It will seem odd to many that a rich northern hemisphere country like Scotland has need of land reform, yet Scotland has among the most concentrated private land ownership patterns anywhere - 432 people own half of Scotland’s private land, a legacy of private `land grabs’ and evictions back in the 19th century and earlier.
There have been reforming measures in the past, and as recently as 2003 when the then new Scottish Parliament passed a Land Reform Act giving communities rights to buy land. Since then exciting developments have seen communities taking control of significant areas of land and developing a better chance of a sustainable future.
But, given the scale of the problem of concentrated ownership, progress has been slow, and practical use of the legislation passed has shown its weaknesses as well as its strengths. There is recent evidence that private land ownership is concentrating further.
To push for more action, Community Land Scotland was formed four years ago, and that was quickly followed by commitments from the government party and opposition to review the land reform question.
The Land Reform Review Group established reported in late May and brings forward a raft of proposals which, if acted upon, would deliver radical reforming land laws to secure change.
At the core of the proposals the philosophy is people centred, with the report quoting the ILC and citing `people centred land governance’ as the driving ambition.
The Report is changing the terms of debate about land by recognising that:
- Land is a precious and crucial resource which requires to be used and owned in the public interest for the common good.
- Greater diversity in land ownership would serve the public interest.
- Land reform is not only a question of land use, as it is land ownership which significantly determines the land use.
The common good is defined as achieving: the wellbeing of society as a whole; enriched participatory democracy; environmental sustainability; economic success; greater social justice; the achievement of human rights.
These key ideas and principles give the context and justification for 62 specific recommendations which range through extended community land rights, greater transparency in land transactions, to potential limits on the amount of land any one individual could own. The report cites the UN Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure in support of some of its recommendations.
The Report has received a positive welcome from land reformers and strong indications of support from the Scottish Government and main opposition party and contains much that Community Land Scotland has argued for. An already planned Community Empowerment Bill will provide the legislative vehicle for some of the community land right changes sought, with the Government having now committed to a second land reform Bill before May 2016 to take forward remaining recommendations. The private landed interests are dismayed and hostile.
The coming two years will be a vital period in Scottish land reform history. In the debate for further change the International Land Coalition and all their policy work on people centred land governance and the Voluntary Guidelines is having an influence.
What is happening in Scotland is taking inspiration from land reformers globally as the just cause of change to people centred land governance is advanced.
The Land Reform Review Group report can be accessed at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/About/Review/land-reform/events/FinalReport23May2014
Community land Scotland can be accessed at: http://www.communitylandscotland.co.uk/