Today marks an important moment in the struggle to reclaim rights for the people over common land.
In May 2005, I discovered an extant commonty in the Parish of Carluke (pictured red above). Commonties are ancient areas of common land, often very extensive, that provided residents of the parish with fuel, building materials, food, and a place to bleach linen, conduct meetings and undertake the distillation of exotic drink. Unlike in England where the commons were enclosed by individual Acts of Parliament, in Scotland an Act of 1695 created a simple judicial process that facilitated the division and privatisation of millions of acres of common land.
The Division of Communities Act 1695 remains on the statute book (when I invited the Scottish Government to consider repealing it, I was told that it remained of value for farmers and landowners – so much for land reform).
Over the next seven years, I and others undertook extensive research on the history of the common and concluded that there was indeed no owner and that it was an undivided common. Unfortunately, land reform has yet to create a statutory process for reclaiming such areas of land for the common good and thus we had to work out how to bring the land into community ownership.
We settled on the process of registering an a non domino title, one where the grantee was by their own admission not the owner of the land. This is a clever trick used by the landed class down the centuries. It felt curious to be using such a procedure but we proceeded anyway. It took some time for the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland to accept the deed. Various parties had to be consulted including the Queen’s and Lords Treasurer’s and Remembrancer. Eventually on 23 May 2012, the Keeper registered the title in the Land Register as LAN212232.
But that was not the end of the matter since the title remained open to challenge for ten years under Section 1 of the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973 after which, should no challenge be forthcoming, the title would be beyond challenge.
Thus today marks the 10th anniversary of the registration and Carluke Development Trust are the full and indisputable owners of the former parish common.
My blog of 16 January 2014 contains further details and today I am pleased to be able to finally publish the report that I wrote for Carluke Development Trust. Until now it has been deemed inadvisable to draw attention to some of the historical research for fear of alerting a possible claimant. Today that fear disappears and provides, I think, cause for some modest celebration.
This is the Keynote Address by Professor James Hunter given to the Community Land Scotland Annual Conference, New Drumossie Hotel, Inverness, 21 May 2015.
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 …
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.
“I’m deeply dismayed that this issue has been re-opened again. I can understand that there are always going to be some people who object to large-scale landownership but we felt that that was dealt with at the time of the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.
What is being done challenges the nature of the society we live in and property rights. It also, in practical terms creates deep uncertainty in planning for the future and I think that’s going to be the disadvantage of the rural economy……..”
Today’s light relief comes courtesy of Tatler which published a feature on the views of scotland’s aristocrats on the prospects of Scottish independence. The article was published in July but only went online yesterday and features gay undertakers, reeling balls and hairy bloodthisrty Bravehearts wearing no underpants. Enjoy.
Today’s referendum light relief is this a musical celebration of Scottish independence at the Òran Mór (gaelic for ‘great melody of life’ or ‘big song’) organised by Bella Caledonia. This is for all who came on the night and those who couldn’t. The Songs for Scotland Album here for only £10.00
The socio-ecological NGO, Reforesting Scotland launched a campaign in May 2011 to promote the protection and expansion of hutting in Scotland. The Thousand Huts campaign has achieved a considerable amount in a short space of time. Last week the new Scottish Planning Policy included provision for huts in the planning system for the first time. Last night, BBC Scotland 2014 carried a great wee film by David Millar followed by a studio discussion with the journalist Lesley Riddoch.
