A ROW has broken out over plans to celebrate Scotland’s largest landowner as one of the world’s “Great Scots” at the annual Tartan Week celebrations in New York next month.
The National Trust for Scotland will be honouring the Duke of Buccleuch at a lavish event at the Metropolitan Club. Richard Scott, whose family owns around 280,000 acres of land in Britain, including several large estates in Scotland, will be recognised for his “tireless efforts to protect the cultural and natural heritage of Scotland”.
Hundreds of well-heeled donors based in the United States are expected to attend the event which will raise funds for the NTS’s US foundation, which helps bankroll its work as Scotland’s largest conservation charity.
Last night, concerns were raised about the choice of the duke, who inherited the property empire when his father died in 2007, as one of the country’s great achievers.
Land reform campaigner, author and academic Alastair McIntosh said: “I object to any major landowner being promoted in America as a ‘Great Scot’. If the NTS did that here there would be protests at the ceremony.
“The greatest thing that landed power could do for Scottish culture would be to give back the land that their ancestors stole from the people and to desist from living off ill-gotten rental gain.
“Scotland’s future lies in community land tenure and not in hereditary oligarchies that masquerade as so-called ‘noble’ families.”
Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian said: “It does strike me as a bit odd to honour someone whose wealth and land ownership is beyond comprehension to most of us. I can think of plenty of less-privileged people working in nature conservation and the art world whose tireless efforts deserve a higher profile.”
Dr Janet Moxley, a campaigner with the Radical Independence Campaign in Dumfries and Galloway, said: “The fact that NTS are making this award to Mr Scott who was its president until 2012 is perhaps not surprising, but smacks of cronyism and fails to recognise those who contribute to the wider arts and environmental scenes in Scotland, particularly those involved in grass-roots activities which are struggling to survive as competition for ever more limited funding gets tougher.
“It is also galling to see NTS stage such a lavish event for the well off at a time when people are relying on hand outs from food banks in towns such as Moffat only a few miles from the Buccleuch seat at Drumlanrig.”
Author and commentator Lesley Riddoch, whose latest book Blossom calls tackles the case for widespread land reform, said: “There is widespread recognition of the economic and social damage done to Scots by our quasi-feudal system of land ownership.
“So it’s astonishing the National Trust for Scotland has bestowed the country’s largest landowner with the Great Scot Award 2014.
“I’ve no doubt the Duke of Buccleuch does make ‘tireless efforts to protect the cultural and natural heritage of Scotland.’
“As the inheritor of land, paintings, shares and property worth around £300 million he isn’t distracted by the need to earn a living.”
NTS chiefs told Scotland on Sunday that “no-one deserves this award more than the Duke of Buccleuch”.
The duke is a former president of the NTS and is credited by the charity of playing a “critical role” when it was plunged into a major financial crisis between 2008 and 2010.
The charity said data protection laws meant it could not disclose how much the duke and his family had actually donated over the years.
It said he had been “instrumental” in NTS’s fundraising efforts in the US in particular.
A spokesman for NTS added: “He has done immeasurable good for the conservation of Scotland’s heritage.”
Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland, said: “I do not have any difficulty with the NTS holding an event like this in the USA. It is an important way for them to raise the profile of conservation work in Scotland and hopefully attract funds from overseas supporters for such work.
“As regards Richard Scott, the present Duke of Buccleuch, I have not had any direct dealings with him and so it is difficult to comment on the merit of this award. But his father was a big supporter of public access in the countryside and frequently spoke publicly in favour of freedom to roam, saying that the public were welcome on Buccleuch estate land and he would like more people to come out from the towns and cities to visit.”
The NTS – which has 310,000 members – is responsible for some 200,000 acres of countryside.
The duke, whose estates are reputed to be worth over £800 million, is being honoured just months after it emerged that half of privately-owned land in Scotland is run by less than 500 people.
He said: “It is undeserved but very moving to receive such an honour from the most generous and knowledgeable of friends in the United States who care passionately for our heritage.”
A land reform review group set up by the Scottish Government is due to publish in April a final report, which could give much greater support for local communities to buy the land they live on.
Scotland’s environment minister Paul Wheelhouse hinted earlier this year that a major shake-up is on the cards.
Speaking on BBC documentary, The Men Who Own Scotland, he said: “I wouldn’t design a system where you ended up with such a concentration of wealth and ownership in such a small group.”