Alex Salmond gave an interview to BBC Alba at the Community Land conference on Skye on Friday (see previous post of today) in which he appeared to rule out the use of compulsory powers as part of any new measures to strengthen the rights of communities to buy land. Listen to the audio link above in which he says,

If we tried to compulsorily purchase land, we’d end up for generations in the European Courts. I mean .. that’s very clear.”

He is wrong.

The European Convention on Human Rights (Article 1 of Protocol 1) makes perfectly clear that land can be acquired against the interests of the owner provided it is in the public interest to do so and that it is done in accordance with the law.

Compulsory powers of land acquisition have existed for well over a century. The Scottish Government has most recently introduced such powers in order to acquire land for the Commonwealth Games (picture above shows John Swinney meeting protesters who object to the use of these powers).

There is a well-established body of statute and case law which provides ample guidance for Parliament when framing any new powers of compulsory purchase. Most recently, the Court of Session upheld the powers contained in Part 3 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 which provides powers for crofting communities to purchase croft land against the wishes of the owner. The Lord President ruled that this law actually provides a level of protection to the landowner that equalled or surpassed anything required by the ECHR (Pairc Crofters Ltd v Scottish Ministers at 68).

Given that the independent Land Reform Review Group is considering new measures that involve a degree of compulsion, one must assume that Mr Salmond was airing his own views and not those of the Scottish Government.

Since I would like to know which it is, I have asked Mr Salmond’s office whether it is the Scottish Government’s policy that no new powers of compulsion will be included in any new land reform measures. I will let you know the answer.

UPDATE 13 June 2013

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said:

We have yet to hear the recommendations of the Land Reform Review Group, which are due in their final report in April 2014.  Until then, the Review Group will investigate and consider all options in relation to community right to buy.  This will include any Human Rights considerations, as the chair of the Review Group, Allison Elliot, made clear in her speech to Community Land Scotland at the weekend.”

33 Comments

  1. If compulsory purchase were to be ruled out in all cases we could say goodbye to land reform. As a last resort it may be the only way to bring it about particulary when dealing with ‘offshore owners’!

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  2. I think, if there is a YES vote, that absolute priority is given to Land reform, and the key is that the Scottish Parliament is then Sovereign, and can do what it wants, within European law. An act forbidding non-resident land ownership holdings above a certain limit, and a land value tax, plus “Right to buy” laws……plus compulsory purchase of large estates by the Scots Government, and their distribution into Crofts, (Crofting laws to be extended into the entire Scots national territory) and a requirement to ban Commercial blood sports, (not private hunting by residents) plus ecological protection and re-afforestation laws, with penalties, requiring land to be used for proper economic purposes, in rural area, or set aside as biological reserves, would effectively deal with the question. A ministry of rural resettlement, with grants and leases for crofts, would do much. In 30 years, about 200,000 small holdings could be created. (This would be the normal European density for a county the size and population of Scotland. ). Al this will bring shrill screams of rage from the usual suspects. Independence is hollow, if everything is still owned by offshore interests.

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    • Agree totally with your prescription but, given their present showing I wonder if the Scottish government have the courage to do what is needed.

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      • I can understand your concerns, indeed anger at the present situation, but though in sympathy with some of your solutions raiseI areas of concern.

        You will see from my posts on other threads on this site and my many letters,posts and a few articles over the years in the two main Scottish broadsheets, that I am a keen proponent of the collection of Land Rental Value ( LRV), as the basis of public revenue to REPLACE taxation as its main source. I have no truck whatsoever though with the term land value tax. LRV is probably the nearest thing to a ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ we are likely to get on this issue and its full implementation would engender many of the desired effects( including on nondom ownership,) without any complex totalitarian legislation needing to be implemented.
        Having had an intense interest in land use and especially tenure, reform since 1984 after a study trip to Rogaland, Vest Agder and Hordaland, the areas of Norway with the greatest bio-climatic, geo-botanical and topographic similarity to upland Scotland, with Angus McHatiie of the Crofters Union, I have been convinced that rather than extend the legislative nightmare, scurf and curse of crofting to the rest of Scotland, we should use our Parliament to help institute a new modern, democratic, multiple hidden agenda-free system of private small-holding tenure. Sadly, the SNP appear superglued to the neo-tribal kibbutz communality favoured by certain of the chattering classes, whilst leaving the national community bereft of national parks actually owned by the nation, whilst leaving much of the rest of the country in the quasi fuedal Victorian-Edwardian anachronism than many of us detest so much.

