Image: Badinloskin, Sutherland

This is the Keynote Address by Professor James Hunter given to the Community Land Scotland Annual Conference, New Drumossie Hotel, Inverness, 21 May 2015.

James Hunter

In September 2009, the best part of six years ago, I was opening speaker at a Community Land Conference held in Harris.

The people there – some of you here today – were mostly from localities – from islands and estates – that, since the early 1990s, had been bought by the folk living on them.

We recognised in that a big achievement.

Our purpose, though, was not to celebrate success.

But, in a way, to do the opposite.

That’s clear from my own words that day in Harris.

I spoke, of course, of what had been accomplished.

More homes. More jobs. New businesses. Locally controlled renewables. Rising populations.

And above all else, what’s always seemed to me by far the greatest gain that comes from effort of the sort you’ve been, and are, engaged in.

What, at that Harris gathering, I called: ‘The boost community ownership gives to the self-esteem, self-confidence, of everyone involved with it.’

‘All this you know,’ I said then, ‘and I don’t propose to dwell on it.’

What I said next was this.

‘What I want to focus on is the public policy environment in which community ownership has taken off and prospered.’

‘For while community ownership,’ I said, ‘could not have succeeded in the absence of the tremendous efforts made by groups represented here, neither could it have succeeded without support from government and its agencies.’

‘It’s my belief,’ I said, ‘that, since the present Scottish government took office, this support, which grew steadily under previous administrations, has lessened very markedly.’

The government I spoke of was the SNP administration that took office two years earlier.

And since, let me be clear, I’m an SNP member, I wasn’t motivated by hostility to that party.

I was, I think, expressing what was then a common worry in community land circles.

A worry that, while in the early years of Scotland’s restored parliament, land reform, community land ownership, had been way up there in bright lights, those things – politically at any rate – had somehow ceased to matter.

That’s why, I guess, that Harris conference was called.

To work out what was needing done to put community land ownership, the wider cause of land reform, back on the Scottish government’s agenda.

Well that, for sure, ain’t something that need worry us today.

With a Community Empowerment Bill well through the Scottish Parliament …

With a Land Reform Bill being published in the next few weeks …

With all of that going on right now at Holyrood …

If anything, you wonder – now that land, and who controls it, is so central to our politics – just how the Scottish government’s got time for other things.

Why exactly this has come about is a big question.

It’s bound up, very clearly, with the wider politics of Scotland – with the way that, over the last year or two, for reasons we all know about, there’s been far more engagement, than for several generations, with where Scotland should be headed.

And not just constitutionally.

What’s been, what is, central to the thinking of an awful lot of people who, this last year or two, have got involved in what’s been happening … is something that goes way beyond where sovereignty’s located.

That something is, I think, a feeling that unfairness, inequality have of late become so glaring, so destructive … that this unfairness, inequality, need one way or another reining in.

This feeling’s not peculiar to Scotland.

Nor is concern about the damaging effects of inequality confined to people on the left.

Over the last year or so, there’s been growing recognition, in very many quarters, that extreme concentrations of wealth are not just damaging the world’s poor.

They’re hampering development across the board … by undermining the effectiveness of every capitalist economy.

Gobally, that view’s repeatedly expressed now by, for instance, International Monetary Fund president Christine Lagarde.

More locally, here in Scotland, to repeat, demands for greater social justice are increasingly bound up with politics of the sort that brought about the electoral drama that unfolded just two weeks back from today.

What, down the track, might a socially just Scotland look like?

Well, I’ve no exact idea.

But it wouldn’t be a Scotland, I believe, where half the country’s privately owned land is controlled by just 432 owners.

A lot of folk think likewise.

And that, I reckon, is one reason why the cause of land reform has of late been getting the attention that it has.

But it’s not the only reason.

Another one is you – Community Land Scotland.

From that conference in Harris, there emerged one main conclusion.

That the community land sector – the individuals, the local groups involved in it – had somehow to get organised.

The sector, it was thought, required a means of working out, and getting over, its collective – and distinctive – point of view.

A means of influencing public agencies and politicians.

A means of pressing the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government, to recognise that the need for land reform, for more community land ownership, had not at all been satisfied by what had been accomplished in the Parliament’s first session.

Important though that was.

Well, that means of getting over a community land sector viewpoint, it isn’t missing any longer.

You, to repeat, are it.

And I reckon you’ve been doing pretty well.

For starters, you’re encouraging, assisting, continued effort on the ground.

