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  • Writer's pictureRob Gibson

SNP Conference 22 Land Reform Debate Succeeds

Land Reform 2022 Conference Speech RG

Convener, I’m sure Conference believes that land reform and national independence have always been seen by Scots as inseparable aims. We need rapid progress on both in the quest for a democratic, fairer and greener nation.

Yet our devolved Scottish Parliament can only deliver some of the land reform. Put another way, justice, which land reform and independence embody, is constrained, so justice whether economic, social or environmental is largely denied.

Friends, we welcome the new Land Reform Bill in 2023 aiming for a Net Zero nation. Its goals envisage rural Scotland playing a key part in reaching that target. And it focuses on the largest landowners, around 380 who own more than 3,000 hectares each. It intends to ensure they deliver their share. It will pin down these huge estates by insisting on management plans and sanctions if not met.

It's a bold move to focus on large estates both public and private. Size matters but smaller holding less than 3,000 hectares are critical too because land ownership and land use are inseperable.

To succeed the next land reform instalment must interact with just transition, community wealth building, nurturing natural resources, wellbeing, food security and repopulation and above all human rights. I suggest that Scottish Government has to operate a Ministerial Land Reform Task Force as it did for Climate Change.

After the Land Reform Bill next year, a Community Wealth Building Bill will follow to concentrate on urban land reform. Each will be rooted in the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement set to become statutory. We welcome a Public Interest Test for large land sales which come up. All these have been thoroughly researched by our unique, advisory Scottish Land Commission created by the 2016 Land Reform Act which our Land Reform Minister Mairi McAllan has taken on board.

With the limited time I have to speak my seconder will tackle the means to curb carbon colonialism and secret land deals which blight many communities.

To me the critical issue is affordable housing. Vast population movements across the globe are in play here. Locally, the price to purchase a modest home is beyond most young people in our towns or countryside. We need the right to a home embedded in Scots law that gives the young a choice where to live along with public service workers and tradespeople who build and maintain these homes.

Friends, the public purse cannot buy out every landowner at market prices. We need land at existing use value in suitable locations where local communities can build eco-friendly homes. Public agencies such as Forestry and Land Scotland offer Community Asset Transfers on demand. So privately-owned estates must do likewise, providing suitable sites to stabilise and build affordable dwellings for local workers who will be the frontline fighters for Net Zero. The International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights becoming law in Scotland is key.

Communities who bought their land build many affordable homes which cannot be sold on. However, they alone cannot ensure the huge task of meeting housing need. Our Scottish Government must coordinate action. We must make land management plans include the right to affordable homes on existing use value land. Data zones already show unmet need and unwanted depopulation. Housing pressured areas can be piloted before the Land Reform Bill enters Holyrood.

Convener, Runrig’s song ‘Recovery’ celebrated winning the Crofting Act of 1886 thanks to direct action by the poorest folk, the majority, in the Highlands and Islands and their Crofters MPs. They pioneered the long road to full land reform. Runrig sang, ‘Not before time, there’s justice in our lives’. We need that justice in our 21st century lives. Radical land reform and independence gang thegither. Please support the resolution.

The direct negative was moved and lost in a card vote of 619 to 526. The Resolution was then passed overwhelmingly. The argument seems to centre on frustration at the need to move forward step by step. The 'silver bullet' land and buildings tax was proposed to force bad land use to change. Since this would take a decade to bring in, the advice of the Scottish Land Commission on land value capture guides ScotGov action. Getting land at Existing Use Value is much more likely to speed affordable home building. RG

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