Image: Land Reform Minister, Aileen McLeod at launch of Land Reform Bill with Carluke Development Trust. Photo by Scottish Government.

UPDATE 13 August 2015 My Written Evidence to the Rural Affairs Committee

The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill was published by the Scottish Parliament on 22 June 2014. The Rural Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Committee has issued a call for evidence on the general principles of the Bill at its Stage 1 scrutiny in Parliament. The call for evidence closes at 1700hrs on Friday 14 August 2015.

I have prepared a Briefing on the Bill designed to provide a non-exhaustive analysis and to help those wishing to submit evidence.

The Bill forms part of a much wider programme of land reform. Other ongoing work by government includes reform to succession law, council tax, private rented housing, land registration and compulsory purchase law. The Bill should thus be seen as part of a wider programme and not the sum total of land reform measures. It should also be stressed that, as the first two parts of the Bill make clear, land reform is a process that will necessarily not be concluded by the end of this Parliament. Indeed it will probably take a generation before Scotland’s land governance is set on anything like a modern footing.

The Bill itself contains welcome measures and these are analysed in the briefing. The most worrying aspect of the Bill as it stands is the abandonment of proposals made in the December 2014 Consultation to bar companies in offshore tax havens from holding title to land and property in Scotland. This would have been a progressive move and one in which Scotland could have been taking the lead in a UK context. Instead, the Bill proposes a meaningless right to request information.

Last month, Private Eye revealed that over 750,000 acres of land in Scotland – an area larger than Ayrshire – was held in tax havens. It applauded Nicola Sturgeon for taking a lead in tackling the problem. Their enthusiasm was premature.

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced plans to publish details of offshore corporate ownership in the English and Welsh Land Registry and pressure from NGOs like Transparency International to clamp down on the use of offshore shell companies is proving effective in westminster. The Scottish Government, however, now finds itself being outflanked by the Tories in efforts to crack down on secrecy and tax evasion. The Scottish Parliament has an important role in scrutinising exactly why this has happened.

Other parts of the Bill are broadly welcome though important matters remain to be debated further as the Bill proceeds through Parliament.

 

49 Comments

  1. Has anyone asked who,how and why the proposals to reveal the role of shell companies based in tax havens were abandoned ? – this is something that the media should be all over, the people voted the SNP in to put a stop to croneyistic and corrupt practises – they should be told to stop acting like gobby leftist show-ponies (like their silly performance over the ban on hunting with dogs in England) and deliver meaningful change and increased openness in the democratic structure.

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  2. The land reform bill is about as radical as songs of praise.

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  3. So far much has been promised and nothing delivered. If the (the SNP) don’t get their act together and start to govern as they promised they will very soon follow the Lib-Dems towards oblivion.

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  4. Andy:
    ‘Last month, Private Eye revealed that over 750,000 acres of land in Scotland – an area larger than Ayrshire – was held in tax havens. It applauded Nicola Sturgeon for taking a lead in tackling the problem. Their enthusiasm was premature.’

    Yes it was a very good sign, and very welcome to many of us, irrespective of our pro or anti indy views .

    Now, alas, yet another uncomfortable indication of ‘plus ca change. . .’

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  5. the SNP talk a good game but deliver little. For independence voters who wish to be rid of Westminster and its Global pals this should be a vote winner and you hope they could actually be more radical. Are there any rumours as to why they are being so spineless?

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    • they are quietly pro- rentier land monopoly in psychology and have no intention of radical land reform.

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      • The SNP should be thanked for at least getting land reform on the agenda. If left to Westminster we’d still be waiting.
        Trouble is we can’t win. MSM portray us as extreme far left nutters or Communists whilst for others the gradualist approach means we are in the pockets of the establishment.

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        • Dave. I’m aware this is how the media will portray us, I’m certainly not left wing, though I voted for SNP at the election in the hope of land reforms (I usually vote UKIP !). My take on it is that we should push the idea that the banning of Scottish Estates being owned by offshore shell companies is a sensible step against tax evasion and money laundering – and something that should be welcomed by justice loving people of both left and right.

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        • Dave McIntyre: It was actually the Labour administration at Holyrood, who got the ball rolling after 900 years, with a rather wishy washy piece of legislation that was largely supported and feebly developed on by the SNP, including a token nod towards collectivism via the community buy out concept, and privately owned national parks. ( note the housing development in the ‘Concretegorms’ national park) They ignored their own long term policy portfolio and the 1997 recommendations of their own Land Commission.
          Promulgating an independent Scotland is a pretty radical policy position and one I fully support. Of course the landed oligarchy and the MSM they own or influence, will kick up stink if their sinecure-satrap and rent monopoly are threatened, for as uncle Joe Stalin reminded us, ‘no oligarchy ever gives up its power voluntarily’.
          The kind of reform we require is not one of Stalinism or Mugabe-style land grabs that would be butter and jam for our land monopoly opponents, but instead of socialism we confirm private occupancy of land, but just socialise the rental values created publicly. I refer you to the posts below, by Roger Sandilands and myself, the SLRG website and the recommendation to get a copy of Fred Harrison’s book ( and no, I don’t get a commission)

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    • Stewart: We can glean an idea from the SNPs stance on land reform from the initial composition of their Land Reform Review Group. It’s convenor came from the Church of Scotland ( one of the biggest private property owners in Scotland) and one of its other members was they factor for one of the two biggest estates in Scotland and he had previously factored the other one of the two. No Andy Wightman and at that time no Robin Callander and the other one of the best qualified ‘triumvirate’, Jim Hunter, promptly resigned, presumably because he cottoned on very early to the kind of game being played.

