IRS11900106-00001_res

It is an odd state of affairs that it is easier to find out the ownership of land in 1915 than it is in 2018. The Finance Act of 1910 (Lloyd George’s famous People’s Budget”) proposed an increment levy on the increase in value of land. To establish a base-line of values, surveyors mapped out in intricate detail, the ownership, occupation, value and use of virtually all of Great Britain and Ireland, covering 99.7% of the land area of Scotland.

The map above shows the results for the west of Edinburgh around Charlotte Square.

In 2018, with modern technology such as digital mapping, satellite imagery, online technology and smartphones, we have yet to come close to what the Edwardians achieved with paper maps and ink.

Across the world, modern technology and integrated data management has delivered land informations systems that provide comprehensive data on land to citizens. From Scotland, for example, you can find out a wide range of information about land parcels anywhere in the US State of Montana. If you want the same data for Scotland, you will be frustrated at every turn, expend an inordinate amount of time and have to pay for it.

The question of Who Owns Scotland has been perennial one for decades. John McEwen had a go at answering it in 1979 and it was the focus of my first book published in 1996. In the early years of devolution, I tried to persuade the then Scottish Executive to open up land information to the public but there was little appetite. Since then, I made representations to Fergus Ewing and Parliament during the course of the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 to persuade them to increase transparency and access to land information.

In a meeting with Fergus Ewing and the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland in December 2011, I made the case for this but the Minister could barely disguise his contempt for my suggestions and later, in the course of the passage of the Bill flatly rejected the idea that the public should have free access to land information (See col982 8 Feb 2012 Official Report).

He also rejected proposals to reveal the beneficial owners of companies that own land although the Government were eventually persuaded to do so in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, the provisions of which are yet to come into force.

But this blog is not about beneficial ownership. It is about access to information that already exists but is difficult and costly to access. The recent history of attempts to open up access is dismal as the following examples make clear.

PASTMAP

Over the decades I have spent researching landownership, I have developed a range of methods and sources. Although the Register of Sasines and Land Register are the definitive sources, they can be impossible to use in certain circumstances, For example, if you want to know who owns a field at a junction of a country road in Fife, you won’t be able to do so from official sources since you need an address or a name of a person and even the map-based Land Register will often be unhelpful in such circumstances.

Key to success in such cases is to find out some information from other sources to enable interrogation of the Registers. One such source is a very helpful online map called Pastmap [http://pastmap.org.uk] which provides information on various elements of the historic environment. If there is a Scheduled Monument located on or near land whose ownership you wish to establish, then a link is provided to the legal documents that are registered in the Register of Sasines. These provide details of the ownership of the land at the time of scheduling.

In 2012, however, I noticed that Historic Scotland had redacted the ownership information. See the example (second page) of the Bonawe Iron Furnace Schedule before redaction and after redaction.

I wrote to Historic Scotland and asked them why the schedules were now being redacted. They replied that,

Since the publication of the online schedule we have begun to redact the names and the addresses of legal owners from the scheduling documents given the perceived additional risks and sensitivities associated with publication of this information in such a readily and widely accessible format online.”

We are also considering removing legal ownership details from our scheduling certificates completely as part of an overall review of our scheduling documentation.”

These documents are recorded and made available to the public in the Register of Sasines (and made available for public inspection in the National Records of Scotland) with no redactions, so why conceal this information on Pastmap? What exactly are the “sensitivities” over this information? And why is Historic Scotland considering removing these details completely in future? Above all, if the Scottish Government is committed (as it claims it is) to transparency, why is it seeking to conceal this information from the one freely available source to the public?

Such questions remain unanswered.

SCOTLIS

Following a report in July 2015, John Swinney announced in October 2015 the establishment of SCOTLIS (Scottish Land Information Service), an online portal that would enable “citizens, communities, professionals and business to access comprehensive information about any piece of land or property in Scotland” The service was developed by Registers of Scotland and launched in November 2017. Here it is.

It is useless.

