TOUGH new rules to make clear who owns Scotland’s land will be brought in by the SNP following Panama papers revelations that thousands of acres are controlled offshore.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon made the pledge saying, if re-elected, one of the first acts of her government would be to consult on setting up a Register of Controlling Interests, which she said would “shine the bright light of transparency on to the issue of who owns Scotland”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The Panama Papers have exposed some of the issues around anonymous ownership of land – however the people of Scotland shouldn’t have to rely on leaked documents to find out who owns Scotland.”
The last SNP government passed new laws on land reform, but the legislation was branded too timid by critics, including some within the party.
The plan for the new register is that the name and contact details of any person having a controlling interest in major landholdings and tenancies will be disclosed and kept up to date on the register whenever it changes. Measure to enforce transparency could include civil penalties or criminal sanction for owners unwilling to comply.
Ms Sturgeon made her announcement when visiting a gin distillery in Grantown-on-Spey.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The people of Scotland have a right to know who owns Scotland’s land. One of the first major actions of a newly elected SNP government will be to consult on plans for a new Register of Controlling Interests, which will shine the bright light of transparency on to the issue of who owns Scotland.”
Scottish Labour environmental justice spokeswoman Sarah Boyack said her party would conduct an immediate review of the Scottish Government’s land reform legislation, recently passed at Holyrood.
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The use of Scottish Limited Partnerships (SLPs), which are exempt from tax as legal entities, have been questioned in light of the Panama Papers.
“We’ve also been calling for action to close the loopholes on Scottish Limited Partnerships,” Ms Boyack said. “It is extraordinary that Scotland is being described as a tax haven for shady companies to set up here.”
Meanwhile Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie launched his party’s manifesto at Jungle Adventure soft play centre in Leith. Mr Rennie claimed it had the sort of “positive, uplifting agenda” seen under the late Charles Kennedy’s leadership.
The proposals for Holyrood include key liberal commitments on policing, justice and civil liberties, alongside headline pledges on education and health.
As well as the party’s flagship “penny for education” tax plans, Lib Dems plan to double free childcare to 1,140 hours a year for all three and four-year-olds, and will seek to do the same for all two-year-olds, with £100 million of additional funding.
It has further promised to restore college budgets.
The document also includes plans for radical drug policy reform, a presumption against short prison sentences of less than 12 months and decriminalisation of prostitution and the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.