On Thursday evening last week, Channel 4 news broadcast the above 11 minute film on land reform in Scotland. It’s worth a watch. It highlights, among other things, how grassroots members of the SNP are campaigning for a more vigorous approach to land reform.

The film was broadcast on the first day of the SNP conference where I was a speaker at a fringe meeting hosted by the League Against Cruel Sports as one of the co-authors of a report on the intensification of grouse moor management. I was also scheduled to speak at an unofficial fringe meeting on land reform on Friday evening.

I noticed that there was a debate at the conference on a motion which congratulated the Scottish Government on its land reform and community empowerment bills. (1) I had heard that amendments had been submitted to the conference organising committee but that they had not been accepted for debate. I knew that some delegates were frustrated. So, when the security guard was gazing out the window, I sneaked past and into the main hall to listen to the debate. It lasted 42 minutes and if you click on the video above it will play from the beginning at 1:15:25.

I knew something was up when a young man called Nicky Lowden MacCrimmon took to the stage (at 1:25:45) to propose that the motion be remitted back for further consideration. Coming after workable contributions from two Ministers, Aileen McLeod and Marco Biagi, Nicky made it very clear that the grassroots membership were not satisfied with the ambitions of the party leadership. Here’s a flavour of his contribution.

“This motion talks about a road to radical land reform and I don’t think as a party we can say we’re being as radical as we can be, as we should be and as we have the powers to be right now.

I cannot support the motion wholly as I and many other grassroots members of the SNP believe that our vision for land reform is not radical enough and that we’ve not had an opportunity to debate that as a party and think where are we going to go with land reform.”

[Claps from audience]

“Does radical land reform leave 750,000, three-quarters of a million acres of Scotland, in the hands of unaccountable, nameless corporations based in tax havens across the globe? No, it doesn’t and we have the power to change that now.”

[More claps and whoops]

Does radical land reform leave tenant farmers with no right to buy, no security of tenure – farmers who have invested in that land, worked that land for generations, who have kids in the local school, who contribute to local economies being told your tenancy’s up, find somewhere else to live, work, raise a family. No it doesn’t and we have the power to change that now.

[Claps]

At the end of the debate, the delegates voted to remit the motion back by 570 votes to 440.

Nicky had watched the Channel 4 broadcast and later told broadcaster, Lesley Riddoch,

Seeing Andrew Stoddart on TV and the stories from Islay just made me think someone has to say something. It was one of those, ‘if not me then who, and if not now, then 
when?’ ” moments. I take it very personally when the SNP is characterised as feart or bottling it on radical land reform. I know this isn’t how people feel in my branch or on social media. What I stood up and said was what other members have been saying to me.”

Jen Stout (here) and Calum McLeod (here) both blog about the aftermath of this debate whilst Lesley Riddoch discusses it and the unofficial fringe we held in Aberdeen with tenant farmer Andrew Stoddart in her podcast here.

I will publish a blog on the offshore tax havens issue tomorrow. See here.

NOTE

(1) See motion here.

27 Comments

  1. A historic moment.

    Reply

    • indeed Hector a historic moment. Perhaps it was the moment when the SNP hierarchy was caught with its Union Jack pants down, but it was certainly the moment they realised that they are now dealing with a very different mood in the membership. The SNP have shilly-shallied, prevaricated , procrastinated and obfuscated for 30 years + on real land reform. They have paid scant attention, not only to Andy, Lesley Riddoch, Derek Pretswell and myself, the Scottish Land Revue Group, but also to their own Scottish Land Commission. However they are now going to have to pay attention to 114,000 members who have an agenda for radical change in their hearts and who are not going to be passive or admiring.

      Reply

  2. Andy, can you clear something up for me about the Land Value Tax? If development increases the value of land, fair enough to tax it, but what if development (wind farm, open cast etc.) decreases the value of adjacent land or properties? Does the property owner then get a tax rebate?

    Reply

    • Not an expert on LVT, but my understanding is that if the land value goes down (which can happen for any number of reasons), then so will your tax bill. This would probably not be applied retrospectively, in the same way that increases to your LVT bill wouldn’t be applied retrospectively. No need for rebates.

      Reply

    • Any levy on land values is based on the land’s value. So, if the value increases, the liability increases. If the value decreases, the liability decreases. With regular revaluations, such changes would take effect at the next revaluation.

      Reply

    • Kininvie – if Andy doesn’t object to me jumping in here, the answer is yes. Values are determined by numerous factors and they can go up or down accordingly. Blight from the kind of development you mention would result in a fall in value, reflected in a fall in the amount levied. In extreme cases where, for example, conservation constraints rendered the land economically valueless, it would even fall to zero.

      Reply

  3. Grateful to you, Andy, for linking to the video of the conference so we can all see it for ourselves and make our own judgements rather than rely on snippets reported in the media.

