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What did the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 do for us?

The people may not have lawyers, they do have a government.

Alastair McIntosh explaining the possibilities for the Ulva buyout, Bella Caledonia, November

2017

In the past you had no powers to do anything – now we can!

BBC Radio Scotland, Out of Doors, reporting the Ulva buyout June 2018

Holyrood overwhelmingly passed the 2016 Land Reform Bill and provoked favourable comments from many commentators and campaigners. It was welcome reading to the MSPs and ministers closely involved. Of course, the Tories and landowning interests decried these radical measures. Here’s a flavour of some views.

The Scottish Farmer reported on 17 March 2016:

Now, 17 months and a whole lot of talking later, legislation that will enact that ‘vision’ – or

at least, its supporters hope so – was voted into law by MSPs, with a margin of 102 to 14.

Scottish Labour backed the SNP over the proposals, while the Conservatives voted against

them.

It also reported that SLaE chairman David Johnstone declared that an ‘incessant clamour for

radicalism’ from land reform activists had led to landowners' contribution to the countryside being ignored by lawmakers.1


Lesley Riddoch also summed up her views in The National on 17 March:

So yes, the Land Reform Bill which passed its Stage 3 debate in Holyrood yesterday was

feistier than the Scottish Government originally proposed, but less far-reaching than the

Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) recommended back in 2014.2


Andy Wightman commented at length in the same issue of The National. He saw it as a

historic step forward after what he said had been too long a hiatus:


The commitment to establishing a Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement and a Scottish Land Commission will do nothing directly to change the pattern of landownership. But it is an important move to ensure that land reform remains on the political agenda in future. This in itself may well turn out to be the most enduring legacy of the Bill.


Then he repeated his charge:


One of the reasons this legislation has taken so long to arrive is because the Scottish

Government abandoned land reform in 2007 and didn’t get going on the topic again until

2012. Land reform will not happen without sustained, determined and vigorous effort…



Other measures in the bill, such as bringing shooting estates and deer forests back in to the

non-domestic rating system are welcome, but only serve to highlight the fact that

amendments to do the same for vacant and derelict land were defeated. Transparency has

been one of the topics in the bill that has attracted greatest public attention. Again,

proposals to bar ownership of land by companies registered in British Overseas Territories

and Crown Dependencies were defeated and, instead, regulations are to be introduced in

the next parliament.


Tenant farmers emerge as one group who can sleep easier at night, thanks to a substantial

strengthening of their rights and the Scottish Government is to be commended on the

manner in which it stood up to sustained lobbying from landed interests. Smallholders,

however remain the poor relation of the tenanted class, with none of the rights that have

been granted to crofters and tenants since 1999.


Communities, too, have a new suite of rights to acquire land that they need for sustainable development.


Adding to a growing body of rights, the legislative landscape is now rather complicated for voluntary community groups to navigate and ensuring that people have the knowledge and capacity to exercise these new rights remains a significant challenge.


Altogether, this is a historic piece of legislation.


Land reform is back and the opportunities and challenges for the next Parliament are to

enact the voluminous secondary legislation to make the bill work and to bring forward

further reform on the wide range of land reform topics not captured in this bill such as

inheritance law land taxation, land information, housing, compulsory purchase and Crown

land governance.


The level of engagement with the legislative process has been encouraging and MSPs such as Sarah Boyack, Patrick Harvie and Mike Russell [what about Graeme Dey?] have all worked hard to strengthen what started as a much-less-ambitious bill. Land reform is a generational project.


Wightman had raised two cheers, concluding:


Much remains to be done over the next 20 years, but this is as good a start as could have

been hoped for.3


Nicky (Lowden) MacCrimmon, who was thrust into the limelight of the SNP grassroots

‘rebellion’ at the 2015 SNP conference, told The Guardian on the night of Wednesday 16th March:


I’m pleased we are having this debate and welcome every part of the bill that is being

passed and will eventually become the act. I’m less pleased about what has not made it,

particularly the amendment calling for a ban on land being owned by companies in tax

havens.