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  3. hebrideanfarmer

    I agree with all your views GE.
    There is a huge consensus of opinion out there for this. Does the government have the stomach for it ?
    In the words of an eminent historian…..If a govern doesn’t have the stomach for radical land reform, then it’s a government not worth having. We need clarification of the SNP’s policy on all this, so we can decide if they keep our vote or not.

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    • Thank You Hebrideanfarmer,
      Its nice to get some support. I am only advocating what has happened in some other countries that have had to deal with a relict feudal land holding class that are holding up social and economic development and causing massive harm to the local environment. Places like Bolivia, Peru, etc, actually have a better program of land reform than Scotland. Strangely, no one is embarrassed about this. Smug would be a better term. The SNP and the Edinburgh government will only move on this when they see not moving, as the greater threat. A Crofter movement, with real teeth, and well organized, with candidates in local rural elections, is a way of getting tremendous free publicity for this. Also political action, demonstrations, etc……perhaps the French tradition of farmers protest is the way. Something must be done. The SNP has recently abandoned it’s principles, on so many things, like Nuclear weapons, NATO, the monarchy etc……I am disillusioned with them. I doubt they will do land reform, unless their feet are in danger of getting scorched.

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    • Thank You Hebrideanfarmer,
      Its nice to get some support. I am only advocating what has happened in some other countries that have had to deal with a relict feudal land holding class that are holding up social and economic development and causing massive harm to the local environment. Places like Bolivia, Peru, etc, actually have a better program of land reform than Scotland. Strangely, no one is embarrassed about this. Smug would be a better term. The SNP and the Edinburgh government will only move on this when they see not moving, as the greater threat. A Crofter movement, with real teeth, and well organized, with candidates in local rural elections, is a way of getting tremendous free publicity for this. Also political action, demonstrations, etc……perhaps the French tradition of farmers protest is the way. Something must be done. The SNP has recently abandoned it’s principles, on so many things, like Nuclear weapons, NATO, the monarchy etc……I am disillusioned with them. I doubt they will do land reform, unless their feet are in danger of getting scorched.

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  4. Graham, can you give a couple of examples of Scottish landowners who are causing the sort of “massive harm to the local environment” you’re talking about.

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    • hebrideanfarmer

      Plenty of examples Neil.
      How about looking at the Isle of Jura.
      A couple of years ago a new estate owner cleared all the cattle and sheep off the entire land, followed by just about everyone living on the estate. Then the walled garden was closed and the latest announcement is that he is to have his own private golf course where cattle once grazed. These actions have adversely affected the population, economics, culture and school role. Of course he is an absentee landowner, with a 15.000 acre playground. Culturally devastating to a fragile part of Scotland.

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      • That’s one example hf – how many people were cleared? Where did they go? Has the golf course got planning permission?

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        • hebrideanfarmer

          About 5% of the total population have been displaced. I won’t go in to the details as this is a sensitive area. The point is that even if 1 person was moved, it is 1 too many. He has changed the use and character of the island. If I wanted to change the use of my shed to sell potatoes then I would have to go through endless rounds of planning to get “change of use” This chap has changed the use, population, economics and culture of the island at the snap of his fingers. Quite whether he gets planning permission for his golf course is now completely missing the point. The damage has been done.
          I am surrounded Neil by derelict farmhouse, where once families farmed. I have numerous examples of the wrack and ruin caused by absentee landlords, and if pressed I could post photos of examples that are shameful.

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        • Have your read ‘Mountains and Moorlands’ authored by Prof. Pearsal in the New Naturalist’ series?