ah remember 1314
it was nothin like they bastart
just blood and screams of agony
for minute after minute
a cowered in the river
ma leg half severt
by some massive english sword
least ah thought it wiz english
could have been wan ae oor side
it was such chaos an carnage
an that turncoat bastart Bruce
aye he milked wan side efter the ither
sookin up tae the english when it suited him fine
then when he saw an opportunity tae stick it tae his enemies
up here he puts his patriotic crown on
pretends that aw his past didny exist
and cried himsel the father of scots
the saviour ae the nation
an the mugs bought it
ah wiz jist caught up in the bastarts grabbin evry local guy
they could find
ah tried tae hide in the hay
but they pitchforked it so much
ah’d huv endit up wi a hundred holes in me
and so there ah wiz
in the battle tae end battles
in the war o so-called independence
the war tae end aw wars
aye right Roberto
you watched as hunners ae yer peasant pawns
were slashed tae bits or cut doon by arras
that fell fae the sky
like a swarm a locusts
aw you played yer cameo role well
the knackered knight ridin tae escape
barely able tae keep oan his horse
though he was probably just another bastart
greedy for land an power
but what a saw was a shattert soul
fresh fae daein nuthin whilst we bled
caught up wi him
and ye took oot yer big shinin weapon
a couldny see whether it wiz a sword or an axe
an you took him fae behind
an clattert the massive metal brute
doon on his unknowin head
and near split the manny in two
this wisny battle
it wisny a duel
it was cold heartit
ah jist wantit hame
tae ma bairns
and my wee bit land
wan ae the lucky wans me
wan leggit willy they ca’ me noo
still a git by wi ma crutch an ma daughter’s soft help
but ye kin stuff yer scotland up her hairy arse Bruce
this wiz niver fur us
this wiz only fur yer own chests full a money
your parcel a lands
there’s a parcel a rogues in this nation
cryin themsels heroes
aw the time jist riflin through our coffers
bleedin the poor
conspirin against each other
you and yer damned bishops
your great victories
your deal wi the Pope
and the gentler Edward in England
father of the nation
butcher of bannockburn mair like
butcher of yer people, yer rivals, anywan that stood in yer way
hist’ry’ll paint some rosy glow nae doubt
it always does to those who win the game
but as ah watched ma blood trail doon the Bannock burn
an thought ah’d never see my wee sad eyed daughter again
ah raged and raged inside
at the evil men who took us tae this madness
men like you Bruce
aye an Edward tae
an Wallace and Comyn afore
nae sense a good or bad
just greedy maniacs
an when ye die
as even kings must
ah hope tae god there’s a hell in which you’ll rust
Guest Blog by Morten Nielsen, Aarhus University, Denmark (1)
Associate professor Morten Nielsen is a Danish anthropologist currently in the Department of Culture and Society at Aarhus University. Based on empirical research carried out in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and the UK, his research focuses on land use, house-building and property rights in both urban and rural areas. He is currently undertaking an in-depth study of land relations and property rights among tenant farmers on Islay.
“This is the Scottish Government. Is this Dr. Morten Nielsen?”
I had just come off the Islay ferry and was heading for Inveraray when my phone rang and an energetic woman, who was apparently the living embodiment of the Scottish Government, wanted to know if she was, in fact, speaking with me. I immediately assumed that I had done something wrong. Having spent more than two months doing ethnographic fieldwork among tenant farmers on Islay, my initial thought was that I had probably forgotten to fill out some research permit and now my increasing absent-mindedness had finally backfired.
Much to my surprise, however, the polite state official was not at all trying to expose my academic flaws but, rather, wanted to discuss my on-going research about agricultural tenancies and property rights on Islay. In order to realise comprehensive land reforms in Scotland, she told me, information was badly needed and my research could potentially provide insights into the intricacies of negotiating land rights in the Highlands and Islands. Having an overall interest in the dissemination of qualitative research, I immediately agreed to meet with the polite embodiment of the Scottish Government. As we could not find an available date for us to meet up on Islay, the state official agreed to visit me in Crail, Fife a few weeks later, on a Saturday, when I was visiting some friends on my way back to Denmark.
To Scottish readers, this vignette might not constitute anything out of the ordinary: a foreign researcher being approached by a state official interested in discussing key findings on issues that are high on the political agenda. However, having carried out research on land and property rights in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, I can firmly say that this is the first time ever that I have been contacted personally by a state official interested in the findings from a very short empirical investigation and, moreover, one who was prepared to meet up on a day off.