What is doubly disappointing is that there may well be a very good reason that this

amendment was not supported by the Scottish Government but as their legal advice is to

remain private we have no way of having an informed debate on the topic.4


From my viewpoint, as RACCE convener, I have mulled over some of these responses. First, the praise for public pressure as the catalyst for a more radical bill; second, the canard of land reform being abandoned by the SNP between 2007 and 2012; and third, another contention that the LRRG’s final report in 2014 was a cast iron template from which the Scottish Government wilfully deviated. Specifically, the registration of landowners in the EU became a chosen option by the Greens and Labour for promoting transparency and dominated comment from the ‘left’.


Repeated references to the ‘rebellion’ at the SNP conference in October 2015 as a game changer was cited as pushing the Scottish Government’s Bill in a more radical direction. Where’s the evidence? Coincidentally, there had been, until then, little recognition of the part played by MSPs, until a mention by prospective MSP, Andy Wightman after the bill’s conclusion. He noted that MSPs, particularly in the RACCE committee, working every day on the bill, had explored ways to strengthen several key clauses such as transparency. Seen from the perspective of the RACCE committee, there was a deafening silence from any specific lobby by SNP members after the October 2015 ‘rebellion’. I’ve asked many colleagues if they were approached and have drawn a big blank. Did SNP delegates

consider a vague call for more radicalism in conference debate to be enough of a signal to ministers?


Undoubtedly, the Cabinet had been shocked to see a land reform resolution remitted back by the conference; land reform is a touchstone of the SNP’s ethos. Starting in the 1940s examples of campaigns and policy documents testify to that, such as the SNP pamphlet on Knoydart (see Appendix 1) In 1974, the SNP Annual Conference called out ‘the abuse of power by some landowners’. It went on to vote for a Land Commission with powers to identify land not being used or developed in ways most appropriate for the benefit of local communities or of the nation. They proposed that all such land should be subject to taxation to compel owners to comply with publicly agreed uses or convey the land to the nation at existing use value.5 That was long before the SNP even dreamt of a real Scottish Parliament or forming a government. Also, it was long before the constraints of human rights laws meant a more cautious approach would be taken by successive Scottish governments.


Regarding the period of minority SNP Government from 2007 to 2011, the effects of the

2003 acts were still bedding in and lottery funding for land purchase had come to an end in 2006. For example, Responsible Right of Access passed in 2003 only became active in 2005. Experience of how it would work was scanty but hopeful. The SNP Government, newly arrived in power, for the very first time, required great skills just to survive. Many tasks lay before it and land reform was part of a long list. The banking crash of 2008 had been a big hit on policy development, cutting budgets year on year, but the mess left by the Labour and Lib Dem coalition over crofting law reform required further action. Tweaks to make the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 more workable, and a courageous thumbs up by Roseanna Cunningham to the Pairc buy out in the face of the ECHR threat, proved a breakthrough for the crofting right to buy against an unwilling seller.


In the face of such evidence, Andy Wightman’s impatience with the Scottish Parliament was an ingrained response of a single-issue campaigner. However, more positively, his painstaking research, extensive and sustained reviews of necessary policies required to achieve thorough-going land reform were welcome. He and others have often listed the programmes they required to modernise Scotland land laws. But his polemic style takes no prisoners. From the claims made in his book, The Poor Had No Lawyers, all setbacks to progress, or alleged back-sliding were always decried in stinging terms.


In the summer of 2013, once the SNP had a majority in Holyrood, and behind the scenes in the second phase of the LRRG, Andy’s close collaborator, Robin Callander, had a key role in steering the conclusions of the final report. There emerged the demand for landowners to be registered in the EU, and not in tax haven jurisdictions. What would it take for Andy Wightman to ever agree that his proposal would be found unworkable? As previously described, Global Witness, CLS, Graeme Dey MSP and then Minister Dr Aileen McLeod MSP all poured over several sources of legal advice that, at best, saw EU registration as beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament but crucially that they

were unworkable. Such was the apparently radical intent in EU transparency registration that

Wightman’s ally, Lesley Riddoch, continued to push it via Patrick Harvie’s Green Party amendment in committee and chamber. Also, Nicky MacCrimmon, SNP land radical, believed Wightman was correct even on 16 March. This was despite the Official Report of the RACCE meeting which explored the issue in depth on 20 January 2016. Who with any interest had read and digested these debates?


