Scottish independence: land reform being ‘held back’

The island of Gigha was the subject of a community buy-out in 2007. Picture: Donald MacLeod
The island of Gigha was the subject of a community buy-out in 2007. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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CHANGES to the “undemocratic” land reform system have been put on hold until after the independence referendum, according to Labour.

The Scottish Government has the power under devolution to address the “inequitable” system but is reluctant to “rock the boat with any radical reforms” before next year’s poll, Labour will argue today.

Speaking before a Labour-led debate in Holyrood, the party environment spokeswoman Claire Baker said: “Land reform is both an economic and a social issue, and communities all over Scotland are looking for progress on this issue. After six years of inaction it would appear the SNP are now deliberately stalling on land reform because they do not want to rock the boat with any radical reforms ahead of the referendum.

“But when an expert like Professor Hunter, a leading adviser on land reform and someone who this Government handpicked to be an original member of their review group, is criticising this Government, we know they have got it badly wrong.

“Professor Hunter describes Scotland as having the ‘most concentrated, most inequitable, most unreformed and most undemocratic land ownership system in the entire developed world’. The SNP has the power to change this.

“At Scottish Labour conference, Johann Lamont laid down the gauntlet on land reform and community ownership. The SNP has promised radical and bold reform, it is time they delivered it.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is totally committed to land reform which is why we set up the Land Reform Review Group. We will also hold a review of agricultural tenancies and have provided a £6 million Scottish Land Fund for 2012-15 to help communities buy their land.

“That support for local groups looking to exercise their right to buy has flourished under this administration with a total of 127 community bodies formed under existing land reform legislation since May 2007 and all applications where a right to buy has been triggered have been approved, giving 25 communities the opportunity to own their own land, including 11 in the Highlands and islands.

“Most recently we approved the Mull of Galloway Trust’s community buyout in the south-west of Scotland.

“Professor Hunter was a valued member of the Land Reform Review Group and we very much appreciate his ongoing contribution to the debate. However, any move towards ministerial chairing or senior civil servant involvement in the Land Reform Review Group would have to be balanced with maintaining the group’s independence.

“Indeed, the original manifesto commitment was clear that the group would be independent. A Government response and action will follow once the review group’s work is concluded.”