There is no map-search facility, there is no comprehensive information (solely landownership) and, as always, any information you do find, you will have to pay for. Contrast it with the online Montana service above. If you are a business, you can sign up as a business user and get access to an enhanced service. But by no stretch of the imagination is this a system allowing easy access to comprehensive information by the citizen. No wonder John Swinney’s successor issued no media release on the day of its launch.

OVERSEAS OWNERSHIP

On 1 March 2018, the Registers of Scotland published an Overseas Company Report and a Statistical Report on the overseas ownership of land in Scotland. Against growing demands for greater transparency in who owns land and property across the world, this is presumably Scotland’s contribution.

The report reveals the companies registered overseas that own land in Scotland. But this is the tip of the iceberg because it only takes account of land in the modern land register and not the older Sasines register. It doesn’t include any information on how much land is owned overseas (my own research shows that 750,000 acres of Scotland is owned in tax havens posing problems for law enforcement and tax authorities).

The Sunday Post published details of the findings on 11 March 2018.

And yet, the public are denied access to this data underlying the Overseas Company report because to obtain the report (see Information Sheet) will cost you an astonishing £1560 (the Statistical report is free to download). Even if you could afford this sum of money, if you wished further details of each of the records, you will need to buy this from Registers of Scotland. It will cost you £30 each and if you wish details of all 1700 companies, that comes to a cool £51,000.

Registers of Scotland claim that the data is being charged out on a cost-recovery basis (i.e. RoS only plans to recoup its costs from sale proceeds). But this merely emphasises why all of this data should be freely available. Were it to have been so over the past decade or so, all sorts of people would have been able to compile all sorts of reports and analysis within their own resources at no cost to the public purse and to the wider public good.

OPEN UP THE REGISTERS

The public deserve access to information about who owns Scotland. It’s time to end the secrecy and the costs and open up all information (environmental, planning, valuation, tenure, ownership) in an accessible manner which is free and easy to use by the citizen.

Over the coming months, I invite those with an interest to join me in campaigning for greater transparency and openness in land information. Contact me at andy.wightman.msp@parliament.scot

29. January 2018 · Comments Off on Declaration of Interests, Income and Tax 2016-17 · Categories: Announcements, Freedom of Information, Governance

Since 2010, I have been (like a couple of my self-employed writer/activist colleagues George Monbiot and Alastair McIntosh) making an annual declaration of interests, income and tax. Previous declarations can be found at the foot of the About page.

Commentators, campaigners and advocacy groups should be open about their interests and income (this story from earlier in 2014 is a good example of why I believe this to be so). I also believe that we have too much secrecy in the UK on matters of income and wealth and that if everyone’s income was openly declared, there would be much less inequality. This is not an especially radical idea. In Norway, details of every citizen’s income, assets and the tax they pay are available to the public and published on this website.

As a member of the Scottish Green Party, I also feel obliged to comply with the policy resolution passed at the 2011 Conference on Tax Evasion and Avoidance which encourages corporations and individuals to not use tax havens and to publish their accounts on a country by country basis.

In 2016 I was elected as an MSP. I will continue to publish information in this format on an annual basis but have also published a transparency page on my MSP website to draw attention to wider transparency issues in relation to my public role.

2016-17 INCOME
I am an MSP. My tax return for 2016-17 also includes earnings from writing, research, consultancy, public speaking, investigation, and subscriptions from the whoownsscotland website. My accounting year is the calendar year and so for my tax return of April 2017, it is 2016. During 2016, I earned income from self-employment principally from January to May and following the election, from work completed prior to May but not invoiced until afterwards.

For 2016-17, my income was as follows.

MSP SALARY (1)                             £ 48,782
BENEFITS & EXPENSES                £   1,979
PROFIT SELF-EMPLOYED (2)        £ 11,744
DIVIDENDS                                      £      404
TOTAL INCOME (3)                          £ 62,909

My total taxable income for the Year Ending 5 April 2017 was £ 62.909 on which I am due to pay tax of £12.906 and Class 4 NI contributions of £331.56 = total of £13,237.56 (see tax HMRC calculation here).

During 2016 all of my self-employed income was generated from within the UK. My main clients were NGOs, private companies, law firms, print & broadcast media and royalty payments on my books.

