We have heard recently the Nationalist rhetoric of Scottish Land Reform. In one way or another that has been around for some time and it can only be expected that those involved should want to increase it’s remit. Now in many cases I am supportive of Community Ownership such as Assynt and Gigha. I also support local community forests and am active in the acquisition of 700 acres locally. I think harbours and quays that are acquired and managed by local communities make a lot of sense. Island Communities have proved more resilient than those controlled by single land owners, although not without their own issues. However never forget that this takes large tranches of public money to buy and even larger tranches to improve and manage. Local Communities now manage 500,000 acres of Scottish Land which is far larger than any private owner. The largest land owner in Scotland is the Forestry Commission with 1.64 million acres. Scottish Natural Heritage owns 84,000 acres, National Trust for Scotland 192,000 acres and the Scottish Government itself 174,000 acres. That does not take account of land ownership by charities such as RSPB, John Muir Trust et al. Nationalist demands that no one owns more than 10 acres is the politics of envy and little else. Yes there are bad landowners, foreign landowners and opportunist landowners, but that forgets that many landowners manage their land well and invest vast sums of money on it. How do you make a small fortune in Scotland? Start with a large one.
What we may be seeing from the SNP and the First Minister, Alex Salmond, is little more than the start of a Zimbabwean land grab. The Mugabe of Scotland? Instead of Africanisation we can have Scotlandisation. But what we will see is a centralisation as we have seen in such as Police Scotland and Fire Scotland. More the politics of Stalin than Mugabe. So where does that take us. In Pairc on the Outer Hebrides, we have seen an ongoing attempt to buy the land for the community. Of course it is actually all about a wind farm. Therein lies the nub. As land becomes scarce and various landowners have rejected the siren call of the wind industry, the SNP targets for wind become more difficult to meet. To the spin doctors, land reform is a win/win proposal. Communities can acquire tranches of land to be financed by wind farms. Essentially the only way to balance the books for Communities is to buy into the wind industry. Now that should worry us as many have seen the destructive forces that wind can bring to a community. Much worse when some in the community rely on it to balance their books to the detriment of other residents who live closer to the turbines. Objections by those impacted polarise the debate and politicise a community issue as Community Wind fulfils tick box rhetoric. Councillors and MSPs will support the project regardless of local impact.
As to Community acquisition of state owned land, such as FCS Forestry. It is a peculiar fact that land has to be bought from FCS at District Valuers valuation with large sums financed partly by State, EU and from private funding or independent charities. Sometimes even requiring bank support such as at Sleat. EU state fund rules limit state involvement to not more than €200,000. When you think about it Communities are being forced to buy their own land from the State. A lot of work is going into this at the moment and it is suggested in some quarters that some of this is down to UK interpretation rather than EU Diktat. The fact remains that few communities have the funds to buy into land, private or state, and public funds are needed,
So do we want Land Reform? I have no issue with land that comes on the market being bought by Communities, albeit with state aid. Far better than being sold to foreign absentee land owners. Aggressive takeovers of well run estates purely as part of a political policy I find repugnant. When suggestions have been tabled that no one should own more than ten acres, I find that faintly ridiculous and more Communist than nationalist. I wonder how much support any Community could expect to buy land to prevent a wind farm?
No economically viable farm is sustainable under two hundred acres and Scotland is full of Crofts of between 20 and 60 acres. On the basis of Nationalist Land Reform, we would have few farms in Scotland.
This is purely the Politics of Envy and has no place in a democratic nation.