Festival comes after years of intense activism over land reform in Scotland
OUR LAND 2016 has outlined five demands to press for bolder, more radical land reform than has been delivered so far by the Scottish Parliament.
More than a month of meetings and activities across 20 locations in Scotland begins today, on the traditional start date of the grouse hunting season, which festival organisers feel exemplifies the misuse of Scottish land by large landed estates.
This year’s events follow the inagural Our Land festival last summer, and represent a culmination of years of activism for land reform is Scotland, which suffers the most unequal distribution of land ownership in western Europe, with 432 individuals owning half of Scottish land. It also follows the passage into law of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, which campaigners feel did not go far enough in challenging unequal land ownership in Scotland, but did open the way for further reform.
Broadcaster and land reform campaigner Lesley Riddoch said: “Scots have woken up to the fact that Scotland’s weird concentration of private land owners has put the brakes on everything from affordable housing to sustainable communities with locally-owned forests and energy systems, weekend wooden huts and fishing on some of the best lochs and rivers in Europe. Sadly, none of that will change overnight with the Land Reform Act passed in March of this year.
“The Our Land campaign which launched this time last year is back in 2016 with meetings to discuss our next five demands of the Scottish Government and to showcase the land-related problems that exist and the community solutions that are being forged right now, all over Scotland. I think folk are ready to challenge the idea that land is too precious/barren/complex to use and own more equitably in Scotland.”
The festival, supported by Common Weal, Women for Independence, the Scottish Land Action Movement and Radical Independence Campaign, will hold events including protests, tours exploring historically disputed areas of land, and music and poetry nights at locations from Aviemore to Dumfires and Haddington’s Corn Exchange to Glasgow’s east end .
Leading campaigners for land refom such as Riddoch and Scottish Greens MSP and land rights historian Andy Wightman will head up discussions on how to create and more effective land reform which is designed to make land ownership transparent and accountable, to make it affordable and available for ordinary Scots and to make Scotland’s land more productive for the Scottish economy.
Wightman said: “Our Land is a fantastic opportunity for everyone with an interest in land reform to come together and share ideas, issues and solutions to Scotland’s ongoing struggle for fundamental reform in land relations. Over the next five years in parliament there is an unprecedented opportunity to make progress in democratising Scotland’s urban, rural and marine land. Individuals and organisations outside parliament should be ambitious in their demands and I look forward to working with them in the years ahead.”
The Scottish independence referendum gave new impetus to the movement for land reform in Scotland, as Scots began questioning every aspect of their society.
2016 has seen many issues connected to land ownership and control come to the fore, including the case of Andrew Stoddart, a tenant farmer forced to leave his farm in January 2016 under pressure from his landlord, and the leaking of the so-called ‘Panama papers’ in April 2016 that showed the extent of offshore ownership of Scottish land.
Campaigners feel that these and other events have shown how far the land reform movement still has to go to bring about and equitable and socially useful distribution of land in Scotland.
Common Weal Director Robin McAlpine said: “The progress on land reform has been very encouraging but even when all the legislation passed is fully enacted it still won't be enough to create a fair balance of land ownership in Scotland. If we don't do more we will continue to fail. And the impact on Scotland's economy and society if we fail for another generation would simply be unacceptable.”
The Our Land festival kicks off with football on the streets of Dumfries on 12-13 August and ends with a national speaking event in Aviemore on 17 September.
Picture courtesy of Our Land
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