Holyrood’s politicians should be recognised for being as radical as was practical. Even so, debates will always rage as to what is radical in land reform terms. Constraints over legislative competence on these issues as well as the will of ministers to deliver their practical best for Scotland will be questioned, and rightly so.


Here’s a pertinent and cautionary reminder. In 2014, ministers and RACCE had to correct the ECHR breach handed down by the Supreme Court following Ross Finnie’s well-meaning moves at Stage 3 in the 2003 Agricultural Holdings Bill. He sought, at the time, a route to security and the end threats of eviction to hundreds of LPTs. If ever there was a douche of cold water on last-minute amendments, that was it. This has not stopped Andy Wightman declaring recently that we should not be scared to challenge ECHR, after all, Salvesen v Riddell was the only set-back so far. What I would say is, choose your ground to fight as an essential first step.


Who can forget the seven LPTs caught in the toils of the Supreme Court judgement. This provoked a 19,000-signature petition lodged at Holyrood on 10 November 2015, in the middle of RACCE deliberations on the contents of our Stage 1 Report.6 Along with Sarah Boyack I accepted it from the protesters on behalf of the Parliament in an extremely heated atmosphere. Meanwhile, the stalemate had been prolonged by claims and counter claims in the Court of Session between aggrieved tenants and the Scottish Government. Richard Lochhead had offered mediation but was acutely aware that each case required different levels of compensation.


Altogether, it was an unholy mess, created by well-meaning decisions in 2003, made after the best legal advice at the time to protect hundreds of tenants under threat of eviction by landlords. Let’s not forget that, much later, Lochhead tried, successfully, to ease the exit

arrangements for tenant farmer Andrew Stoddart from Coulston Mains.


***


The parliamentary processes at Holyrood have always been based on Westminster practise. This process, for the Land Reform Act 2016, followed through from manifesto pledges to green paper, to 6 Stoddart petition lodged outside Holyrood, 10 November 2015

white paper including a draft bill with each stage widely consulted and finally to the bill process itself which, in the Scottish Parliament, can and did take nine months.


I’ve discussed the rounds of evidence of hundreds of submissions at each stage where

interested parties were keen to express their diverse views. It certainly suggests that a five-year parliamentary cycle was required for both the LLRG and AHLRG to reach their conclusions and the bill to pick up what was deemed deliverable. Governments require time to digest and draw up credible draft bills. The decision, in this case, to put land reform and agricultural holdings in the same bill differed from the approach in 2003. During the process other members may wish to put forward new clauses to add to the proposed bill. This happened previously, and it did again with this Land Reform Bill.


Again, a cautionary note. I was taken to task, at a debate on crofting reform in Assynt in July 2018. It concerned the clauses passed in the 2010 Crofting (Scotland) Bill seeking five-yearly reports by grazings committees on the physical condition of their townships. Three related amendments at Stage 3 were proposed by Elaine Murray, John Scott and me were voted into the final Act. The lack of consultation with those affected, before being proposed, caused no end of anger about ‘snooping on neighbours’ and other criticisms by crofters. The new Crofting Commission consulted on a form of report but drew little comfort from responses received.


The catalyst had been a comprehensive township survey at Camus Croise in Skye. Its authors admitted that there had been opposition to the report’s contents from some families in the township. Yet my intent was to see where ‘abandoned and neglected’ crofts were being made available to willing tenants. It was a lesson to me well-learned. You should take the people with you when you offer big changes as in the 2016 Land Reform Bill.


Iain MacKinnon from Coventry University, himself a native of Camus Croise, opposed the motion being proposed by Peter Peacock at the Scottish Crofting Federation sponsored debate. Peter favoured more radical action to effect much needed change. Iain argued that social justice cannot be forced, it must be discovered and nurtured. He ended his case with the slogan, land reform’s role in supporting greater social justice in Scotland is, ‘go slow, go further’.7 Impatience with progress to date is obvious but the function of parliament is to reflect people’s wishes and empower their lives. The balance must be carefully struck, as I can surely testify.