In both regions where I have previously worked, access to officials at different levels has been paramount to my research but the initiative for making contact has always been mine. The obvious question to ask was therefore why did she feel the urge to contact me apparently out of the blue? In order to respond to this question, we need to discard the tempting but unfortunately unlikely possibility that she was in awe of my research findings. At the time of our telephone conversation I had carried out fieldwork for less than two months and had as yet published nothing in academic journals or in more accessible public media. The likely response to the puzzling question is therefore quite banal. It wasn’t that I was the best of all the scientists doing research ‘on the ground’; rather, I was the only researcher doing research ‘on the ground’!
In Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, research into property rights and access to agricultural land is heavily supported and funded by external stakeholders, such as, for example, the UK Government. Hence, whenever I do ethnographic research in sub-Saharan Africa, I am certain to meet several of my colleagues doing research on exactly the same issues as myself. In Scotland, however, the situation is markedly different. Since I started doing research, I have come across very few colleagues doing what I do (which is to try to understand what people do ‘on the ground’ when, for example, farmers attempt to acquire secure access to tenanted land). To be more precise, I have met none!
Hence, although my conversation with the Scottish state official paved the way for disseminating findings from my research project to relevant stakeholders, it also made apparent a disturbing problem that slows down the realisation of wide-ranging land reforms. The on-going discussion about land and property rights in Scotland is based on very little knowledge about what actually goes on ‘on the ground’ regarding such crucial questions as, for example, how do negotiations between land owner and land tenant take place?; how are rent reviews actually settled?; how do conflicts among farmers and between tenants and land owners erupt and how are they settled?; why do so few tenants use the land court to settle land disputes? The list goes on…
Let me try to flesh out this puzzling predicament a bit further by turning to some of the very interesting issues raised by the Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC) in its recently published Interim Report. (2) Initially, it is noted with lucid honesty that,
“The first step in any meaningful strategy of land reform must be the creation of data on ownership and land values which is comprehensive and accessible. Regrettably Scotland lags behind most comparable European countries in providing such data”
When discussing ownership of vacant land in Scotland, the disturbing lack of information is further emphasized. According to Professor Adams, University of Glasgow,
“…local authorities have no idea who owns 12% of the vacant and derelict land in Scotland”
One consequence being that,
“…too often communities are left guessing who owns the land that they live, work and socialise in”.
Taking SAC’s insights as an apt example of an overall problem then, given the lack of information, stakeholders involved in the ongoing process of trying to improve the existing legislation on land and property rights are often in the dark about what happens ‘on the ground’.
What are then the consequences of this worrying lack of information? Why is it that information about what goes on ‘on the ground’ is so crucial for the successful realization of ambitious land reforms? As an anthropologist having working on these issues for the last 14 years, I do believe that it is only through careful examination of how land is actually appropriated, negotiated and distributed that new and potentially revolutionary mechanisms of land distribution can be envisaged and put into action. Let me briefly sketch out only a few areas of concern that I have identified through my three months of fieldwork among farmers in Islay:
The need for pragmatic and immediate forms of arbitration. Currently, the only workable mechanism for arbitration is the land court. To many farmers, it is too costly and it is considered as unlikely to reach a viable and positive outcome. Hence, a kind of ‘middle ground’ is needed.
The need for third parties when negotiating rent reviews. The recurrent rent reviews constitute critical and often decisive moments that significantly affect or even condition the relationship between landowners (through factors) and tenants. To many farmers, the need for maintaining a workable relationship with the factor will often prevent them from claiming legitimate rights.
The need for transparency when calculating the value of tenanted land. My research indicates that there are no objective standards by which landowners determine the value of tenanted land (e.g. an acre of arable land might vary between different comparable farms).
This is only a very cursory and superficial outline of a few of the many issues that I have discussed with farmers on Islay. Still, as is probably clear by now, I will claim that it is only through detailed examinations of happens ‘on the ground’ that such crucial insights might be identified and subsequently serve as a basis for establishing new mechanisms for a more just system of land distribution.