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      • The report did turn out to be much better than was expected without being radical but this is backtracking.

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      • Dr Hunter , to the best of my knowledge , has never fully explained why he resigned . He should do so now even at the risk of ruffling a few feathers ; perhaps it’s time a few feathers were ruffled ?.

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  6. mary rose liverani

    I’m generally a great admirer of Salmond and Sturgeon but months ago I had strong feelings that Salmond was anti-land reform and I was waiting to see if my intuitions would be borne out or not. Maybe it would be a good idea to create a sophisticated survey and send it to every member of the SNP in the Scottish or Westminster Parliaments, inviting them to state exactly where and why they stand on those matters that are arousing alarm. This information should be made public.
    And it should be made clear to the SNP that they can be dumped as radically as the were raised on high.

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    • indeed, I have long held these suspicions through more than 20 years of SNP membership and being part of their Scottish Land Commission. I left the party a few years ago and this was one of the main reasons. I see Salmond and his acolytes as part of the rentier cabal.

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      • It really makes one wonder what are Salmond’s true thoughts about land reform ? . Is there a fear of appearing too radical and spooking the establishment or is this anaemic offering the extent of his ambitions ? .

        I’m still at something of a loss when I look back at the years of big promises and fighting talk , only to be presented with a wet lettuce of a bill .

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  7. Most people in Scotland have been looking forward to ‘ radical ‘ land reform . However it now looks like a damp squib , that appeared to be what was looked forward to , spluttering and going out . What a pity .

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    • Please tell us, Fiona, on what basis do you make the assertion “Most people in Scotland have been looking forward to ‘ radical ‘ land reform”? I would suggest that “most people” in Scotland don’t have a clue about land reform unless, of course, they are asked in a class biased question about land owning toffs etc

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      • Geomac,
        Perhaps many who take more than a passing interest in land reform and certainly many of those who take a specific interest in it will be disappointed or surprised. In fact in the latter group there may be more than disappointment, but more especially, in those with any inkling of the SNPs track record of procrastination-prevarication on this issue there will be less than surprise. It is very sad to me that the wider population is not fully aware of the import of the structure of land tenure in Scotland has on their economic and social wellbeing and it saddens me even more to consider that there are those in the SNP establishment, who couldn’t care less about it.

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  8. If this kind of ownership is not actually outlawed any measures are likely to be little more than symbolic in practice and ScotGov are keenly aware of symbolism and they are certainly not radical in practice. Their main policy objective is to win over the 5%. Nothing else counts for much. Sentiment in the property market is running very much in the opposite direction so it will be perceived that inactions that counter this sentiment are probably worthwhile. Their main strategy is to please as many people as possible through rhetoric and antagonise as few influential people as possible through their actions. They start initiative after initiative but little comes of them. This “do little” policy also supports the general impression of financial probity that they have long nurtured along with the idea that devolution doesn’t work. So it’s all of a piece.

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    • David,
      As well as the various publications by Andy, I suggest you google Scottish Land Revenue Group and take a look at John Digney’s latest contribution. Further to that I thoroughly recommend getting a copy of ‘As Evil Does’ by Fred Harrison, published by Geophilos. The ISBN is 978-0-9933398-0-6. Clearly from this there lies within the changes proposed a route for the SNP to win over the other 5% and more. They are going to have to decide which side they are on; the land monopoly cabal or the people of Scotland. Will it be case of ‘they cannae’ or the just wulnae?

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  9. I would be interested to hear the SNP’s explanation for this decision to leave out the proposal to bar companies of shore tax havens from holding land/property in Scotland, from the Land Reform Bill. It is extremely disappointing. I hope it is a technical issue, and not an issue to do with SNP donors not being happy with it or some other reason. There simply is not a better time for the SNP to enact meaningful and significant land reform legislation. They have had massive victories in 2011 and now 2015. If you claim to be a social democratic party, then this is a simple issue to include in the Land Reform Bill. I regard this as a crucial issue, and if the SNP has had a failure of nerve/backbone over this proposal, then it really is a serious blow to their claims to being a real social democratic party.

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    • Mutteley99. I once more suggest you go on to the SLRG website and read John Digney’s response to the LRB.

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    • Roger Sandilands

      One of the biggest problems in selling “land reform” is that so many people see it as mainly a rural issue. Agriculture, and agricultural land values, are a very small proportion of GDP nowadays (less than 2%). The great bulk of all land values, and the unearned fortunes that are made from them, arise from urban land values. And yes, Ron Greer is right to urge that we all read Fred Harrison’s brilliant, wide-ranging new book, As Evil Does. The evil is the destruction of wealth that is wrought by the taxation of work and enterprise while leaving unearned rents from land values largely untouched.