Another view of the parliamentary process is that propositions can be made by any party on a subject that is relevant. But should these be accepted by the governing party? Circumstances dictate the response and it signifies a system that isn’t perfect; however, it does reach out to many citizens. The ‘mischief’ of the bill in question is confirmed by the Presiding Officer who agrees or disallows any late amendments.


***


The asks and expectations of the public on land law reform are less clear cut and more varied in detail than can be adequately addressed by the parliament in a five-year session. In our recent process the LRRG recommendations were the key database.


Taking the three-part grid proposed by Robin Callander in 1998, namely property law,

administrative law, regulations and incentives, we can judge that a strong start has been made. Firstly, feudal abolition, increased rights for tenant farmers and community land ownership are in hand. Secondly, public bodies such as the Scottish Land Commission, the enhanced RoS and community empowerment structures are operative. Thirdly, the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement was agreed and various aspects of Crown Estate property management are feeding funds into coastal communities. But much more is now needed for further reform.


I have made my own list of items from the LRRG final report that are still to be tackled. Briefly they include:

• Succession law;

• A register of ownerless land;

• Modernising CPO rules;

• Extending the State forests;

• A fuller development of community land rights;

• Meeting community acquisition costs;

• Focusing urban renewal on local government-led partnerships;

• Building new affordable housing with special focus on self-builds and remote rural needs;

• A comprehensive land use survey;

• Developing a National Land Policy;

• Scoping out a new law on maximum size for holdings;

• LVT;

• Giving crofting trusts rights buy at less than market price;

• RTB for small land holders;

• Statutory rights of access;

• Freshwater resources and management reform.8


As we all acknowledge there’s plenty to do in the next 20 years.


Adapting land policy to modern conditions and pressures must be made to work in practice. Experience suggests we have a way to go in the delivery of policies through government agencies. Think on these: the Raasay Deer Lease issue; FES set to market forests such the one in Sutherland inadvertently included the protected site of the clearance village of Rossal in the forest sale document; SNH’s prolonged and frustrating handling of tougher deer management rules; FES employment of land agents who have been private estate factors during divestment and leasing out of public land. Again, FES outsourcing legal work for land leasing and sales which is costly and time consuming. I could go on. There are many necessary correctives to deliver ‘joined-up’ government. Since community empowerment is a key priority, delivering community proofing must be the guarantee of good practice.


Another critic, Gerry Hassan, assessed SNP Government land reform in his book, Scotland the Brave?, describing the SNP as having ‘little appetite or feel for the subject’. He emphasised the rebellion at SNP conference in November 2015 claiming it ‘defeated’ the ‘tepid’ land reform proposals on offer in the bill. The facts I’ve laid out refute this.9


Reflecting on the progressive land reform agenda in Scotland, two contrasting pictures from Norway and England emerged during the Land Reform Bill deliberations in 2015. Northern Neighbours: Scotland and Norway since 1800 was compiled and edited before the outcome of the 2014 independence referendum by John Bryden, Ottar Brox and Lesley Riddoch. It surveyed many aspects of the divergent development of the two northern European nations. It particularly explained how the franchise was obtained by many farmers after Danish control was removed from Norway in 1814. This progressively led to a deep-rooted democracy and state backing for land rights. By contrast, Scots gained only in small part 100 years later. The links to national democratic self-government built from scattered tiny communes along the vast Norwegian coast lies in stark contrast to Scotland’s experience of early modern land grabs on a massive scale.10


In England, stirrings of interest about Scottish land reform prompted former Guardian

journalist Peter Hetherington to write Whose Land Is Our Land: The Use and Abuse of Britain’s Forgotten Acres for the Policy Press Insights series. He contrasts land reform proposals in Scotland and inaction in England, combined with searching interviews which included those with the Scottish Duke of Buccleuch and the English Duke of Northumberland who are cousins. Comparisons between Scots and English land questions offer a critical contrast. A worked-out manifesto published in 2019 by Guy Shrubsole builds on his painstaking work to find out who owns his native Berkshire. Thanks to the Labour Land Campaign launched in 2015 by John McDonnell MP, the secrecy of English and