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  5. Slurry Stirrer

    Graham,
    Fantastic stuff, including your hunting proposals.
    You are absolutely right , we need eradicate the pink legged toff, a parasite unique to Scotland. This creature can usually be identified by a ring on it’s smallest digit. Unlike our waders and moorland birds, it should not be protected.

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  6. Neil, I can, and will.
    Go back aways and the landscape of Scotland was extensively forested. This biosphere supported diverse wild life, small settlements, and farms. A large part of this forest and wilderness was simply chopped down and cleared, for things like grazing and sheep farming, and for deer moors. it is not the natural primal landscape. The existing landscape, with heavily eroded hills, vast areas of bare and bleak moorlands, etc, is not at all natural.
    A few years ago, a party of Scandinavian environmental experts were visiting Scotland for an international conference. They were taken, on their day off, on a coach trip around the countryside. Their Tour guide noticed that the group were unusually quite, and then talking animatedly after dinner that night. She asked them what they thought of the countryside. They were embarrassed. Eventually they explained. They had thought Scotland would be like Scandinavia. They were shocked by what they considered a wrecked landscape of cut down forests, erosion, waterlogged moors, lack of new forestry, and absence of significant farming in many areas, due to them being used for commercial hunting estates. They were quite shocked. It was explained to them that this was the historic consequences of the large land holdings, the massive overpopulation of Deer, and the deliberate prevention of re-afforestation. They were quite shocked at this. Scots, who have not visited Scandinavia or Canada, which contain undamaged primal landscapes, do not know any better. They do not understand, (NEVER taught in the schools) what happened to their own land. They think bare hills and moors and cut own forests are a natural landscape. No, they are not. All this has taken about 200 years, but it might take a 100 years to put right except there is no political will or available land for ordinary people. Nine people own 18 million acres of land. Productively farmed and forested, this would generate some billions of economic activity. The tax take would be significant. In reality, in places like Bute, where the local feudal oligarch owns about 80,000 acres, the total amount earned in profit on these estates, from the last set of accounts, was about £13,000. No tax paid either, due to a use of “Trusts” as a tax avoidance scheme. The example is just one of many. The actual Bute land is not properly used, at all. There are a long Que of potential crofters who need a place to rent and live. The local oligarch’s response was to offer a ten year limited lease from his 80,000 acres of two acres, for “vegetable allotments.”. I rest my case. Land abuse is costing the Scots billions. Plus environmental damage.

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    • Thanks Graham. I do understand that Scotland’s landscape today is largely man-made. However, it was my understanding the overwhelming majority of the aboriginal forest was cleared in the Iron Age (if not even earlier) for arable agriculture rather than in the last 200 years for sheep farming times and deer “forests”. But I’m happy to be corrected about that.

      However, my question was not about what landowners were doing *in the past*, it was can you give me examples of landowners who are still causing “massive harm to the local environment” *today*?

      As you’ve rested your case, may I continue the analogy by asking some questions in cross examination:-

      1. Who are the nine people who own 18 million acres (only 19 million in the whole of Scotland as I understand it.)?

      2. Can you like to research showing how farming and foresting 95% (18/19ths) of Scotland’s land area would generate billions of economic activity?

      3. You say the feudal oligarch owns 80,000 acres in Bute. The island is only about 30,000 acres.

      4. You also said the feudal oligarch of Bute pays no tax due to use of “trusts”. However, when I challenged Andy Wightman on this during Land Action Scotland, he was absolutely adamant that Bute is not a trust, but a company limited by guarantee. Andy – can you clear this up?

      5. You also say the “actual Bute land is not properly used” What land are you talking about here?

      6. The thing about the two acres of allotments, are you sure that’s not the Duke of Roxburgh? (If Bute has also dipped its toe in the water of allotments then I’ll eat humble pie on that point.)

      7. You said in your earlier comment there should be an Act forbidding non-resident land ownership holdings above a certain limit. But in another comment on another thread (“The most concentrated, inequitable, and undemocratic land ownership system in the entire developed world”) you said “In an Independent Scotland, of vital importance is to have a law that enforces prohibition of Non residents and foreign corporations owning land……..simple.” So it seems not so simple after all if you’re moving to an upper limit. What is your proposed limit (area or value)?

