lesley, what do we do about the refugee crisis? there doesn't seem to be a strategy apart from keep them out of here? Most are seeking refuge from war, but more will be leaving their homes because of climate change, we can't keep ignoring this crisis surely?

A: Lesley

of course without being indy scots have no ability to take more refugees. though we could make the point very publicly that we are prepared to take another 3000 syrian refugees – roughly 100 per council area. in fife, arbroath and bute local groups have helped refugees integrate. we should make it clear we would like to do much more.

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Q: Henry Alffa

Is banking setting up Edinburgh to be a mini-Westminster with ensuite golf?
Maybe you'll have time to read that later!

On 8 July our FM tweeted a link to an FT article by 'ex-Treasury mandarin' Nicholas McPherson who said, "provide a historic opportunity for Edinburgh to develop further as a financial centre, as London-based institutions hedge their bets on the location of staff and activities"

I replied "Don't let the financial parasites rule Scotland @NicolaSturgeon like they do Westminster. You're selling us out even before independence?"

Do you share my concern about the apparent absence of thought on financial sector regulation? Are we importing the utterly corrupt FCA as well as the City of London?

A: Lesley

its a worry. like the constant emphasis on inward investment. if we could connect even modest sums with the small local enterprises here we could fly. crowdsourcing gives just a flavour of what can happen if personal cash can connect with community projects. But this needs to happen at a formal/democratic level – as a norm not just a "gosh look at that great cause" sideline.


Maybe Im being provocative for the sake of it, but I'm seriously thinking about a future beyond Scotland. Those of us who stuck our heads over the parapet during the indyref have very little formal employment now and while the indyref is unresolved we are stuck in Groundhog Day on every other subject. Folk like me are regarded as troublemakers by the SNP unless we join the party and knuckle down, so I suspect there is no formal role for me here in the future – whatever happens re independence. Ive spent my entire life creating things from scratch but I'm getting a bit weary. Anyone else?

Alan Gordon

Perhaps the powers that be are pinning their hopes on everyone getting weary of the fight. A classic wait and bore them to death tactic. We need more voices like yours Lesley. Don't give up. Your columns give me hope when I'm on my way to work in the evil financial sector in Edinburgh 🙂


I appreciate that but you have one life and I feel very restless. I was at First Ministers Questions today and I could have scripted the whole thing. meanwhile there are SO many live issues everywhere

Alex Stewart

I think we have all felt like this at one time or another. But I don't think you should underestimate the influence you have had on thosands of people. you've inspired people and made them think, shown leadership when people needed it. It's a long drawn out process I know, but I think we need to take breaks when we need them, and keep going , keep learning , as long as we don't go backwards.

Michelle Shortt

Lesley you have had a huge influence on many from before, during & after indyref. Your Blossom book really made me look at the structures in Scotland and how badly they serve us. Voices like yours which aren't tribal on party lines are needed. Scotland needs you! Maybe a break from it all to refresh your mojo?

Peter Black

Yep, blossom certainly changed my view of how I should go about making my part of the world a bit better.

Instead of moaning about the broken light, like I always did, I'm going out and getting involved in groups that can fix it.

It's hard going, and no wonder you are weary, but know that you've inspired us and we won't forget that!

Also, my wee girl can't read yet but there is always one book she picks up from the shelf when she's pretending.


och thats so sweet from everyone — esp Peter's quine! Im just not sure about slowly does it anymore. If we don't reach critical mass on a number of issues politicians don't rate, the powerful force of ae been will sweep all trace of our efforts away. maybe it needs a new political party – maybe therein lies madness. As St Andrews of the Woollen Mill once sang, "Don't ask me cos eh dinnae ken"

Colin Mackay

Feel pretty similar to Lesley, dillusioned at the lack of progress. Certain people like yourself work very, very hard on genuine, progessive issues and they just seem to need a bit of a political push to snowball but never get there. Lots of good people in the SNP now but I don't hear them talking about the same things like they were during the indyref. Groundhog day is wearing thin and if the indy campaign lost the likes of yourself to pastures new I dunno where it would be. I really wish there was a bigger platform for yourself and Commonweal in particular. 

Q: Alan Gordon

Do you think the SNP have peaked. I've been quite disappointed with them recently. To my mind the Greens seem to be more determined to push for the real change this country needs. I was very unhappy with how the SNP handled land reform and council tax. Really poor.

A: Lesley

There are a whole stack of things Im unhappy about – principally the lack of any appetite for structural change in Scotland. Britain has a topdown, centralist, devil take the hindmost approach which the SNP's Scotland is just mitigating. If we want to reach the levels of health, happiness, life expectancy and democratic participation we see across Northern Europe it CANNOT BE DONE tinkering – it needs structural change so individual Scots and communities aren't always fighting losing battles. Greens are defo better – addition of Andy Wightman has added clout. But still a certain diffidence. Ochre

A: Alan

Yeah totally agree. Andy being elected was probably the best thing that happened for me at the latest election. I know the SNP are most likely to deliver independence but I think the Greens can have a really positive impact. If Labour ever decide to embrace independence then perhaps good things can begin to happen. The status quo is currently very depressing however.

A: Lesley

Very depressing. Not sure if the post I just created is visible.

Q: Peter Black

Hi Lesley,

Hope you are well!

I enjoyed your recent column on the Knockroon development in Cumnock, which is an area I'm glad to see highlighted given my involvement with the Save Broomfield campaign

Hope you don't mind me using that personal hobby horse to frame my question!

Prince Charles is obviously a very wealthy and powerful man and we feel that if he, like Marie Antoinette, wants to build a fake rustic village where he can indulge his fantasies of white, rural life, that’s fine, but it is not our responsibility to either bolster his ego or support his folly – and it certainly isn't our expectation that rules and regulations should be waived to support his attempts at patriarchal, social engineering.

Local opinion is broadly supportive of the commitments to investment, but has been opposed to the forms it has taken and the way it has been directed (imposed!) from a distance – especially now with the new, record breaking, public investment in Knockroon School being seen as attempt to be East Ayrshire Council to kickstart the ailing, private development.

In this situation, it is quite clear that people in power have became enamoured with the idea of working with the Prince, and all the personal and professional credit that will bring, but are too remote from the actual consequences of the decisions being taken so don't appear to be fully evaluating the risks and benefits as well as the local community can.

I was wondering, how do you feel we can best setup a system in Scotland that ensures those who want to invest in our communities must do so in partnership with those communities and how do we ensure that a communities voice isn't ignored or overridden by the ambition of Councillors or Rich Sugar Daddies who neither live in nor represent the area that must deal with the consequences?


A: Lesley

we have to break up these big remote councils and create genuinely local authorities. no political party is keen but every other measure just takes more money and effort to paper over cracks not reboot democracy. I have no idea how to get this to become a big priority at Holyrood. Greens support it but they have a range of other policies that come first on the rare occasions they get a word in edgeways

Pictures courtesy of CommonSpace, Peter Black

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