SNP, Labour and Greens MSPs pledge to unite for further land reform


New MSPs set to push for greater land reform over next five years

THE LAND REFORM ACT 2016 passed in March with promises of “more to come”.

Yesterday [Wednesday 1 June] members across the Scottish Parliament promised to work together to implement the act and pursue further change during the parliament. 

Leading land reform campaigner, and now elected Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman, will aim to bring voices across the chamber together to support a further reform act later in the parliament.

Land reform minister Roseanna Cunningham (SNP MSP)

“Our new land reform act seeks to transform our relationship with the land while helping to create a fairer Scotland. As the first minister set out last week, one of the key priorities in my portfolio will be to implement the act’s key measures, including the preparation of a land rights and responsibilities statement. That must be about enshrining fairness to all parties into public policy; my aim is for that statement to underpin future land reform. I will also prioritise establishing the Scottish land commission. The aim is to appoint commissioners by the end of this year, with the land commission in operation on 1 April 2017.

“This government is committed to making land ownership more transparent and inclusive through community ownership. One of our priorities for government is to introduce a mandatory public register of landowners’ controlling interests. I can announce today that consultation on that register will begin this summer. So that we can meet the very ambitious target of 1 million acres in community ownership by 2020, we will stimulate activity by increasing the Scottish land fund from £3 million to £10 million.

“Of course, wise and productive use of our land is not just a rural concern but an urban one. Too often, it is our most deprived communities and the lives of all who live there that are most blighted by vacant and derelict land and poor-quality living, working, leisure and play environments. That is why we will continue to support the central Scotland green network, Europe’s largest greenspace project. Eighty-six per cent of Scotland’s severely deprived areas are within the CSGN, which equates to more than 600,000 residents living in areas that require dedicated support.”

Labour land reform spokesperson Claudia Beamish MSP

“I recognise the contribution of Aileen McLeod to the land reform process. Now that we have the Land Reform Act 2016, the development of the land rights and responsibilities statement, the role of the Scottish Land Commission and the regulations themselves will be fundamental to progress. Scottish Labour stands ready to contribute to that.”

Andy Wightman MSP, Scottish Green Party spokesperson on land reform

“I first met Roseanna Cunningham in the 1990s, when she was an MP and we were both part of a group campaigning against the abandonment of tenant farms by the owner of Blackford estate, which was owned then—as it is now—by a company registered in the secrecy jurisdiction of Liechtenstein.

“Land reform is about the redistribution of legal, political and economic power over land and is a process at the heart of questions over the affordability of housing, the availability of land for housing, wealth inequality, food security, economic development, equitable taxation and how to govern public land, including Crown land. That is why the Scottish Greens, in our manifesto, outlined 18 distinct measures that could be taken to democratise land and ensure that it is owned and used in the public interest and for the common good, and why there must be a further land reform act in this parliamentary session. I look forward to discussions with others on how such an act might be framed.

“The solutions to climate change, to inequality and to voter apathy can be addressed only by a radical redistribution of economic and political power, for the benefit of all and for the planet as a whole”, he added.

Graeme Dey, SNP MSP and member of the land reform committee 2011-2016

“Andy Wightman said that there might be a need for another land reform bill, but we still have to complete the work that is associated with the 2016 act. Multiple aspects of the primary legislation—transparency of land ownership, deer management, how sporting rates reliefs will work and the development of the land rights and responsibilities statement, to name but four—remain to be fleshed out as we continue the land reform journey in this new session of Parliament. It is important that we get those things right.

“For example, the development of the register of ownership must sit within the competency of the Parliament and meet any European convention on human rights test, but it must also push the envelope.”

Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch

“[Community] projects are possible only when entrepreneurial thinkers have the ambition and the get-up-and-go determination, and when they have access to that all-important commodity: land. Land reform in and of itself is not the goal — it is simply one important means by which we empower people to turn dreams into reality, and fix many of the problems that rural and urban communities face.”

Forbes continued: “Community ownership and buy-outs are not the only answer, although I support the Scottish Government’s target of one million acres of land being in community ownership by 2020. However, where a community can identify a need—for example, for affordable housing—and then purchase land, it can meet that need, as the Helmsdale and District Development Trust is doing by building affordable houses for the community.”

“Land reform started in the Highlands, sparked by tenants’ regular opposition to destructive decisions. The battle of the Braes on Skye and numerous other local conflicts were about economic security and opportunities, population retention and wise stewardship of a finite resource. The debate on land reform should still be about those things,” Forbes concluded.

Mike Russell SNP MSP and member of the land reform committee 2011-2016

On the Land Reform Act 2016’s secondary legislation, Russell said: “Key items will include the arrangements for a fully transparent land register; the establishment of the land commission; a statement of land rights and responsibilities; complex changes in agricultural tenancy, rent setting and assignation; the appointment of a tenant farming commissioner; and the institution of codes of practice. A huge amount of work will be required just to cover that.”

Russell called for further attention to “unfinished business” on rural housing and land values, and for cooperation across party lines to do so.

He said: “[Land] ownership is the issue, because power is the issue and ownership comes from power. Therefore we have to change the patterns of ownership. As the cabinet secretary said last week at the Scottish Land & Estates conference, there is an overconcentration of land in too few hands.”

“Land reform must be seen as an enabler of a more successful rural economy with greater participation. It is land reform that can free the assets of Scotland for the benefit of Scotland. That is a huge prize, which we still have to grasp,” he added.

David Stewart, Labour MSP and shadow minister for the environment, climate change and land reform

“I believe that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 is not the last word but a small step on the endless road. A new chapter on land reform is ready to be opened. That will take political will and a commitment of public funds; above all, it will take an understanding that the issue, rather than being a hankering after some romantic rose-tinted past, is about a hard-headed appreciation of the very real social, economic and environmental benefits of community ownership of land.”

Tory landowners isolated on land reform 

While a broad consensus called for further land reform, Tory property owners in parliament spoke out against the process. 

Four Tory MSPs in the debate declared interests as landowners or rural property holders in the debate. They opposed more equal ownership of land in Scotland, claiming a discussion of ownership was a distraction from how land is used. 

Tory spokesperson Maurice Golden said: “We must ensure that ownership is not the focus of the debate on land reform. Rather, we must use land more sustainably for the common good.”

Sir Edward Mountain added: “We should understand that giving tenants an absolute right to buy destroys the letting market and that land ownership per se is far less important than really good land use.”

Pictures courtesy of Scottish Parliament TV

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