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  7. Neil, for a different perspective I would recommend BBC natural history programme Nature’s Mircroworlds – Scottish Highlands. You can probably find it on IPlayer. A interesting natural history view of the Scottish Highlands, presented by Steve Backshall. To quote the show synopsis:
    “Steve Backshall looks at the Scottish Highlands, home to some of the most iconic wildlife in the British Isles. The two contrasting landscapes of open moor and Caledonian forest are both crucially important to their wild inhabitants and yet the history of the Highlands show that they shouldn’t exist side by side. Steve guides us through the landscape and reveals the surprising part that humans have to play in allowing both habitats to thrive, thereby keeping this corner of the British Isles wild.” A well presented and informative programme.

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  8. Neil, as regards Jura here is a Herald article on the subject. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/top-golf-architect-enlisted-to-design-course-on-jura.19561760 I gather the golf course has since hit planning issues. There are also a few local blogs worth following for a local view.

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    • hebrideanfarmer

      Local views greatly reflect their employers views.
      Anybody condoning what’s happened in Jura is, as Patrick Harvey says, ” in denial”

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    • So the locals are relaxes about the proposals. If they are dependent on the landowner for the roof over their heads they can hardly be expected to be anything else.

      I have seen this in other places, publicly folks will say one thing privately they will say what they really think and it’s out of concern or fear for their homes and living.

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  9. Mr King, I will get back to you later. The Laird of Bute owns most of Bute, plus a substantial amount on the nearby mainland, Joined as a single estate, I believe.
    With regards to the estate lands not being properly used, the total declared profit last accounts was about £13,000, for about 80,000 acres. Not exactly a hive of industrious production. Go check the accounts. What could they be doing, that earns about 16 pence an acre profit?…..I would call this misuse of the land.
    I want, on land holdings, both an upper limit on land, and land holding by non residents made illegal. 2000 acres is enough for anyone, if it is prime agricultural land, or pro-rata for poorer land. Likewise forestry. I also want a land value tax, and prohibition of land use activities that result in serious damage to the environment. I am not being cross examined, I am advancing a policy. I note you advance no ideas of your own, and are therefore presumably in favor of the present system of land Feudalism and Oligarchy.

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    • After the best part of 40 years in being in the land use-land tenure debate, there is a tremendous since of futility of deja vu about all this. I remember the first Drumossie Land and Community conference and indeed played a part in its organisation. I don’t want to count the number of times I have heard the tired played out joke about the defiinition of a croft being ‘ a little area of land entirely surrounded by legislation’, nor do I understand why some people want the scurf and curse of this 19th century system foisted upon the rest of the country, instead of using our Parliament to assist in developing a new form of democratic smallholding land tenure based on extensive private ownership. None of the Norwegians I helped host over here after the seminal study trip to Norway in 1984, would, starting from scratch, design the land tenure system they now have, but they were reduced to ironic laughter at the thought of crofting and the concentration of private land tenure we had then and indeed persists to this day.

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  10. Since land has no capital value as neither God or the Big Bang had any production costs and issued no invoices, what value is it that you propose to tax?

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  11. Slurry Stirrer,
    The hunting policy is to ensure that the wild life is managed responsibly, and that the deer etc are not allowed, as at present, to overrun the landscape. in one instance, a certain Scottish forest has so many Deer, they cannot feed themselves, so the estate owner has them fed at feeding stations so there can be a large quantity of animals for hunting. This is a gross mis-management. If the Deer population was managed responsibly, and reduced, and reserved for private non-commercial hunting, as it is in Canada and Scandinavia, then we would not see this. Forests might even start to spread more….fish and game licenses, as in Canada and Scandinavia, and no one allowed to charge huge fees for this, on private estates. This would do wonders for the landscape.