DECLARATION OF INTERESTS 1 JANUARY 2018
I own no land or property.
I have 483 shares in Standard Life.
I am on the Board of Directors of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (Company No. 192099 & Scottish Charity No. SC 028485).
I am a member of the Scottish Green Party and a number of charitable bodies.
I do not make use of any tax havens or artificial accounting structures to conceal my income

Also see my Parliamentary Register of Interests

NOTES
(1) MSP Salary is 5 May 2016 – 5 April 2017. The sum is derived from P60 after deduction of pension contributions.
(2) Gross Income less outlays & expenses – computers, travel, stationery, telephone, research fees (for example, search fees paid to Registers of Scotland) and other expenses of employment.

27. January 2017 · Comments Off on Declaration of Interests, Income and Tax 2015 · Categories: Announcements, Freedom of Information, Governance

Since 2010, I have been (like a couple of my self-employed writer/activist colleagues George Monbiot and Alastair McIntosh) making an annual declaration of interests, income and tax. Previous declarations can be found at the foot of the About page.

Commentators, campaigners and advocacy groups should be open about their interests and income (this story from earlier in 2014 is a good example of why I believe this to be so). I also believe that we have too much secrecy in the UK on matters of income and wealth and that if everyone’s income was openly declared, there would be much less inequality. This is not an especially radical idea. In Norway, details of every citizen’s income, assets and the tax they pay are available to the public and published on this website.

As a member of the Scottish Green Party, I also feel obliged to comply with the policy resolution passed at the 2011 Conference on Tax Evasion and Avoidance which encourages corporations and individuals to not use tax havens and to publish their accounts on a country by country basis.

In 2016 I was elected as an MSP. I will continue to publish information in this format on an annual basis but will also include a transparency page on my MSP website to draw attention to wider transparency issues in relation to my public role.

2015 INCOME
I earn my living from writing, research, consultancy, public speaking, investigation, and subscriptions from the whoownsscotland website. My accounting year is the calendar year and so for my tax return of April 2016, it is 2015. For 2015, my income was as follows.

GROSS INCOME (1)     £ 42,323
LESS COSTS (2)           £ 11,130
TAXABLE INCOME (3)  £ 31,193

My total taxable income (including bank interest & dividends) for the Year Ending 5 April 2016 was £ 33,582 on which I am due to pay tax of £4121 and Class 4 NI contributions of £2082 = total of £6203 (see tax HMRC calculation here).

During 2015 all of my income was generated from within the UK. My main clients were NGOs, private companies, law firms, print & broadcast media and royalty payments on my books.

DECLARATION OF INTERESTS 1 JANUARY 2017
I own no land or property.
I have 483 shares in Standard Life (legally I have 2453 but 1970 are held on behalf of a minor)
I am on the Board of Directors of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (Company No. 192099 & Scottish Charity No. SC 028485).
I am a member of the Scottish Green Party and a number of charitable bodies.
I do not make use of any tax havens or artificial accounting structures to conceal my income

Also see my Parliamentary Register of Interests

NOTES
(1) Gross Income is total of all income received. This includes re-imbursment for travel costs etc.
(2) Costs are all expenses such as computers, travel, stationery, telephone, research fees (for example, search fees paid to Registers of Scotland) and other expenses of employment.
(3) Taxable income is Gross Income less expenses and is the profit on which tax is calculated.

22. January 2016 · Comments Off on Declaration of Interests, Income and Tax 2014 · Categories: Announcements, Freedom of Information, Governance

Since 2010, I have been (like a couple of my self-employed writer/activist colleagues George Monbiot and Alastair McIntosh) making an annual declaration of interests, income and tax. Previous declarations can be found at the foot of the About page.

Commentators, campaigners and advocacy groups should be open about their interests and income (this story from earlier in 2014 is a good example of why I believe this to be so). I also believe that we have too much secrecy in the UK on matters of income and wealth and that if everyone’s income was openly declared, there would be much less inequality. This is not an especially radical idea. In Norway, details of every citizen’s income, assets and the tax they pay are available to the public and published on this website.