More and more of it – and this is heartening – in parts of Scotland where community land ownership is new.

Which is not to say that things are at a standstill in the areas where community land ownership – as we know it here in Scotland – first began.

In the Outer Isles, for instance, the most endangered species isn’t any more the corncrake. It’s the Hebridean landlord.

But like six years ago in Harris, it’s the politics of land reform I most want to touch on – what I called, back then, the public policy environment.

The institutional back-up to community land ownership.

The stuff that doesn’t of itself take more land, more resources, into local, and community, control.

But the stuff – like legislation, public agency support, the cash that’s needed for land purchase – the stuff that makes it easier for people to take charge of what’s around them.

Community Land Scotland’s made a difference – a big difference – in that area.

The arguments you’ve developed, the contacts that you’ve made, the influence you’ve managed to exert – all that’s helped greatly to re-energise the land reform process – a process that, six years ago, we felt had almost stalled.

In doing what you’ve done, if I may say so, you’ve been helped by your leadership.

And not least by your chairman.

He told me that on no account was I to say this.

So I reckon that’s my dinner out the window.

But David Cameron, I believe, has helped enormously to get community land ownership to where this cause now is …

Some milestones:

First, the Scottish Land Fund.

It’s re-establishment was something we called for in 2009.

Now it’s back.

And with more money. Not enough of course. It never, ever is enough. But that the Land Fund’s up and running once again is evidence that progress is being made.

The same’s true of the setting of a target of one million acres – nearly twice the present total – in community hands by 2020.

Still more significant was the setting up by government of the Land Reform Review Group.

With which I had a brief connection.

And which, after I left … and I hope the one thing didn’t follow from the other … and which after I left produced a report that’s both a good analysis of what wants doing and a pointer as to how it might be done.

From that there’s followed legislation.

The Community Empowerment Bill owes quite a bit to Land Reform Review Group recommendations.

The Land Reform Bill will owe a great deal more.

A word now about that Bill.

Uninformed, I stress, by any inside knowledge of what it might, or mightn’t, look like.

But informed by the consultation paper that was issued late last year.

And especially by what I think is the paper’s key suggestion.

In its Chapter Two.

Where you find what’s called a Draft Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement.

‘This [draft] statement,’ I quote, ‘ proposes a vision and a set of principles to guide the development of public policy on the nature and character of land rights in Scotland.’

I leave aside, for present purposes, the vision.

And of the consultation paper’s seven principles, I’ll touch on only one.

The first and – I believe – the most important.

It reads: ‘The ownership and use of land in Scotland should be in the public interest and contribute to the collective benefit of the people of Scotland.’

By way of underlining that, a borrowing from Donald Dewar.

When, in 1998, he introduced the Scotland Bill – the devolution Bill – he read out its first sentence:

‘There shall be a Scottish Parliament.’

Donald paused then for a moment, and said, ‘I like that.’

‘The ownership and use of land in Scotland should be in the public interest and contribute to the collective benefit of the people of Scotland.’

I like that.

Because it makes the point that ownership of land is in no way absolute.

What owners do, or don’t do, with their land, that statement says, is not, and can’t be, wholly up to them.

It’s contingent on the agreement, the consent, of the society, the community of which they’re part.

In some ways, to be sure, there’s nothing new about such thinking.

Although Scotland’s never experienced land reforms of the sort that long ago rid other European countries of the concentrated ownership that we alone still have, more limited reforms have several times been put in place.

Reforms made in the public interest.

Like giving crofters security of tenure in the 1880s.

Like giving tenant farmers similar – though less generous – security in the 1940s.

But reforms of that sort have had specific, limited and clearly stated purposes.

As did the Scottish Parliament’s Land Reform Act of 2003.

The new Land Reform Bill, if it includes a Land Rights Statement of the sort set out in last year’s consultation paper, will signal the arrival of a different approach.

One that opens the way not just to one or two particular measures but to an ongoing and evolving programme of reform.

A programme predicated on this powerful notion:

That the ownership and use of land in Scotland should be in the public interest and contribute to the collective benefit of the people of Scotland.

So how might a long-run programme of reform be developed?

Well, December’s consultation paper gives a steer on that as well.

Where it suggests that, in line with a Review Group recommendation, the Scottish government should establish a Land Reform Commission.

Which will have the job, presumably, of working out exactly what, beyond next month’s Reform Bill, will still need tackling if the public interest is to be secured.

