This guest blog is reproduced with the kind permission of the Daily Record.
This land is our land.. so let people have their say
Torcuil Crichton 27 May 2013
ON a rare, dry Friday on the Atlantic coast of Lewis the whole community of Bhaltos turned out to dedicate a monument to their shared past and future.
A brilliant stone sculpture, designed by Will MacLean and Marian Leven, commemorates land raids of a century ago and the recent community buyout of the island estate that will open a new door.
Places like Bhaltos, where the people own the land, are living proof that the land reform agenda is alive and matters.
Someone ought to nail to a fence the message that radical land politics can change people’s lives, over a “Yes Scotland” sign. The SNP government’s Land Reform Review Group was meant to re-engage lost momentum for change in a country where the most important resource, the land, is in the hands of the very few.
Their report is a disgrace from beginning to end. Instead of reigniting the debate, it tries to extinguish land reform. On community ownership it recommends some tinkering. On moving seabed rights from the remote Crown Estate Commission to local control, nothing. On tax avoidance, nothing. On absentee landlords, nothing. On land for housing, nothing.
There is a galling betrayal of tenant farmers across Scotland who put faith in the process. Some of their stories about treatment by modern lairds echo the days of Patrick Sellar.
Distinguished land campaigner Andy Wightman says the cause is effectively dead in the water, thanks to this government.
I understand the frustration.
Alex Salmond has squandered a parliamentary majority, which was a real chance to change the face of Scotland.
He threw the opportunity away to pursue independence, which, as he is at pains to assure us, would change “nothing”.
The SNP have talked constantly about getting control of the levers of power. So why don’t ministers give control of the land to the people who live on it in Scotland?
A wonderful drawing by Will and Marian – to my mind the greatest living artists of the Highlands and Islands (though they live in Dundee!)
I admire the sculpture, but admire the sentiment behind it more.
The government will be judged by how it deals with this interim report by the faltering LRRG.
Independence is meaningless if we do not have Land Reform. Independence is meaningless if we do not own the land we stand on.
I note only three references to Andy Wightman in the Interim Report of the Land Reform Review.
1. Andy Wightman links land reform to a process of redistributing power over land by means of redistribution, land tenure and taxation policy.2 He sees the land reform struggle as a struggle to reform, to change, the legal and economic framework that today still constrains too many people from realising their potential. Introduction – page 8
2. A footnote to Andy’s book ‘The Poor had no Lawyers. – page 8
3. In September, before the Call for Evidence was issued, the group set up meetings with people and organisations whose views were expected to have a strong influence on the evidence collected during the review – Andy Wightman,…. Page 14
4. At the same time, Andy Wightman was of the view that Ministers had too much discretion and that the administration of the process should be transferred ultimately to local government. Page 14
Considering Andy’s significant contribution to Land Reform in Scotland and the recognition that his work in the field was one of three outcome drivers in the Introduction to the Interim Report, the fact that so little attention is taken thereafter of his work in the Report can only be considered a major omission.
A bit harsh on Scottish Government. Has Paul Wheelhouse, a Minister in the Scottish Government you criticise, not recently provided the community of Raasay with a suite of real time, practical land reform opportunities?
Raasay has a good landlord in SCRPID and has no appetite or need for community ownership, except possibly of FCS land. Paul Wheelhouse is only consulting on residents on community ownership as an attempt to cover his embarrassment over the shooting lease fiasco. There are plenty of other communities who looked to the LRRG for recommendations for changes which would allow us access to land and who are deeply disappointed by the interim report.
Alison, what sort of things were communities (note, I’m not talking about tenant farmers here) hoping for that the LRRG didn’t include in the interim report?