As a member of the Scottish Green Party, I also feel obliged to comply with the policy resolution passed at the 2011 Conference on Tax Evasion and Avoidance which encourages corporations and individuals to not use tax havens and to publish their accounts on a country by country basis.

2014 INCOME

I earn my living from writing, research, consultancy, public speaking, investigation, and subscriptions from the whoownsscotland website. For 2014, my income was as follows.

GROSS INCOME (1)     £ 38,047

LESS COSTS (2)           £ 8324

TAXABLE INCOME (3)  £ 29,722

My total taxable income (including bank interest & dividends) was £30,173 on which I am due to pay tax of £3947 and Class 4 NI contributions of £1958 = total of £5905 (see tax HMRC calculation here)

During 2014 all of my income was generated from within the UK. My main clients were NGOs, private companies, law firms, print & broadcast media and royalty payments on my books.

DECLARATION OF INTERESTS 1 JANUARY 2016

I own no land or property.

I have 483 shares in Standard Life.

I am on the Board of Directors of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (Company No. 192099 & Scottish Charity No. SC 028485).

I am a member of the Scottish Green Party and a number of charitable bodies.

I do not make use of any tax havens or artificial accounting structures to conceal my income

NOTES

(1) Gross Income is the total of all income received. This includes re-imbursment for travel costs etc.

(2) Costs are all expenses such as computers, travel, stationery, telephone, research fees (for example, search fees paid to Registers of Scotland) and other expenses of employment.

(3) Taxable income is Gross Income minus expenses and is the profit figure on which tax is calculated.

The land illustrated above (Midmar Paddock on the eastern slopes of Blackford Hill, Edinburgh) is currently for sale via Strutt & Parker (sales brochure here – 925kb pdf).

The reason for publishing this blog is to ask “who owns this land? Does anyone know?

Strutt and Parker refuse to divulge the answer.

The land is not registered in the Land Register but deeds are probably recorded in the Register of Sasines but it will probably cost around £50 and 1-2 days work to find out the answer there. I have neither.

So I thought I might ask you. Can anyone help?

The map below shows the location.

Improving access to information on land forms part of the Scottish Government proposals for land reform. See Briefing (1.7Mb pdf).

 © OpenStreetMap contributors Data is available under the Open Database License

UPDATE 31 January 2015

I have now determined the ownership of the Midmar Paddock. The Register of Sasines Search Sheet can be found at the foot of this text for those who are interested to see how land transactions were recorded prior to the Land Register which has been in operation in Midlothian (the old county including Edinburgh) since 1 April 2001.

1923 John Gordon of Cluny sells 18.6 acres (Midmar Paddock and allotments to the north) to Alexander Grant.

In 1938 the land is transferred to the Trustees of Sir Alexander Grant, 15 Hermitage Drive, Managing Director of McVitie & Price, Biscuit Manufacturers, Edinburgh & London.

1954 Allotments area conveyed by Trustees to Graeme Ellizabeth Laing. Midmar Paddock remains with Trustees.

1958 Midmar Paddock conveyed to beneficiaries of Trust – Hector Laing, Alexander Grant Laing and Robert Douglas Grant Laing.

1973 Hector conveys his ⅓ interest to Trustees for Anthony Rupert Laing

1973 Alexander conveys his ⅓ share to Trustees of Alexander Grant Laing.

1973 Allotments area conveyed by Graeme E Laing to Trustees of Alexander Grant Laing.

1983 Trustees of Anthony convey their ⅓ share to Anthony.

1993 Robert conveys his ⅓ share to Nettling Properties Ltd.

1999 Nettling Properties conveys its ⅓ share to Flagstaff Properties Ltd (Turks and Caicos Islands).

2011 Flagstaff Properties Ltd. conveys its ⅓ share to Midmar Properties Ltd.

28 November 2014 Trustees of Alexander G Laing conveys allotments site to Blackford Hill Ltd.

This means that:-

The allotments site to the north is owned by Blackford Hill Ltd.