Welsh landownership, the extremely narrow rights to access open countryside, the need to tax landowners and free up land at lower prices for affordable housing have struck a chord. Both Hetherington and Shrubsole see aspects of the Scottish reforms as a guide to action down south. Jeremy Corbyn embraced a land reform policy in the hope that Labour could be elected in Westminster. Meanwhile, in Scotland, far higher expectations require an assessment of our progress.11


***

I want, now, to look at the limits and opportunities of our land reform journey. Earlier in this book I pointed out how the powers of devolution constrain all matters related to company law and trusts which are reserved to Westminster. Of course, tax powers are far too limited to apply other than local tax charges which I hope will be the mode to introduce LVT. However, secondary legislation flowing from Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 is making good progress. The way in which the consultation on the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities brought many helpful suggestions showing that those who are interested continued to be engaged. The Scottish Land Commission has been very active. Its blogs and recommendations will inform new government action.


Among local authorities where the SNP leads, such as in Glasgow and Edinburgh, the thrust of urban land reform is promising a much more imaginative way to identify and release assets that have often been moribund. It is particularly gratifying to see Glasgow’s first SNP-led Council taking very serious steps to identify and secure for use land on the banks of the Clyde to bring the heart of the city waterfront to life.


I discussed the potential of local activists who are busy identifying abandoned and neglected land in Springburn and Maryhill in anticipation of possible purchase for community uses. Again, it shows that it takes years for primary legislation to kick in and before any thorough assessment can be made of its benefits and pitfalls by government and public alike.


It reminds me that even in the city of my birth it will take not just direction from City

Chambers but a real push for much more community democracy. The full benefits of land reform can raise confidence, improve the local environment, encourage new small enterprises and begin to build more social housing. Then urban dwellers can begin to emulate the repopulation, job diversification and clean energy projects of the best examples from our islands such as Eigg, Gigha, West and North Harris and Galson.


Back in 2003 in my first speech as MSP I argued for appropriate ways to build affordable and badly needed, rural housing. We are not there yet. In the RACCE Stage 1 Report we added a section on the subject. Ministers replied that housing policy and budgets were the appropriate vehicle, not land reform. In my final speech as MSP in March 2016 I continued to call for democratic local control as the way to finally solve the crucial housing deficit and control the uses of our land.


Motion debated:

That the Parliament welcomes what it sees as the growing means to promote local control in communities through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and various land reform measures to effect land purchase and access to natural resources; believes that this has been benchmarked in the recent Scottish Government report, Impact Evaluation of the Community Right to Buy; considers that the Scottish Government target of one million acres being in community control by 2020 is both achievable and necessary; notes the view that, the closer to communities the decision taking processes over matters such as affordable housing, environmental designations, cultural life and health provision are, the more there is a requirement for a fundamental review of local government and the powers to raise local taxes and to answer widespread and increasing calls for localism, including in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, which has a land area that is equivalent to that of Northern Ireland, and further notes the view that subsidiarity, sustainability and social justice should be applied to all community life, the length and breadth of Scotland.


Rob Gibson (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP):


For my final speech as the member of the Scottish Parliament for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross since 2011, I will explore bringing more local control to the people whom I have had the immense privilege to represent. I will reflect on how the Highlands and Islands region, which I represented from 2003 to 2011, and my huge mainland constituency, which is the size of Northern Ireland, have suffered without enough say in their affairs. I hope that I will point out how decisions that affect local lives can be sustainable and socially just and how, by applying subsidiarity, all our communities around Scotland can, I believe, thrive.


First, I will recall some of the pressures that have shaken our land and shaken out its people. The so-called improvements by lairds in the early 19th century evicted the age-old, cattle raising Gaelic communities from the most fertile land and brought in sheep farming, deer shooting and salmon angling for personal gain and the pleasure of the rich few. The results have been stark. Since around 1810, the exodus of surplus population to the industrial areas and to the ends of the earth has been augmented by losses in war after war, which has undoubtedly made the area clearances country.


