The Scottish Establishment: Who you meet at a private landowners conference


Elite business interests on show for wealthy private estates

WHO OWNS SCOTLAND? The answer, in the main, is the large private estates that dominate huge swathes of the national landscape. 

Next year will be 400 years since the Register of Sasines was established by the aristocracy to legalise its land-grabs. Many ‘old noble families’ still own the land today.

In Edinburgh the lobby group for private landowners, Scottish Land and Estates, met for its spring conference. In attendance were all the groups required to keep a firm grip on inherited property. 

– Tax advisors 

EQ Accountants, Ernst and Young, and Saffery Champness were all in attendance to promote services to provide advice on staying one step ahead of the tax man.

This included advertising “trusts”, which are commonly used by large landowners in Scotland to create legally complex structures which obscure the identity of individual who controls the land. Over 750,000 acres of Scotland is registered in offshore tax havens.

Ernst and Young told CommonSpace they provide advice to “minimise” tax contributions for land owners.

– Developers 

Owning so much land brings the benefit of deciding who and what can be built on your property – and therefore who benefits from the land. 

Companies Bell Ingram, Bowlts, CKD Galbraith, Clarendon Planning and Development, EGGER Forestry, Halliday and Fraser Munro were all present to provide various forms of development support.

They encompasses chartered surveyors, consultants, architects, and forestry managers.

– Private staffing firm 

Wealth has its costs. Owning a vast estate requires staff to keep things ticking over. Greycoat Lumleys provide that service. They “provide top quality staffing for private households and estates – couples, gardeners, housekeepers, house manager, nanny, private cook/chef, personal assistant, staff for shoot parties.”

Couples – buying a gardener and a housekeeper – costs £45,000 a year. A housekeeper costs £25,000 per annum. Nanny costs are negotiable. 

– Lawyers

If you’re evicting a family tenant, blocking public access to your park, or threatening huge costs on a community estate – you need lawyers. 

Infamously, land reform campaigner, now MSP, Andy Wightman charted four hundred years of legally dubious practices by landed estates in his book ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers’. 

Law firm Turcan Connell, popular with private landowners, were on hand to “offer a full range of legal services alongside a complete range of tax services”, as one example of the firms who provide advice in Scotland. 

– Pollution and spillage management 

Scotland’s biggest private landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch, has pursued coal methane extraction near the community of Canonbie. 

The arrival of new forms of unconventional gas extraction, such as fracking, have sparked environmental concerns over threats to water supplies and wider ecosystems.

RAW, “a market leader in pollution and spill response”, were at the conference to support environmental clean up efforts. While fracking is currently under a moratorium in Scotland, staff expected that their clean up operations will be required to support the industry in the future. 

– Financial sector supporters 

Ownership of land is generally related to wider business interests – which can include major portfolios of investments and property. Where do you keep you cash? 

Barclays Bank, the major conference sponsor, were on hand to provide support to the landed estates sector.  

– Shooting or caring for animals 

The conference hosted plenty of wildlife interests. The Country Sports Tourism group and the Scottish Moorland Group promoted the benefits of shooting estates.

Over a million acres of land in Scotland is used to shoot animals for sport, including grouse, deer and pheasant. Prime Minister David Cameron, for instance, shoots deer on his father-in-law’s Jura estate. 

However, there were also groups to support wildcats, red squirrels, and plantlife. 

– The government minister

The minister with responsibility for land issues – Roseanna Cunningham – gave the main conference speech, and focused largely on common interests between the government and private landowners. 

However, her appearance also revealed the elephant in the room: Cunningham said land ownership in Scotland is too concentrated

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Picture: CommonSpace