Midmar Paddock (the site currently for sale) is owned by :-

Anthony Rupert Laing, Coulmony House, Morayshire
Trustees of Alexander Grant Laing
Midmar Properties Ltd.

Blackford Hill Ltd. is a company registered in Scotland No. SC466028 with its registered office at Logie Estate Office, Logie, Forres, IV36 2QN (see here for details of shareholders).

Midmar Properties Ltd. is not a registered company in the UK and is probably incorporated in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Interestingly, what this reveals is that the 2003 Tree Preservation Order referred to by Robin in comments names only one of the three joint owners. Additionally, the link to the Local Development Plan response provided by Dave Leslie in comments reflects the views of only one of the three co-owners (Trustees of AG Laing). It also contains a useful map showing the two separate ownerships (though not the up to date owners) and interesting insights into why the owners are wishing to sell the land.

Search Sheet

Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 1
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 2
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 3
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 4
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 5
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 6
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 7
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 8
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 computerised search sheet

 

SInce 2010, I have been ( like a couple of my self-employed writer/activist colleagues George Monbiot and Alastair McIntosh) making an annual declaration of interests, income and tax. Previous declarations can be found at the foot of the About page.

Commentators, campaigners and advocacy groups should be open about their interests and income (this story from earlier in 2014 is a good example of why I believe this to be so). I also believe that we have too much secrecy in the UK on matters of income and wealth and that if everyone’s income was openly declared, there would be much less inequality. This is not an especially radical idea. In Norway, details of every citizen’s income, assets and the tax they pay are available to the public and published on this website.

As a member of the Scottish Green Party, I also feel obliged to comply with the policy resolution passed at the 2011 Conference on Tax Evasion and Avoidance which encourages corporations and individuals to not use tax havens and to publish their accounts on a country by country basis.

2013 INCOME

I ear my living from writing, research, consultancy, public speaking, investigation, and subscriptions from the whoownsscotland website. For 2013, my income was as follows.

GROSS INCOME (1)     £ 32,485

LESS COSTS (2)           £ 8,228

TAXABLE INCOME (3)  £ 24,257

My total taxable income was £25,021 on which I am due to pay tax of £2,963.40 and Class 4 NI contributions of £1,485,18 = total of £4448.58 (see tax HMRC calculation here)

During 2013 all of my income was generated from within the UK. My main clients were NGOs, renewable energy companies, civic bodies, one political party (the Scottish Green Party), print & broadcast media and royalty payments on my books.

DECLARATION OF INTERESTS 1 JANUARY 2015

I own no land or property.

I have 483 shares in Standard Life.

I am on the Board of Directors of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (Company No. 192099 & Scottish Charity No. SC 028485).

I am currently advising the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee.

I am a member of the Scottish Green Party and a number of charitable bodies.

I currently provide ad-hoc unpaid advice to four political parties – the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party.

I do not make use of any tax havens or artificial accounting structures to conceal my income

NOTES

(1) Gross Income is the total of all income received. This includes re-imbursment for travel costs etc.

(2) Costs are all expenses such as computers, travel, stationery, telephone, research fees (for example, search fees paid to Registers of Scotland) and other expenses of employment.

(3) Taxable income is Gross Income minus expenses and is the profit figure on which tax is calculated.

Eighteen months ago I asked the Scottish Government for details of all the spatial datasets it held. From conversations I have had over the past year, it is clear that it would be useful to share this more widely and so here is the information that was released to me. It is correct as of September 2012 and consists of four files – descriptions of which are given below with links to the files themselves. Further information on some of these datasets and links to where you can download some of them are provided on the data.gov.uk website here.

Doc. Name

Date

Brief description

GDs.zip

19/09/2012

Marine Scotland Metadata is in zipped folders – ID numbers correspond to spreadsheet. Folders will be empty for those records marked NR, NUD or SDME (see key).

 

MS_GIS_Datasets.xls

19/09/2012

Marine Scotland spatial data list is an Excel spreadsheet (with Key).

 

SG Metadata.zip (6Mb)

19/09/2012

Scottish Government XML metadata files.