Let me conclude with an example of what such valuable insights might be used for. During the 1990s, the Mozambican government in collaboration with donors and local and international interest groups managed to involve huge sections of the Mozambican population in widespread debates on the need for a new and democratic land law. Through massive investments, large-scale research projects and ongoing public debates, a new Land Law was finally formulated that was (and still is) the most progressive piece of legislation on land and property rights in sub-Saharan Africa. (3) Today, it is widely acknowledged by all stakeholders involved in the process that the radical and positive achievements could never have been reached if it had not been for the continuous production of information about how Mozambican land was actually appropriated, negotiated and distributed.
In this light, the debate on land and property rights in Scotland is that of a developing third world country that can one day hope to reach the progressive level of developed countries, such as Mozambique.
by Jess Smith, Scottish author, musician and story-teller from Perthshire’s Travelling People
The Tinker’s Heart is a small arrangement of white quartz stones embedded in the ground at the junction between the road to Strachar (A815) and Hell’s Glen (B839) in Argyllshire.
For years it has stood as a testimony to the survival of Scotland’s Travelling people. A sacred place where couples wed, babies were christened and the dead blessed. In 1872 there is proof of two local people getting married there. There is no written evidence as to how old it is and like the oldest ballads that Burns listened to, it is all oral – no dates nor names. Reasons for the stones being placed there are associated with the Battle of Culloden and the Highland Clearances as well as the eradication of the Culture by removing children from campsites. It is sacred to my people from all over the world and needs to be protected and restored.
Several years ago someone told me of the sorry state of the Heart. A visit had me in tears. Highland cattle were trampling over it, a single strain of wire threaded through three metal poles was all there was to protect it (see picture above). It was dying and I had to save it.
I began by writing to the landowner Ms Kate Howe but she refused to answer. I wrote to her cousin Christina Noble but got the same response. I spent ages looking through the internet and found a very informative piece in Secret Scotland – Gypsy Wedding Place. (1)
I needed help so contacted my local MSP, Mike Russell. He was excellent and he set up a meeting with Ms Howe but was not prepared for her negativity. He’d not come across her attitude before. I presumed by his reactions that this landowner did not hold Travellers with much respect. Here is a rich landowner who owns 7048 acres of Scotland yet is not prepared to part with a few yards of old road.
Every step seemed to be getting harder. I went to visit a couple representing the landowner with Mike but got no joy there. Another meeting, this time at Argyll and Bute council headquarters with Mike Russell, Councillor Louise Glen-Lee, the Council’s tourism officer and a gentlemen from Historic Scotland, resulted in more negativity with Historic Scotland stating they would allocate funding for restoration but only with the landowners approval.
Two years moved fast the little heart was crying for help! Then out of the blue a black cage was erected over the heart (see picture below). I was pleased to see the ‘heart’ caged and safe but it looked more like a prison than the decorative stone wall and cairn I’d long visualised. While it remains in Kate Howe’s ownership it is very vulnerable. it has no legal protection and at the stroke of a pen she could develop the area, its a prime spot and I feel she just might have her sights on such a plan. But even if she didn’t, she will in time die as will I. Who will care for the place then?
No – this has to belong within the public domain. I contacted the Scottish Parliament to lodge a petition. Four months passed and each time I phoned the reply was “not petition material”! However Mike Russell managed to convince them of the history and importance of the site to Scotland’s culture. Just before Easter came the news that the petition will go live!!
That is how things stand today. Our ancient culture, timeline, respect and historical truths are now at this final stage and I am praying to Mother Earth to do what is right. If we are failed then Scotland’s future will be at the mercy of wind farms, shooters of our wild life, greedy strangers, land fracking and nimbys with lots of cash.
My petition “calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to direct Historic Scotland to investigate what action can be taken to ensure the restoration and preservation of the Heart of Quartz stones positioned in a field next to the A815, opposite the junction of the B839, overlooking Loch Fyne, known as the Gypsy Wedding Place, referred to locally as the Tinkers’ Heart.”