Which is why the Land Reform Commission, if indeed we are to have one, has got to be got right.

This from Andy Wightman:

‘Key to the success of any such Commission will be its structure and remit. Clearly it needs to be autonomous and independent … [Members] also needs to be free of vested interest and [be] able to respond to a clear statutory remit without compromise.’

What might that remit be?

Well, I offer this from guidance given to the first Scottish Land Fund.

Not the present Fund. But the Fund launched in 2001 and afterwards – inexcusably – wound up.

One of that Fund’s objectives was simply this: ‘To diversify the pattern of land ownership in Scotland.’

Beyond that lay a recognition we need now to get back to.

A recognition that to have half of our privately owned land in the hands of 432 owners is, in itself, plain wrong.


Which is why a Land Commission needs to test, to scrutinise, each land-related measure to see if it’s …

Contributing to the collective benefit of the Scottish people … AND …

Helping to diversify the pattern of land ownership.

One more thought.

Arising from my having gone, on a Saturday in mid-April, to Glenfeshie.

Where Dick Balharry, who did so much for nature conservation, was being presented with a Geddes Medal by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

The day was, weather-wise, spectacular.

Some sun. Some cloud. Near perfect visibility. Snow still on the high tops that separate Glenfeshie from the upper part of Deeside.

The place a place of beauty. Seen that day at its best.

Which was good.

Because Dick, whom I’d known for a long time, was dying.

And just days later would be dead.

What Dick had meant to say that day was said for him by his son David.

There was media coverage of Dick’s message.

And if you didn’t catch it, you should maybe look it up. Because that message is important.

It has to do with how we might restore and rehabilitate environments and habitats that have been desperately degraded by misuse.

Evidence of just such restoration was all around us that day in Glenfeshie.

I hadn’t been around there for maybe 20 years.

And what I saw was truly heartening.

The rebirth of a native pinewood that, despite it’s having existed for millennia, appeared, until quite recently, to be headed for extinction.

Because of the priority given for ages in Glenfeshie – the priority given everywhere on properties like that – the priority to keeping up deer numbers.

With the outcome, in Glenfeshie, that no scots pine seedling there had reached maturity for at least a hundred years.

That the Glenfeshie pinewood’s now returning – without planting, without fencing – is down to stringent deer culls.

Conducted by a management team led by Thomas MacDonell – a local, Badenoch, man.

This team advised by Dick Balharry.

A team in place there in Glenfeshie because it’s owner is Anders Holch Polvsen – now in charge of more of Scotland than any other individual – except for the Duke of Buccleuch.

Mr Polvsen’s objectives are: ‘To purchase wild land to protect it against exploitation and to preserve as much wild nature … as possible for future generations.’

What might our prospective Land Reform Commission make of that?

Will what Mr Polvsen’s doing be judged to be, or not to be, ‘to the collective benefit’ of Scots?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that putting right the past misuse of Highland land requires more subtlety than seems to be allowed for in attempts to map what’s wild.

Not long after my trip to Glenfeshie, I was in Strathbrora.

I’ve been there quite a bit of late because, as David mentioned, I’m writing something presently on Sutherland.

My destination was a place called Ascoilemore.

Whose community, I think, I’ve got to know a little bit.

Which is a wee bit odd, I guess.

Because no-one’s lived in Ascoilemore for the best part of two centuries.

This being one of sixty-two Stathbrora townships destroyed in the course of the Sutherland Clearances.

There were eight, nine, ten, eleven dwellings there in Ascoilemore.

Now reduced to little more than squared off undulations in the turf.

I don’t know which of these vestigial ruins were once part of the house that – until Thursday 31 May 1821 – was home to a woman by the name of Jessie Ross.

I do know something of what happened there when, at two o’clock that Thursday afternoon, the house was entered forcibly by around a dozen men.

Those men, headed by a sheriff-officer called Donald Bannerman, were there to evict this young mother, her two small daughters, aged five and three, and her two-month old baby girl.

They were also there to empty the building of everything the Rosses owned.

Jessie’s baby, whose name was Roberta, had been born less than a year after another baby, a boy who hadn’t lived.

So Jessie Ross, then 27, had gone through, in twenty months, two pregnancies – one of which had ended tragically.

Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t in good health.

To Bannerman and his subordinates, this mattered not a bit.

They began by ordering out the little girls, Elizabeth and Katherine.

Their mother, unwell and hoping to safeguard the family’s belongings, refused to join them.