SG Spatial Data – Current Holding.xls

19/09/2012

Scottish Government spatial data holding list

 

 

On 23 February 2014, the Sunday Herald revealed that Timothy Congdon, UKIP’s economic spokesperson, had benefitted from wind energy developments on his land in Argyll and Caithness.

Today (4 March) it was revealed that he has stood down from the post.

Timothy Congdon’s website is here. He regards himself as the “best economist in British politics” Nowhere does he declare his interests as a major landowner in Scotland. Given the absence of a freely-available online register of who owns Scotland, I have spent £21.60 in order to make transparent his landholdings which cover 6237 acres of land in Argyll and Caithness. The details which follow reveal 6 out of his 8 landholdings in Scotland. The website currently records them as separate holdings but in fact the Argyll properties are all contiguous with one another.

ARGYLL-SHIRE

Achaglass

Gartnagrenach

East Ronachan

North Ronachan

Sheirdrum Hill

CAITHNESS

Phillips Mains Woodland

Hollandmey Farm Forest

In addition, he has interests in a 329 acre Moodlaw forest in Dumfries-shire.

This matter not only concerns transparency but a wider issue of why so much (55%) of Scotland’s privately-owned forests are owned by absentee owners. Fully a third of Scotland’s privately-owned forests is owned by owners who live outside Scotland – in the rest of UK, Europe and offshore tax havens. For further analysis, see a report I wrote two years ago in February 2012.

 

Following last year’s declaration I am, like a couple of my self-employed writer/activists colleagues (George Monbiot and Alastair McIntosh), making an annual declaration of interests and income.

Commentators, campaigners and advocacy groups should be open about their interests and income (this story from today is a good example of why I believe this to be so). I also believe that we have too much secrecy in the UK on matters of income and wealth and that if everyone’s income was openly declared, there would be much less inequality. This is not an especially radical idea. In Norway, details of every citizen’s income, assets and the tax they pay are available to the public and some of this is published on this website.

As a member of the Scottish Green Party, I also feel obliged to comply with the policy resolution passed at the 2011 Conference on Tax Evasion and Avoidance which encourages corporations and individuals to not use tax havens and to publish their accounts on a country by country basis.

2012 INCOME

I earn my living by writing, research, consultancy, lecturing, undertaking landownership investigations, and subscriptions from the whoownsscotland website. During 2012 my income was as follows

GROSS INCOME     £28,094

COSTS                    £8,015

NET INCOME          £20,079

My taxable income was £20,138 on which I paid £2,394.60 in income tax and £1,122.57 in Class 4 NI contributions for the year 2012-13 (a total tax paid of £3,517.17 – see calculation here).

In 2012 I earned £10,807 (54%) from consultancy and research. Net earnings from the whoownsscotland website contributed £4003 (20%), speaker fees, £3,760 (19%) and journalism £1,208 (6%). I earned £298 (1%) from the sale of books.

All of my income in 2012 was generated from within the UK. Main clients included NGOs, two political parties, energy companies, landowners, print & broadcast media and a Government research agency.

DECLARATION OF INTERESTS as at 31 January 2014

I own no land or property.

I have 483 shares in Standard Life.

I am on the Board of Directors of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (Company No. 192099 & Scottish Charity No. SC 028485)

I am currently advising the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee.

I am a member of the Scottish Green Party.

I do not make use of any tax havens or artificial accounting structures to conceal my income.

Photo: Roxburghe Estate Photo reference Library

Scotland’s landed class made the front page of the Scotsman yesterday under a headline “Lairds in warning over new buy-out powers”. The story is based around submissions of evidence to the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) which will publish its final report in April 2014. These submissions can all be read here.

Since January 2013, when the LRRG call for evidence closed, I have submitted two Freedom of Information requests for these submissions to be made public. (1) The LRRG had originally stated that they would not be published until April 2014 which is patently ridiculous. I responded by inviting those who were willing to publish their responses on my website.