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  12. Ron, I propose a tax on the land value, as in the normal proposals that you can find online. Excluded from this would be the ordinary households, (they pay local council taxes) and small holdings, crofts, and small farms. The target is large land holdings that are being held for speculation, or just for social control, and which produce no useful economic output for the country, compared to the use and output they would do. The policy is “Use it or lose it”…….The Roman Law was Usor Fructus, but with strong penalties for not making a contribution. This, with hunting and environmental controls, would rapidly break up large estates. Crofts, by the way, should be “made”, at a decent size, from compulsory purchase of unused land, and rented at low rents to those who are desperate for land to make a living from……There is much more. A small clique of people who have profited from the continued disuse or under use of land that is needed by the community would fin their power gone, and rural re-population started.

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    • Don’t misconstrue me Graham, I have long advocated a Scottish national wildlife service along the lines of the best examples of Fennoscandia and North America . It was something we discussed in the Scottish Land Commission ( its report was accepted by the SNP in 1997, but ignored ever since). I have also recommended to several senior SNP members the setting up of national wildlife refugia and the concept of a sustainable rural cultural environment to rationalise the plethora of conflicting policies currently in operation. The disgraceful oxymoron of privately owned national parks has to go.

      Since land has no capital value the only value it has is a societally created desirability factor, its potential rental value and I am a long term proponent of the collection of this Land Rental Value to REPLACE direct taxation of labour,bricks& mortar and exchange of goods and services. It would be levied on ALL privately owned land at the same % rate but on a varying absolute amount depending on maximum permitted use under planning law. There would be no need to apply Usor fructus as the same rate and amount of LRV would be due whether maximum use was taken up OR NOT –ie sitting on a fat @rse doing nothing whilst creaming in publically created increases in LRV is no longer viable, whilst with no income tax or rates work and building upgrades would be encouraged.

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    • who would be the landlord of the crofters and do you mean crofters or small holders?

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  13. Ron, the tenant farmers of scotland need the same protections as crofters if they are to survive.
    the lairds have declared war on family farms, with excessive rent demands and refusal to invest in fixed equipment.
    the holdings act of 1886 was supposed to cover the whole of scotland, but the house of lords restricted it to the “crofting counties” in the highlands and islands.This needs reversed.
    Neil King, you need to get out more and look at the rural dereliction all around you. Take a drive up to Auchterarder, and look at the umpteen empty farmsteads, those that are still standing, all owned by a foreigner and virtually abandoned.

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    • I suggest you have a look at the facts as produced by Scottish Government this week http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2013/06/tenant-farm12062013

      These figures published by the Scottish Government highlight the importance of farming in Scotland to the economy. It is a mixed picture and while overall farm incomes have dropped – reflecting the weather we have encountered in recent years – it is encouraging to note that some farms such as cattle and sheep, dairy and mixed farms have reported the highest level of income for many years.

      They also clearly show that the vast majority of farmed land in Scotland is owner-occupied. These are family farms. However, in terms of tenant farming, the statistics underline a number of important facts. Rents are generally very good value and yes some rent rises have appeared in recent years following a decade of decline. Increases in rent in 2012 were reported in only five per cent of cases and while some of these saw significant increases others also saw rents reduce. The overall picture regarding rents is complex but these statistics clearly challenge the assertion sometimes made that landowners have been universally ramping up rents unjustly.

      Around 80% of tenant farms have a 1991 Act secure tenancy which provides tenants with absolute security of tenure which critics of the tenant farm sector need to bear in mind. The total acreage of tenanted land is decreasing, however this decline in availability of rented land is due primarily due to the sale of farm land to farmers over a long period and the reduction of the overall extent of estate land holdings.

      These figures do point to some issues that it would be good to address such as ensuring regular contact and review between landlord and tenant which can only be beneficial to the sector. The cross sector Tenant Farming Forum are working on that. The statistics are really useful. The start point for any discussion has to be good data and evidence, something that has been lacking in this debate. Better data will be helpful in informing discussions on the future vision for agriculture and should be welcomed by all whose real motive is the health and prosperity of the agriculture sector and not a narrow land reform agenda.

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  14. Dear Ron,
    I think the social and economic objective long term is to do the best to shift back as many people from Urban areas to rural areas as possible, so long as it is economically viable. Scotland has a strange skewed population distribution, with areas only having 10% in some cases of the population they had 200 years ago. They became the new Urban poor, and many of there descendent’s are still stuck there in that condition. Having said that, this will take several generations to do.

