There is no country in the western world which has fewer people owning so much of its land as in Scotland and so there have been calls for land reform for hundreds of years. It is a social justice issue – but it is about so much more than that. It is about our environment, our wildlife, our communities, employment and homes for the next generation, the nation’s economy and the life of our towns and cities. If our land is controlled by a tiny number of rural landowners and a smaller number of big property developers, how can we make democratic decisions about the kind of country we want to build for the future?
So first Common Weal has set out a vision for what is possible. The Common Home Plan has an entire chapter about how Scotland’s land can help us capture carbon, restore wildlife, restore our soil, end our reliance on environmentally harmful materials in construction and manufacturing and feed us healthily and responsibly. And this then creates enormous economic opportunities. We have published two reports on what this could look like, the first (Back to Life, both a vision and an economic assessment) examining the economic impact of making much better use of our grouse moors, the second (Work the Land) looking at the potential for creating jobs by using our land in a better way. Another landmark report paints a picture of what Scotland’s uplands could look like if we converted them into being a Mosaic of Life.
And Common Weal also published our equally groundbreaking Atlas of Opportunity, a beautiful atlas of Scotland with lots of information about our natural, cultural and human resources overlaid to see at a glance just how rich Scotland’s land makes us. All of this paints a picture of a rural Scotland reforested, teeming with wildlife and creating new industries from advanced bioplastic manufacture to ecotourism.
And it’s not just rural Scotland where land reform matters, the lack of community and democratic control of available land in our cities causes just as many problems, as we showed with a case study of the economic potential of land in North East Glasgow. We have shown how we can make the poor use of land in both rural and urban settings unattractive to owners with a land tax (we propose a Property Tax that taxes both land and buildings on the land to replace the Council Tax) and a way for land to be bought much less expensively when it is being used for the public good (called Land Value Capture).
Of course, none of this would matter if there weren’t real, available and legal ways to reform land ownership, something existing landowners often claim there isn’t. But in a groundbreaking report Common Weal has shown that there very much is an effective toolkit of policies which can deliver land reform now, that they are legal and that they are all within the power of the existing Scottish Parliament. That report is Our Land. We hope that the combination of this vision of what ‘better’ looks like and the evidence that the only thing stopping us making progress towards that vision is our willingness to do it will finally break the deadlock which has led to those hundreds of years of calls for reform which just haven’t been met.