    I was very struck by the second speaker against the motion, Graham McCormick, who said affordable houses in Luss were not being held up by large scale landownership but by the planning process and the National Park Authority. Exactly right. Increase the supply of housing land by freeing up planning permission and the price will go down. Banning tax havens is easy gesture politics but will not deliver a single new affordabe house.

    Reply

  4. N K

    Well , you would say that wouldn’t you .

    In this area IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE BIG LANDOWNER who has wanted a high price for any land for housing . The initial quote from the Local Estate factor for a plot of land stopped all hope of a local person getting a house and at the same time cranked up the price of land . This is driven by the sheer greed of estate landowners . The next thing you will want for country estates is no taxation on them to create an incentive .

    Reply

    • GD, the reason your estate can get away with charging so much for a house plot is because planning permissions for them are like hen’s teeth. Hence demand vastly outstrips supply. But if more planning permissions were issued, that would be reversed and prices would come down. And in spots where there is market failure, the local authority has it in their power to compulsorily purchase land and build affordable housing. They used to do it as witness the cluster of council houses in any Scottish village although of course most of these have been sold and leaked out into the “unaffordable” market. I don’t know why councils don’t go back to building more houses – some are on a modest scale although I expect most will say they don’t have the funding. But the Scottish Gov could change that by giving councils more money (or allowing them to raise it themselves). This would be money much better spent than blowing millions buying thousands of acres of crofting estates to reach arbitrary targets. Couple this with relaxing planning controls to bring prices down – a presumption in favour of affordable housing anywhere, even outside settlement boundaries for e.g. This could all be done under existing legislation – no need for “land reform”, radical or otherwise.

      Reply

      • Derick fae Yell

        Restricting the supply of land to keep the non-wealthy trapped in the cities is the purpose of, the original rationale for, the Planning System. Read Colin Ward’s ‘Arcadia for All’ about the Kentish Plotlands and the resulting reaction via the Council for the Protection of Rural England. Planning is a bigger obstacle than concentration of land ownership. And now so very many people have vested interests in keeping land values, and hence house prices, artificially inflated by ‘Planning’.

        Reply

  5. Things are going to get very interesting.
    One of the most important things we must now do, is bust all myths spouted by the ‘Tory Party Farmers Association’ or more commonly known as the NFU, (yes the conservatives do have a Union). They are going to go into overdrive, in an attempt to resist change.
    I also hope the Government do not approach STFA for information regarding radical Land reform. The STFA is an organisation there to promote tenant farming in this country and therefore automatically promotes the Land Lord system. OK, for issues within a tenancy they may well do a good job, but for radical land reform they are not the ones to ask.
    As the films, blogs and podcasts above show, it is now time for the SG to listen to the people on the land, we will tell them the real situation.

    Reply

    • SS – what are the NFUS myths? [That’s a genuine question, BTW, not a rhetorical way of saying I don’t believe they exist.]

      Reply

      • Neil, popular NFU myths are; ownership is not important, land use is; Tenancies are crucial to Scottish Agriculture; you need to scale up to survive; subsidies should not be capped; land tax is bad; the price of land will never come down; membership of NFU to qualify for certain payments; land managers???? play an important role in Scottish agriculture.
        Basically steering an industry away from ‘Agri-culture’ and more towards ‘Agri-biz’, we are all being forced into ‘their ocean’, where there are big sharks and most of us can’t even swim!

        Reply

        • Thanks SS, I understand. To my mind, these are the sorts of issues this Future of Scottish Agriculture consultation should be focussed on. I don’t think it is, though …

          Reply

  6. Thank you for posting these links, Andy.

    There ought to be a moratorium on evictions and rent hikes whilst this bill is being decided; actually, there ought to be a ban on evictions full stop given this is the 21st Century and not the 18th/19th century Clearances.

    The ordinary person can easily see the destruction of the Scottish countryside for themselves, the huge plumes of muirburn smoke, hills scarred by hastily made tracks where 4x4s transport those who shoot, boxes of medicated grit on moors yet never a wild bird to be seen, pheasants now more common than the robin, lead shot left to lie all over the ground and not to mention the awful noise of several powerful guns all being discharged at once. All this destruction to benefit a few for a handful of days in a year in the name of ‘sport’. I doubt if they even break a sweat as they are driven to their destination to shoot almost tame birds.

    Why was there no Secure 1991 tenant farmer on the Agricultural Holdings Group? Why has Andrew Stoddart’s desperate situation allowed to get this far? The STFA are deafening in their silence and many tenant farmers have lost faith in the representation of this Association. Why are the STFA not challenging that type of factor (in the Channel 4 article)? The arrogance, self entitlement and downright hostility was more than apparent. Why are we putting up with this Victorian style mind set?

    Bravo, Nicky Lowden MacCrimmon for voicing the thoughts of the ordinary person. ScotGov must listen and act accordingly to the voices of the many as opposed to the wealthy few.

    Reply

  7. Great piece of writing from Lesley Riddoch, but the responses that followed are some of the most offensive I seen in recent months !