Both FoI requests were refused but I am pleased that the responses (or rather those from the two-thirds who were willing to have them published) have now, six months later, finally been published. As the Scotsman story illustrates they make for interesting reading not least in relation to the sense of entitlement expressed by the five white male members of the landed class  that the paper quoted (including the Duke of Roxburghe pictured above who, according to his website, is correctly referred to as “His Grace”). Much more insight into these discourses on land and power can be gleaned from reading all the responses. But more on that later.

What I should have done some weeks ago is to review where the land reform process is and what’s been happening. Calum McLeod recently provided a well-written overview on his blog. There have been two important developments.

Land Reform Review Group

When the LRRG published its Interim report on 20 May 2013, many interested parties were disappointed in its lack of ambition and vision and critical of its defeatist and limiting agenda on the topic. (2) Following the report, the Scottish Government moved quickly to strengthen the Review Group by appointing new members and a special adviser. On 26 June the Group gave evidence to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee.

This was quite revealing. The new members, it was reported, were keen to see the submissions made public as soon as possible and their efforts have now borne fruit. The Group has also undertaken a mid-term review of its progress to date. One consequence if this is that the work programme identified in the Interim Report has been expanded (thus addressing one of the key criticisms of the Group that it had narrowed what had been a wide original remit). In summary, the Group appears to have found a new focus and direction which more faithfully reflects the wide remit given to it and the Scottish Government’s wish to see it develop bold and radical proposals. The Group has also published Declarations of Interests of its members.

The test of course will be in whether the final report delivers on this ambition but the new Group already has a different feel to it and has the services of a special adviser with a track record in the topic and wide expertise. I should add at this point that it has been suggested in some quarters that I declined to become a member of the LRRG. This is incorrect – I was never invited either at the outset or during the recent expansion of membership. I wish the LRRG well in its work over the coming months.

Scottish Affairs Committee

The Scottish Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament meanwhile has launched a consultation on the future of landownership in Scotland and, in particular, on the corporate and fiscal dimensions of how Scotland is owned. A briefing paper (432:50 – Towards a comprehensive land reform agenda for Scotland) was published. This is a very welcome move since a Select Committee of Parliament has, unlike an independent review, the power to call witnesses and the authority to probe official bodies. This consultation (which is expected to lead to an inquiry in the Autumn) compliments the work of the LRRG and indeed the Review Group has written to the Committee to welcome the inquiry

The SAC inquiry will complement the work of the LRRG as it takes forward its phase 2 analysis.  The LRRG shares the view that there should be a comprehensive approach to land reform in Scotland, and agrees that the relationship between public funds and patterns of land ownership is an essential aspect to investigate.  The LRRG recognises that the Scottish Affairs Committee is particularly well positioned to consider matters related to taxation.”

Scottish Land and Estates, however, issued an intemperate statement to the media.

The individuals submitting this report have been well-known land reform activists for many years and are using this approach as another tactical ploy” and argued that  “such an investigation is unnecessary and unwarranted”.

I understand that the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee has spoken to SLE to ask them to correct this statement.

The individuals who wrote the report (which includes myself) did not “submit it” to the Committee. It was commissioned from us by the Committee. The consultation and inquiry are not a “tactical ploy” by us or anyone else. It is the work of a Select Committee of the House of Commons!

For the record, a number of members of the Scottish Affairs Committee have been very interested in exploring further aspects of the land question since the publication of the Committee’s excellent and thorough report on the Management of the Crown Estate in Scotland in March 2012.

I know this because they have discussed it with me on occasions. As it happens I was initially quite sceptical about what might be achieved by such an inquiry but it became clear that there was much to be examined in relation to what might be described as the “reserved dimensions” of land reform.

The recent EU Council agreement (see previous blog) as highlighted by Ian Davidson in his question to the Prime Minister has merely added impetus to such a move.

All in all it seems that following over a decade of no political action on the land question, there is rather a lot happening. As David Ross eloquently put it in a recent column in the Herald

Land reform campaigners used to complain that legislators in London danced to the Scottish landed lobby’s tune, but it seems Westminster is expanding its taste in music.”

(1) Some responses were made on a confidential basis and these remain unpublished. I have never sought to have these released and respect and understand why some people feel that they cannot openly say what they think.

(2) See, for example, here, here and here.