I whole-heartedly welcome the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, as it can

pave the way to build on the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which has enabled 500,000 acres to come into community ownership. The cause has a long back story. Early protest against individual clearances led to the major victory of the 1880s in the crofters’ war for secure rented tenure. In the 1920s, the Stornoway Trust gained local control, but it was the 1992 fight by the Assynt crofters in my constituency to win their land that ignited the modern debate.


Professor James Hunter talked of ‘new lights shining in the glens’ when the crofters won. In praise of their 20,000-acre purchase, my old friend the singer-songwriter Andy Mitchel told it like this:


No love nor commitment those past lairds did display,

A playground for the wealthy always was their way,

This land they once stole from us, they’ve now been forced to sell,

Since we’ve paid for what we own we’ll try to keep it well.


Our Scottish Parliament will leave its teenage years behind and reach adulthood before the 2021 election. As discussed in the strategy report on having one million acres under

community control, there is a new mood of hope for more diverse land ownership that is

ready to roll.


That opens wider questions about the democratic deficit in local government, as well as the need to build confidence and capacity and to use every possible resource to maintain and, we hope, repopulate more of our land beyond the crofting communities, create more

smallholdings and create 1,000 huts and allotments across the land. We must apply human rights under the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to ensure that local people have the right to decide how to provide affordable housing, safeguard their most cherished environmental features, supervise local health provision and develop a vibrant local cultural life.


When I was a district councillor in Ross and Cromarty from 1988 to 1996, our policy had to cope with a steep downturn in economic activity, such as the then oil slump. Ross and

Cromarty District Council promoted quality of life at the core of its work. Fèis Rois and arts provision were created alongside environmental adaptation and modern affordable house building.


In 2010, as an MSP, I consulted on decentralising services in local government and argued that small works. Today, the urgent need to develop local control could not be clearer. Local management of the Crown Estate coastal funds is looming and strategic planning of considerable community benefit funds from renewables is urgently needed.


The need to break up Highland Council, which covers an area the size of Belgium, is widely discussed. How can 80 councillors meet local needs in an area of that size? Caithness has always wanted its council back and deserves to have it. Other areas should have that, too.


In Highland, the democratic deficit shows as one elected councillor per 4,000 voters.

Germany has one to 500 and representatives have full planning and service powers in

thousands of communes. In Scotland, we must gain the right for local communes around

groups of secondary schools and their catchments to decide local taxes to meet local needs. That is urgent business because, as the Parliament grows up, so should local democracy.


On the environment, my constituency has been heavily subject to conservation by

command. All manner of designations hamstring scattered communities. We have a quarter of the high-profile core wild land areas. Our hinterland is criss-crossed by restrictive designations. We need conservation by consent.


We are caught between the zealots of the John Muir Trust, who want no wind power and

who fail to manage deer culls acceptably, and some retirees and the rich, who often object to renewables or other developments in sight of their properties. Dougie MacLean described the latter in his song Homeland (Duthaich mo Chridhe):


You sold your house in the city

You put it on the market and you did so good

Now you’ve bought a little piece of something

That you don’t understand, and you’ve misunderstood.


Despite the growing constraints, I have witnessed many leaders emerging over the years— even from the smallest communities – to make a difference. Open debate and the ability to spend taxes will bring out many more local voters if we have more local elections.


Those who have led communities to own their own land include the late Allan MacRae of

Assynt; Maggie Fyffe in Eigg; Willie McSporran on Gigha; and the real David Cameron, of

North Harris. They have made their own lands places of possibility, aided immeasurably by the late Simon Fraser of Carloway – at last, the poor had gained a lawyer.

I have so many folk in my constituency to thank for advice and support, including my staff

over the years, two of whom are now members of Parliament. I thank my current staff: Niall MacDonald, Maureen Forbes and Councillor Gail Ross. They call me the moss boss— I will not explain why, but some members will know. My sincere thanks go to the clerks of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee; the Scottish Parliament information centre; my MSP colleagues, not least the RACCE members; and most of all my family and my partner, Eleanor Scott, who is my rock.


