Ill fares the land

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Wednesday’s Holyrood debate on land reform, initiated by Labour to attack the shambles of the SNP position, and following the resignation of Professor Jim Hunter from the Land Reform Review Group and its ongoing implosion, is just an exercise in joint hypocrisy over this critical issue in Scottish politics.

Both the SNP and Labour actions on land reform relative to their avowed policy positions are basically tantamount to almost criminal procrastination, indeed perhaps only one step away from outright mendacity.

After that it gets worse: both parties seem “fangit and hangit’’ on the shooglie peg of the quasi-kibbutznik, neo-tribalist, near shibboleth of community ownership, which has palpably failed to deliver, rather than get to the core of the primary issue: the concentration of private land tenure in so few hands.

The way the Fennoscandian comparisons are quoted by both parties appears wilfully to ignore the fact that the land tenure system there is based upon many tens of thousands of ­private landowners and their families, rather than wholesale communal ownership.

Another comparison with the US state of Maine, which has a similar land area to Scotland, shows that there are more than 250,000 private forest owners; Scotland has just 4,000.

It is the expansion and extensification of the private land 
tenure base in Scotland, and how we do this, that is the really 
important challenge.

Apart from dealing with comical oxymorons such as privately owned national parks, strategic state expropriation is not the 
desired option.

As Oslo-based Scottish land reformer, John Bryden, points out, the better path lies in fiscal measures, especially in the ­collection of publicly created land rental values. Are Labour and the SNP listening?

Ron Greer

Blair Atholl