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      • Roger: indeed and as I looked down the prospect of Great Western Road to the Campsie Fells on my way to the SLRG spring conference, I considered the prospect that there is more land rental value on each side of this street than there is in the whole of the Campsie ‘massif’.

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  10. Geocaching

    I have conversed with many people since Paul Wheelhouse claimed that Scottish Land Reform would be ‘ radical ‘ .
    Just talking about so few people owning half the private land in Scotland and some landowners having off shore accounts and paying no tax . Yes , most , if not all. , of these people I speak to agree that land reform in Scotland is long overdue .
    I do not think that landowner’s are toffs , although some try to act like toffs .

    Who do you speak to ?.

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  11. In general all the excitement about radical reform has dwindled away to nothing. I put this down to Richard Lochhead being guided carefully by SLAE, NFU and STFA. Fair play to SLAE they have their mission and they fight for it. NFU, desperately need to change their name, they no longer represent the voice of the tenant farmer. They have persuaded RL that to do anything too radical will upset the landowners and crucially, possibly lead to a wider redistribution of Agricultural subsidies. In NFU terms this is disastrous! where the mentality is big is best, own the home farm and rent as much extra land as possible to increase scale. The STFA have played a fair game, and ensured that the tenancy system has been well cemented in. This sadly means that so too has the Land Lord system been cemented in. This is where RL has made his biggest mistake, to believe wholeheartedly that what STFA say is what tenants want. SLAE need to thank NFU and STFA for galvanising the cause, not surprising their memberships and recruitment pool are closely intermingled.
    To run through the Briefing:
    Land commission, this should be welcomed, however the creation of a tenant farming commissioner is daft, never mind the appointment. It is like Westminster appointing a Scottish Secretary.
    Right to buy land: “the only practicable way of achieving that significant benefit” is that what we think of our communities? last resort, last chance, only get this chance when everything else in the universe has been exhausted!
    Shooting Estates, Rates: This is good, and they should pay rates. The land commissioner can also target farmers with 2nd and 3rd farms to pay rates too. Farmers with one single farm should be exempt because they are active in primary food production and collectively play a role in our national food security and NEED some help to remain in business. Shooting estates on the other hand are not traditional, not significant in terms of food production(wild venison harvesting is possible by other methods other than Estate shooting) But crucially Esatates are not a way of life, it is not a choice of land use which is openly available to everyone, it is not the owners primary source of income, it is a privilege a luxury and therefore should be taxed.
    Agricultural Holdings: major problems here, Richard Lochhead needs to take on amendments. There are huge areas of Scotland which are staring Short term tenancy, ownership monopoly in the face. This is unsustainable and short sighted, reacting to “who wants to rent some land today” young people are leaving remote areas and short term tenancies moves every ounce of influence into the hands of the Land Lord. Goodbye and farewell to the family farm!

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    • Slurrystirrer: My sympathies and I repeat my point about the SNPs long track record of procrastination-prevarication on substantive land reform. We should never underestimate the capacity of a political oligarchy to pander to the most powerful sectional vested interests in preference to meeting the needs of the general populace. If you can get hold of a copy of the film Viva Zapata, starring Marlon Brando, the long term feedback to the oligarchy is quite clearly indicated. The SNP will ignore that lesson though.
      The Land Commission is perhaps the only glimmer of hope in all this and I agree with your views on the tenant farmers representative not being a good idea. We need one of the Commissioners to be a professional biogeographer with an international perspective on strategic land use issues. It might even be an advantage if he/she was a non UK citizen.

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      • Ron, i like your version of the Land commissioner. Preferably female, in order to have a more compassionate perspective towards disempowered communities.

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    • SS, the thing I found most bewildering was that “Future of Scottish Agriculture” document that was put out recently which didn’t mention land reform once. I simply don’t see how you can consider them in isolation from each other. It mentioned “profitable” and “efficient” umpteen times though and I agree with you it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that the SG has already decided that large scale agribiz is the way forward with more consolidation of smaller farms. And if it is, then land stands in no need of reform whatever as the existing system seems to be serving it perfectly well!

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      • Neil, you are absolutely right. There is no need for any land reform if the SG view agriculture this way. Richard Lochhead loves the NFU, game over.

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        • which is perhaps what the SNP intended all along.

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          • That is something I’ve noticed with other issues as well including independence. A lot is said but little is done and when pushed on something they don’t so much cave in as just drift quietly away unobserved!

          • Stuart Wilshaw; yes, non-engagement with real issues happens so often, that we can probably take it that this is SNP policy. Expect further disappointments.

      • well ,i am speechless!!!!!
        couldnt have put it better myself.

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  12. Maybe links to this article, along with awkward questions as to why the SNP have capitulated to a bunch of odious toffs, should be posted on SNP facebook and website debating forums !

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  13. Duncan Pickard

    In reply to Neil King’s comment, please look at my submission to the Local Tax Commission which describes the discrepancy between the market price of agricultural land and its value for production.

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  14. Perhaps the SNP & the Labour Party should have an entrance exam on the subject of how not to be fooled by sneaky public schoolboys – one has a feeling not many would pass.

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