    The key thing is to match this, starting small, and experimenting, but underpinned by radical land reform. I personally want to see lots of small farms, crofts, small holdings, in rural areas. It’s what’s called “distributed production”. Small agricultural holdings are very much more productive, per hectare, than large ones, in terms of crops/animals. They are also socially desirable, as they help to reduce the social welfare bill, stabilize communities, and help families. So I would start with the idea of small holdings, (5-10 acres) with a house, part time work outside the holding, and creation of rural jobs. Next up would be “Crofts” (10-30 acres) that are either traditional Crofts, or State owned crofts, created from large estates, and a good base for a family, able to provide, with modern horticulture, a good living. Then “Small Farms” 30-100 acres, more conventional, and “Large Farms” (100-500 acres) which are more “Industrial”. All this subject to issues of “Pro-Rata” land productivity, so very poor land is a multiplier of holdings. Likewise, it needs significant investment in Rural Infrastructure, a Rural development bank, small scale programs for rural green energy, new horticulture technology, etc, and fianlly, an absolute size limit of 2000 acres of prime land, or pro-rata, per person or entity.

    I have spent some years working on issues of small farming, horticulture, organics, fresh water aquaculture, etc, and sustainable food production. It is astonishing what can be done with new techniques. Also the issue of land remediation….which can transform acid moorland into productive cropland fairly quickly, using new organic techniques. There is much more, but I describe all this to show that it is about holistic solutions, and the economic returns to the public good are very large.

    Absentee land owners in most cases totally ignore the social and environmental damage they do. I hope this is helpful.

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    • as my colleague Derek Pretswell of Natural Resources Scotland once said ‘ we need to ruralise the cities, not industrialise the countryside’

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  15. Graham,
    I am very much in sympathy with quite a bit of this and indeed have argued a similar case over the last 30-40 years, After 900 years of feudal stasis, the last 300 under the Union, and a half baked attempt in 2003 to change things, we have a huge amount to yet do and we still face all the problems with the concentration of private ownership in what is basically a land monopoly cabal. We do indeed need to look at radical, dynamic, strategic solutions and all that means in fiscal policy and administrative structures. Sadly both Labour and the SNP have turned their backs on this.
    I hope you will have a keek at the exchange of views I’ve had with Robbie on the other threads.( also into which Neil King has thrown in trolly faecal- stirring posts). The key lesson I took from the seminal study visit to the counties of Vestlandet of Norway with Angus McHattie of the CU in 1984( and subsequent study trips to other parts of Fennoscandia and North America) was the importance of outright private ownership of small holdings and small farms. There were tenanted holdings too, but the legal nightmare of Scottish Crofting just did not exist. Interestingly the size range of the farms was similar to the ones you suggest in your posts. I was inspired by the blend of individuality and communality in the concept in operation of ‘inmark, utmark og skog’ : whereby the farm house, associated buildings and inbye land was privately owned, as was a section of forest, whilst the upland hill grazings were communally held and managed. The sheep farmer, was the forester and /or the plumber, professor bank manger etc etc. Economies of scale were attained by cooperative. Interestingly for someone like myself who is interested in the capacity of wildlife harvesting as an economic crop in agriculturally marginal areas, the farmer-foresters in some places had formed a Moose-hunting cooperative to cover the reality of the home range of Moose extenfing over several private holdings.
    This system was of course years( centuries even) in the making and evolution. The Norwegians were still not entirely happy with it. None of them wanted ours. We are going to have to take deliberate, cogent, direct action through our Parliament, inspite of the current crop of politicians. The most important first step is the institution and collection of LRV to open up the salient of future change whilst avoiding paying these b—-rds vast amounts of compensation and indeed getting them to pay for their own extinction.

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  16. hebrideanfarmer

    Yes, I agree entirely. For too long we have been brainwashed into thinking that it’s the large farms that are the most efficient. This isn’t the case. The small farm where labour is shared amongst the family, with each family member contributing to the efficiency of the farm. This is the way forward for a socially just and economically sound nation.

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