‘She would not leave … until the furniture was off,’ it was afterwards explained.

On Jessie Ross also refusing to help move the wooden cradle in which her baby was sleeping, one of the party, William Stevenson, picked it up – angrily it was said – and made to carry both cradle and baby outside.

Perhaps, as was later alleged, Stevenson was drunk – he and his colleagues having got through ten bottles of whisky the previous night and another three that morning.

Or perhaps he was just clumsy.

At all events, he somehow ran the cradle up against the house’s door or doorframe.

The baby, though not tumbled out, was badly shaken – and started crying in alarm.

She was still in distress when her cradle was set down in such shelter as a nearby dyke provided from a chill wind out of the north-east.

Here Roberta was found by someone by the name of Mary Murray – on her way to offer help to Jessie.

Like Jessie, Mary was a nursing mother.

Doing something we’d think unacceptable – but which, from the way it was reported, must have been common practice then – Mary Murray lifted the crying infant and quietened her, as a bystander put it, by ‘giving the young child a suck’ at her own breast.

The older Ross children weren’t so readily comforted.

Not long after the evicting party got to work, Elizabeth, the five-year old, was struck in the face by a piece of planking thrown from the house – Stevenson again responsible.

Elizabeth began to cry and, her injuries aside, neither she nor Katherine, her sister, could have been anything but traumatised by what was happening to them.

Both were said to have ‘looked cold’ and to be ‘trembling’ or shivering – their misery compounded by the fact that they already had, or were incubating, whooping cough.

Now rare, whooping cough was once a common childhood illness.

Its symptoms – a fever and the drawn-out cough from which the infection got its name – were always unpleasant, sometimes severe, occasionally fatal.

So what happened to Katherine Ross, might arguably have happened anyway.

But when, some three weeks later, the little girl died, it’s understandable that her father, Gordon Ross, unavoidably elsewhere when Ascoilemore was cleared, should have attributed her death to what he called the ‘inhuman treatment’ she’d experienced when the Rosses’ home was taken from them.

That, then, is how Strathbrora got to be the way it is.

From the hillside above Ascoilemore, the middle reaches of Strathbrora are laid out in front of you.

Devoid of habitation.

But awash with indications of there having for a long time been a lot of people here.

A mile or so away, at Kilbraur, another of the strath’s cleared townships, you can pick out the remnants of a broch.

From perhaps two thousand years back.

And in the shape of hut circles and the like, there are plenty signs of older settlements nearer hand.

Which is to say that, out of the last fifty centuries, this part of Strathbrora’s been lacking people for just two.

In relation to what went before then, Strathbrora’s present emptiness is very, very new.

And being new, might it not also, in the end, prove temporary?

Getting a new community, or new communities, established in Strathbrora, and the many places like it, will be more challenging than getting pines back in Glenfeshie.

It won’t happen this year.

Or next year.

It might not happen this century.

But my plea to Aileen MacLeod, who’ll be speaking here tomorrow, is this:

Don’t let any Wild Land Map close off that possibility.


  1. Eloquent and very, very humbling words.


  2. Being a boy born and raised in Glasgow, i found your address very interesting in that although raised in the city i have alway’s had a love of the countryside through My Maternal Grandmother who was raised in Kames (Argyle) where we headed every summer on holiday and, to this day visit. i would like to read more report’s on your communities progress in respect of, the land Reform Act. Douglas Burgoyne Dunn.


  3. stewart lambie

    Great speech , land reform should be progressed at every opportunity the SNP have disappointed farmers with the AHLRG. and we wait with bated breath for the LLRG draft. Land owners hide behind the human rights act . If PM David Cameron is determined to change the Human rights act should we not be pushing for a change here to allow positive land reform to take place and leave the land owners to face the cold wind of change.


  4. Where were jessies human rights that day?


  5. 1821

    Ah yes .
    That was the time when people lived in fear on Scottish estates when they had no rights at all . They had nothing . They were in constant fear of the landlord . The landlord had complete and utter control over everyone on the estate . The landlord’s word was final . The landlord did whatever he or she wanted on their estate – be it lawful or unlawful .
    Fast forward almost 200 years and where are we on Scottish estates ???.
    We are almost BACK TO BUSINESS AS USUAL for landlords in Scotland !!!.


