Tom Peterkin: Scotland’s Land Reform Act still stirs passions a decade on
TEN years ago, Holyrood passed landmark legislation which, depending on your point of view, was either one of the parliament’s finest hours or the equivalent of a “Zimbabwean land grab”.
The 2003 Land Reform Act enshrined the right of access to the countryside and, more controversially, the right of rural communities to buy land in their neighbourhood. It was the latter move which proved most contentious – particularly the inclusion of an absolute right to buy crofting land which makes up much of the Highlands.
The idea that communities could buy land and salmon fishing rights, even if the owner was unwilling to sell, infuriated the landed classes. Lairds argued that they had invested millions and sacrificed much in their attempts to maintain sporting estates, which provided employment.
Proponents of the act rejoiced in the chance to do something about what they saw as the unjust distribution of land among the wealthy.
Today the issue is back on the agenda. The Scottish Government has set up a land reform review group (LRRG) under the leadership of Alison Elliot, a former moderator of the Church of Scotland. It is looking at “radical” ways of giving more people a stake in the land.
This has fuelled speculation that the absolute right to buy will be extended beyond crofting land. That speculation is unlikely to be quashed by a document submitted by the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) in response to a call for evidence by the LRRG.
The document suggests that the 2003 act should be amended to extent a right to buy to “all communities in Scotland – urban and rural”. Moreover, it also recommends that the act should be strengthened by “removing the absolute reliance on a willing seller for community right-to-buy legislation – as a last resort following negotiated transfer and provided public benefit can be evidenced”.
Such talk is causing concern among farmers and other landowners. Also, it has not gone unnoticed that the convener of the SCVO happens to be the aforementioned Alison Elliot. No-one is questioning her integrity, but it can be argued that this link does little to dispel the unease being expressed by some.
The SCVO has said Elliot is chairing the LRRG in an “individual capacity”. Justifying its document, a SCVO statement said right to buy was a “major concern” for its members, adding: “If we hadn’t responded or taken a strong line on this we would have failed to represent our members’ interests.”
On Elliot’s two roles, the SCVO argued that people are asked to act as individuals in cases like this so that “it doesn’t constrain any other organisations they are associated with”.
It then noted: “If it constrained the right to respond very few people could or would participate in these groups.” In other words, as if we didn’t know it already, when it comes to public life – Scotland is a very small country indeed.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West