    Apparently, having a system of fair land ownership – one that doesn’t look like a 21st Century version of The Clearances – is reminiscent of ‘Kristal Nicht’ !
    Lesley, Andy, me, you, and those of us who voted for the ‘remit back’ are all big fans of ‘Uncle Joe’, Che Guevara, and Mugabe.

    I was at St Marks Church last Friday, and everything I heard that night confirmed we’d made the right decision at the earlier debate.

    Reply

  8. SS “Agriculure vs Agribiz”.The fact is the public have far more disposable income through cheap food which has caused the end game of Agribiz.Do you really think the public will start paying more to end the Agribiz? and so their nice lifestyles?The answere unfortunately is no.This painfull fact undermines almost all landuse/reform/good practise ,but I don’t see anyone taking this seriously.

    Reply

    • T Fraser, i don’t think Agri-biz means cheap production of food. Economics of scale and efficient food production do not sit nicely together. I am referring to soil structure, harvest timing and crop susceptibility in terms of arable. Stocking density, flock/herd development, performance and labour units in terms of livestock rearing.
      It is just a big fat myth that farming needs to be big, and this myth is kept alive by NFU and the supermarkets. Follow the Agri subsidy trail, it is shocking where the bulk of the money ends up.

      Reply

      • Funny that slurrystirrer we have an estate not very far away which fulfils every one of the criteria you have just mentioned in the above post.

        Reply

  9. SS .I would agree with you on efficiency of farming being done better smaller,in theory.But there are just not many operations now the size they were even 20 years ago .Most operations could not exist without subsidy (or family tax credits) so I don’t think we can exist doing much worse right now.Could do away with subsidy etc if the value of produce went up maybe only 10 to 20 % but controlled by supermarkets(ie only about 4 UK buyers ) this will not happen and of course all the politicians and the public will not go back to paying 33% of their weekly pay on food verses about 11% today.

    Reply

    • Once tenant farmers get the right to buy, the permanent money drain of rent wil be stopped, and they will be able to thrive.
      Those smart arse agribiz kids are paying ridiculous rents to keep the wheels on their shiny toys turning, at the expense of the local population, and making the landlords wealthy beyond their widest dreams.
      ARTB will cut off the “food” supply of land from evicted tenants, and the whizzkids will disappear.

      Reply

  10. T Fraser, yes i agree with you. Also, another dimension which hardly ever gets mentioned is the removal of money from agriculture through the payment of rents to absentee lairds. Where does this money go? what is it spent on? shooting? Land agents? The same could be said about paying up a mortgage on a bought farm, but then again, the price of land is far too high because of it suffering from a lack of regulation and being hoarded by landed families.
    So really our subsidies to keep food affordable are being wasted by paying farm rents.

    Reply

  11. The Right to Roam.
    If we all believe that we have an unhindered legal right to roam in appropriate places as set out in the Land Reform Act 2003 then we have all been misled for 12 years.
    The ACT states that land managers can block or barricade any historic drove road or ancient footpath by claiming that their action is not primarily to stop walkers, riders, cyclists or invalids but to protect their crops from deer and lambs from foxes. In East Lothian they padlock footpaths, which link 2 “B”roads. They sling chains across drove roads.
    Because of the wording of the ACT users do not have the legal right to roam unhindered even in approved places.
    Land owners justify padlocked gates to keep out poachers, motorcyclists, joy riders in 4×4 vehicles and to curb hare coursing. However these are criminal matters and should be handled by our police. Such behaviour has nothing to do with access to the countryside. Low level Kent bollards or chevronned gates can inhibit these offenders effectively but allow legitimate user groups to pass freely.
    Section 13/1 of the Act states:
    “It is the duty of the local authority to assert and keep open and free from obstruction any route by which access rights may be reasonably exercised.”
    Yet the Act is ambivalent. As it stands no local authority will challenge a landowner in court as they know that they would lose their case because of the wording of Chapter 5, Section14/1 which states:
    “The owner of land, in which access rights are exercisable, shall not— for the purpose –– or for the main purpose— prevent or deter any person entitled to exercise these rights from doing so— by putting up any fence or wall, or plant.”
    Section 14 overrides the power of the local authorities to act against padlocked gates or barricades.
    In East Lothian, in and around the John Muir Country Park, the paths are blocked by 26 padlocks, fallen trees and fences and barbed wire. Yet East Lothian Council are helpless to act on behalf of the 500,000 affected visitors each year.
    Section 14 ambivalence can be addressed by removing the words. It is duplicitous. It is cunning. It is dishonest. It needs to be changed by the removal of the words
    ‘for the purpose –or for the main purpose.’
    This would give true freedom to roam to 5.5 million Scots and 15 million visitors each year.

    Reply

  12. SS “…Price of land high as it is being hoarded by Landed Families”.The main reasons we couldn’t buy land is it is artificially high due to Capital Gains Tax relief/Roll over Tax relief/Inheritance tax relief and subsidies not because some Land owner keeps what is theirs.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.