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Voices on land reform

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What is the Scottish Government’s vision for land use and what outcomes will this deliver? Can we disentangle landownership from management? How do we engage wider Scottish society in debates around land use and land reform?

Last week I found myself in the exciting role of facilitator of a workshop on land use and land reform, which raised these critical questions. This workshop was part of the first Scottish Rural Parliament in Oban (see a previous blog post by my colleague Andrew Copus for a general discussion of this event and the concept of the ‘rural parliament’).  Land reform is high on the Scottish Government’s agenda at present, with a recent report on this topic from the Land Reform Review Group, and proposed new land reform legislation due before the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2016. Similarly, the Community Empowerment Bill (currently under debate) involves extensions and enhancements to existing land reform legislation (for example, extending the rights of communities to register interest in land acquisition to urban property, and streamlining the registration process). Land reform is an emotive and contentious issue amongst interest groups, commentators and communities and I certainly approached the facilitation of the workshop with some trepidation!

Rural parliamentarians discussing land reform in November 2014The workshop ran twice during the first ‘official’ morning of the Rural Parliament, and was attended in total by around 60 ‘parliamentarians’, representing a diversity of interests and regions of rural Scotland.  Participants included farmers, community council representatives, academics, rural interest groups, agency staff, and Scottish Government representatives. The first session was joined by Richard Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, and the second by well-known land reform campaigners, Lesley Riddoch and Andy Wightman. All contributed to a lively and constructive discussion.

The workshop sought to answer the question: “How do we develop an integrated set of policies and measures on land use and land reform?” Participants identified several barriers to achieving integrated policy, the actions that need to be taken and by whom.

The actions suggested included the need to:

  • Recognise and share good examples/ ‘success stories’
  • Establish local stakeholder groups;
  • Reform taxes to reduce land prices;
  • Establish ‘stewardship’ standards for landownership to ensure sustainable estate management; and
  • Make use of existing partnership schemes to enhance mutual community and landowner benefits.

Of course, identifying actions is one thing, but carrying them out is another. Who is responsible for doing this? The participants asserted that the actions were predominantly the responsibility of the Scottish Government (with UK Government devolution of tax-raising powers), but that the Rural Parliament had a role to play in promoting these actions to the Scottish Government. Indeed, there was consensus that ‘everyone’ could contribute through engaging, challenging assumptions and changing often entrenched mindsets. The workshop effectively provided a consultation opportunity for Scottish Government land use and land reform policy development. However, whilst the new Rural Parliament has no formal power, as argued by Counsellor David O’Neill (COSLA) during the closing speeches, ‘communities empower governments’ – not vice versa.

From my perspective the Rural Parliament provided an able ‘leveller’ for all to discuss openly and equally the issues facing Rural Scotland, such as the opportunity for direct engagement with the Cabinet Secretary and other policy makers. In this workshop, amongst much well-rehearsed land reform discourse, new, constructive and collaborative suggestions were also made for the future direction of Scottish land use and land reform. It will be interesting to see to what extent these ‘soft power’ approaches have influence and are incorporated in the forthcoming legislation.

In the meantime, those who are interested to read more might be interested to visit the links in the menu on the right, read my paper on land reform in the Scottish Geographical Journal, or visit the webpages of other initiatives: for example, the Sustainable Estates project, which developed a tool kit for sustainable estate management and a booklet on partnership working.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author(s), and not an official position of the institute or funder.

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Research


Printed from /blogs/voices-land-reform on 29/01/23 08:26:10 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.