  6. Dear Jim (and Andy)

    A great article, but I think you are exaggerating the threat to community aspirations of SNH’s Wild Land Map.
    It is interesting to compare that map with Roy’s survey of 1747-55 which can be viewed against an overlay of more modern maps on the NLS site

    The nearest of SNH’s wild land areas (no.35: Ben Klibreck – Armine Forest) does not contain Ascoilemore, nor any of Strath Brora; in fact from Roy’s map it looks possible there was no-one living within these 530 square kilometres in 1750. [Let me know if you spot any – his map is a little distorted so that it’s hard to be certain where it matches the boundaries of area 35.]
    Of course there were inhabited places within the “wild land areas” in 1750, as the locations of many bothies now maintained by the MBA testify. But the great majority of sites where communities would welcome more housing are outwith these areas.

    I also like that ‘The ownership and use of land in Scotland should be in the public interest and contribute to the collective benefit of the people of Scotland.’
    To be provocative, may I suggest that if we take a truly holistic view, the words `the people’ are unnecessary. Scotland is the part of the planet for whose stewardship the people of Scotland are (or should be) responsible. Also, as Dick Balharry was at pains to emphasise in his testamentary paper, it is the use more than the ownership that matters. Your/his example of Povlsen is a challenging one. Yes, he owns far more than his share of a land of which he is not even a citizen. But he has turned round the management of an iconic area in a way that is a lesson to public bodies, environmental organisations and communities alike.


  7. The Highlands are not a wilderness and haven’t been such for millennia, but neither are they a wasteland ripe for development ( an attitude prevalent in the wee cooncillor mentality of the 80/90s, and not extinct yet). They are to my mind rather a wasted land ready for rehabilitation. The question is how that rehabilitation can be implemented. One possible route forward was the New Caledonia project conceived by Derek Pretswell and myself, which developed through our experiences in the Loch Garry Project, Scottish Native Woods, various study trips to Fennoscandia and North America, in conjunction with an extensive literature review and direct communications with bio-geographers, climatologists, wildlife authorities and land management agencies in a number of northern hemisphere countries. You may remember, Jim, the slide show based on it, that we presented to you in your then home on Skye.
    We claimed no originality of the essence of it, inasmuch as it was based on Fraser Darling’s promulgation of the concept of rebuilding a new human economy in the Highlands on a biologically rehabilitated environment offering greater productivity, diversity and opportunity. A core principle inherent in this process would be the fundamental realisation that it is the soil-vegetation complex that it is the true resource and not the agricultural/industrial processes we use to access it.
    The coming of the ‘Great White Sheep’ was of course lamented by Duncan Ban McIntyre and the Gaelic culture it gave the coup de grace to but it was also another nail in the coffin for the fertility of the uplands and of course the woodland vital in so many ecological processes and cultural opportunities.
    In our study of possible analogues in other similar biomes, which had gone through similar processes( the classic one of course being the Vestlandet counties of Norway) two major items of importance for the ecological and socio- economic rehabilitation of the Highlands stood out very clearly: a much greater extent of woodland cover, mainly of native trees; a system of land ownership, based not on communal ownership, but on an extensive participatory private tenure system allied to strong local government and agreed shared access to local resources. This is a far cry indeed from the quasi-feudal Victorian-Edwardian nightmare world that comprises much of rural Scotland, but equally, it is a far cry from the quasi-Stalinist collective/kibbutzist approach of the compulsory community buy out promulgated by some. What is a community anyway? To me it is a self-defining human socio-demographic structure where empowered private individuals come together to pursue shared aims and in so doing don’t need a laird, a quango or a NGO to tell it what to do.


  8. A consideration that Derek and I were always keen to point out, was that in our plans for extensive re-establishment of woodland cover and the re-introduction of extinct mammals, (both for intrinsic and resource enhancement reasons) there was no concept of going back to the past in a wave of eco-mysticism, but in moving forward given the present realities and future potential of the bioclimatic and edaphic parameters in operation. We took a similar view in terms of agricultural and industrial activities.