We live in a better land thanks to the huge support for this Scottish Parliament, which will

soon reach adulthood. I will be cheering it on in helping to make our land fit for a

sustainable future.


A dozen miles from where I stay on Easter Ross, at Kildermorie, in the winter of 1921,

Christopher Murray Grieve taught the children of the estate gamekeeper, whose then laird Dyson Perrins – of Worcester sauce fame – was philanthropic at least in the village of Alness near his private kingdom. Much later, Grieve, who was the founder of the Scottish literary renaissance, having adopted the nom de guerre Hugh MacDiarmid, reflected in his long poem Direadh III on the act of surmounting difficulties. Thinking of the rugged Cuillins of Skye, he wrote:


Let what can be shaken, be shaken,

And the unshakeable remain.

The Inaccessible Pinnacle is not inaccessible.


My case for deepening local decision taking is unshakeable and rests on the solid ground of an increasingly confident Scotland where full powers are not inaccessible.12



As it turned out my final MSP contribution was on the final day of sitting of Session 4 in the Scottish Parliament on 23 March 2016. This came with a supplementary question to the First Minister:


Rob Gibson (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP):

Will the First Minister ensure that the current review of the Scottish planning system helps

and does not hinder the much more diverse pattern of land ownership that will assuredly

flow from the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Land Reform

(Scotland) Bill?


The First Minister: Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill have increased opportunities for communities across Scotland to own land. The planning review is being undertaken by an independent panel, which will make recommendations in due course, and we will respond to the panel’s recommendations when we have them. I assure members that land reform and community empowerment will be key drivers in any further planning reform that we undertake.


The Scottish Government will continue to do all that we can to encourage and support

responsible and diverse land ownership. We have a target of 1 million acres in community ownership by 2020.


It is appropriate that Rob Gibson’s final question in this Parliament was on land reform,

which is an issue that he has championed for decades. Our new Land Reform (Scotland) Bill is, in large part, testament to his campaigning. I thank him for his work and I think that he will be a great loss to this Parliament.13


Thus, lively debate flourishes today.


By increments we can see changes dawning and aspirations rising. To my mind the land reform acts of the Scottish Parliament from its inception to the present show a continuity of self-belief tempered by the perennial, healthy trait of argumentative Scottish haggling over who has done what best. The evidence speaks volumes for concerted action. Land Reform Bills have been passed by overwhelming majorities from 2000 to 2016. Now community landowners are widely seen as a beacon of local self-government. Self-belief drives wider shared belief among many who call Scotland home. We seek a fairer, more sustainable nation. Both urban and rural land reform is a key component to reclaim our land and a permanent feature of our political discourse. The linkage with universal human rights has been most welcome and overdue step to challenge the entrenched power of the landowning elite. In future, Scotland will thank us for our efforts but keep demanding more land reform until our people enjoy a modern decentralised democracy with which the clear majority can be proud.


Land uses to sustain us all Ulva buyout sets goals Scottish Land Commission at work



References

1 David Johnstone, The Scottish Farmer, 17 March 2016

2 Lesley Riddoch, The National, 17 March 2016

3 Andy Wightman, The National, 17 March 2016

4 Nicky MacCrimmon, The Guardian, 16 March 2016

5 SNP Annual Conference, resolution 29, ,1 June 1974

6 Stoddart petition lodged outside Holyrood, 10 November 2015

7 Am Bratach, report, August 2018

8 Rob Gibson, ‘Community Proofing’, Bella Caledonia, June 2018

9 Hassan, Scotland the Brave?, p147

10 Bryden, Brox and Riddoch, Northern Neighbours, Edinburgh University Press, 2015

11 Peter Hetherington, Whose Land is Our Land?, 2015 and Guy Shrubsole, Who Owns England, William Collins

12 Rob Gibson, Scottish Parliament OR, 22 March 2016

13 Rob Gibson, Scottish Parliament OR, 23 March 20

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