  9. Reiner Luyken

    I find Jim Hunter’s speech quite breathtaking in its lack of scientific rigor. We all know that Strathbrora is uninhabited since the clearances. But how can a professor of history jump to the conclusion that out of the last fifty centuries, Strathbrora has been inhabited in all but two, after he stumbled upon a few hut circles and the remains of a broch? Is that all the evidence he’s got?
    Of course he might be right. But he may just as well be wrong. My point is, I expect proper research from a professor who has considerable influence on rural policy making in Scotland. He also trotted out Andy’s old chestnut that half of Scotland’s private land was owned by just 432 people. This claim has still not been independently reviewed or verified.
    Even if the claim were true, it is completely meaningless. Most of the large land holdings on which it is based are located in the Highlands where the price of an acre of hill ground can be as low as £100 per acre, whereas prime arable land in the lowlands costs up to £8000 per acre. Even good arable land in the Highlands (which is largely owned by owner-occupying farmers) costs £4000. This means, a 1500 acre prime arable Scottish farm can be worth as much as a 120.000 acre Highland estate, such as the one owned the Duke of Westminster who is, I believe, one of Scotlands largest private landowners. So if you want to make comparisons – compare values, not acres. Everything else is ideology.


    • The 120,000 acre highland estate has a low value per acre because it is totally neglected agriculturally. The hard won highland arable land has been abandoned for 200 years and has reverted to crap. The old saying that the best sort of fertiliser was the farmers boot rings true, as those farmers boots mostly now walk in north america, as their home soil declines even further.
      Anyone who doubts that decline had only to look at set aside fields in lowland scotland, some of which were left uncropped for 15 or more years. Those fields became so rough with thistles and rushes etc, it was hard to believe they were ever classed as arable.
      The highland land has had 150 yrs or more of abandonment, no wonder it looks “poor”
      it will never be as productive as our lowground arable, but it could still be way better than it is.


  10. Jim,
    Derek and I would be happy to give you an improved/update re-run of the presentation if you can’t quite remember it all. It’s been 25 years after all.
    Just a few years ago I helped survey Loch Brora’s fish population. There’s a healthy population of high quality Arctic Charr and excellent Brown Trout as well as the ubiquitous, hardy Stickleback, However just as much as the fish I was struck by the size of the vestigial Oaks, a real giveaway into the sylvicultural potential of the presently de-forested areas in the upper strath. There is no doubt that if this strath was a dal in Rogaland or Vest Agder it would be well wooded, farmed and populated by people enjoying a high quality of life.


  11. Reiner Luyken

    On the subject of 432 people owning half the private land in Scotland .
    It is not only Andy Wightman who believes that only about 432 people own half the private land in Scotland .
    If you care to read an articlcle written by Simon Johnson , Scottish Political Editor for The Telegraph on 24 of January 2015
    ” She ( Nicola Sturgeon ,First Minister ) argues only 432 owners hold half the private land in Scotland , a figure Mr Johnstone conceded was ” LARGELY ” accurate .
    Mr Johnstone is no less than Chairman of Scottish Land and Estates which acts for most if not all of the landed estates in Scotland .
    So , Mr Luyken , 432 people cannot be far from the mark because the Chairman must know from the membership of his organisation .
    Or does he not know his facts ?.


    • Reiner Luyken

      You missed my point, Gentle dove.


      • Herr Luken,

        a short extract from the poem ‘The Great Caledonian Bear’, by Ron Greer ( 1987)

        ‘ exploitation is now the norm of robbers who come north
        they know the price of Highland land, but never yet its worth’

        I know the point you’ve missed.


  12. Jim,
    I empathise quite strongly over your thoughts on Glenfeshie, having had similar feelings over the outcome of all that campaigning we did as individuals and organisations back in the bad old days of the 80s, when tax relief ‘Sitkaphrenia forestry’ for sporting and media stars was all the rage and huge amounts of public money went into forestry that had no reasonable ecological or commercial basis, while at the same time, native woodlands were neglected or destroyed. The happy outcome was of course parity of grant aid support for the establish of native woodlands, but I must admit of a fair amount of angst that apart from the assistance it gave to volunteer and community groups, we just found another way of providing multi-millionaires with large amounts of public money.
    However we should operate on a greater chronological perception here,’ the posterity perception’ for future Highland residents in harnessing, the economic, environmental and social benefits that a restored forest system offers a currently deforested and depopulated landscape.


  13. Reiner Luyken

    To the contrary .

    If Andy Wightman and David Jonnstone chairman of S L and E both agree that only 432 people own half the private land in Scotland then you take that as fact .
    Do you get that point ?.


  14. Reiner is right. I too found it toe-curlingly cringeworthy to see a Professor of a Scottish university bandying statistics like 432/50 about uncritically.

    That apart, I note a trend towards a division opening up between the right and left wings of “land reform” with the former daring to challenge the orthodoxy that use of land is unimportant and all that matters is ownership. Thus, Dick Balharry paid homage to Anders Povlsen for his work in what must involve an acknowledgment that that sort of thing is only feasible on substantial landholdings when you have shed loads of money to lavish on it.

    In his speech, Professor Hunter appeared to attempt to ride both horses. He seemed to be reaching out to the right wing with a nod in the direction of Povlsen, albeit in the most mealy-mouthed terms. (And does JH really not know how to spell AP’s name or is that a Churchillian affectation?) But then, in case his audience thought he’d gone soft, JH felt the need to radicalise them with a tale implying that modern estate managers are liable to be imbued with an ingrained ethos of routinely murdering their tenants’ children.

    I doubt many of the delegates were much interested in this sort of posturing. I suspect most were there out of concern for more down to earth, but far more relevant, matters to their communities such as saving their village petrol station etc.


    • NEIL: My friend and mentor, the late Hakon Bjarnasson, Director of the Icelandic Forest Service, in discussing deforestation and the process of recovering from it, in both Iceland and Scotland, said to me ‘You know Ron, when you have lost something, it’s a helluva job to get it back again’. A truism I found applicable to much of my professional and personal life, but also in terms of the costs of re-establishing forest in Scotland in the direct sense and indirectly in demonstrating the price we have paid and are still paying for the establishment and continued existing of the quasi feudal, Victorian-Edwardian nightmare world of rural Scotland. As I have said above, I have profound angst about paying multi-millionaires large amounts of public money to establish new woodlands and in seeing billionaires doing the ‘right thing’ by grace and favour, but the longer term beckons.


  15. So where did David Johnstone , chairman of Scottish Land and Estates get his facts from to declare that only about 432 people own half of the private land in Scotland . He should know about all the landed estates in Scotland .


  16. I bet those companies and trusts are taking on more names quickly to argue this point . Hopefully the Scottish Government is not naive to swallow this one .


  17. Many thanks Professor Hunter


  18. Is Scottish Land Reform going to fizzle out like a damp squib ? . A promising start but a very disappointing finish .


    • Well the SNP does not have a good track record of delivering it. It can’t even handle the concept of a national park being owned by the nation.


    • hebredean farmer

      We were promised Radical Land Reform by our First Minister.
      Remember what Prof Jim said some time ago…..If a Government hasn’t got the stomach for Radical Land Reform then It’s a Government not worth having .
      I’m waiting to see how they are going to get rid of the CONCENTRATED PATTERN OF LAND OWNERSHIP.
      I’m waiting to see how they are going to get more LAND INTO THE TENANTED SECTOR.
      I’m waiting to see how they are going to ENSURE SCOTLAND’S LAND IS MORE “FAIRLY” DISTRIBUTED.
      There is a solution to all of these ideals that will test the SNP to it’s foundations.
      Are they Brave enough and are they Bold enough .
      We await the Land Reform Bill to be published in a few weeks time.


  19. In my comment above (May 28, 2015 at 12:11 am: “Reiner is right …”), Andy edited out the word “bogus” in the second line between “bandying” and “statistics like 432/50 about”.

    He thought I was impugning the integrity of his research into the ownership and acreages of the biggest Scottish estates. I was not and I don’t. Instead, I was challenging (using the word “bogus” as a synonym for spurious, deceptive, misleading) the validity of the 432:50 statistic as an indicator of wealth inequality. However, I now accept that it is others who have put this spin on his raw data and that Andy himself has never (as I had thought) made any such claim.

    There was another comment of mine in this thread which appeared to impugn Andy’s integrity and which he has deleted. I made it on the basis that I had thought that claims around the 432:50 statistic had been made by Andy himself when in fact these were also spins on his raw data made by other people. I therefore owe Andy an apology for that.


    In the course of private correspondence with Andy, I have now bottomed out all the questions I had surrounding 432:50. As a result, I no longer need to see the actual list to answer these questions.


  20. Neil, will you also now admit that the bulk of the capital value of farms has been put in place by tenant farmers improvements?


  21. Reiner Luyken

    I still have a question for Andy and Jim on the 432:50 issue, though. The briefing paper by the same name, compiled by them together with Michael Foxley and Peter Peacock for the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, states that “a mere 432 landowners account for half of all Scotland’s privately owned land.” Does he count e.g. the Rio Tinto Alcan estate around Fort William as privately owned, seeing it belongs to a private company, or as publicly owned in view of the Chinese government’s shareholding in the company?


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