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Land Reform Week

Common Weal Land Reform Week

commonweal
15.03.21

As our Land Reform Week comes to an end we have now published three major reports which set out a vision for Scotland's land, a road map for how to get there and the the story of the opportunities for our nation if we do it.

The last of the reports is called A Mosaic Of Life – a vision for reforming Scotland's uplands. It sets out how we could replace Scotland's 'wet deserts' with a landscape filled with life and productivity.

Written by forestry expert Donald McPhillimy and rewilding expert Callum Blackburn it explains why Scotland's uplands are so devoid of animal and plant life and describes how to restore that land with a patchwork of commercial and non-commercial forestry, rewilding, enclosed grazing, some arable cropping, restored peatlands, energy generation, ecotourism and more.

To achieve this we need to change the way we manage and use the land so that over-grazing by sheep and deer does not kill off the natural regeneration of plants which create a habitat for wildlife. It needs to end driven grouse shooting and the management of so much of Scotland land for that sole purpose and repair and replace the damage bad land use has done.

It contains many of the same recommendations as the other two reports – national and regional land use strategies, a National Land Agency, licensing grouse moors, active rewilding policies. But it also brings in some new ones like forest management to let forests become mixed, rewilded spaces, the reform of agricultural subsidies and active strategies to get a younger generation out and involved in changing Scotland's land.

And the benefits would be enormous. Scotland would greatly improve its performance in trapping the atmospheric carbon that creates climate change, our native wildlife would be restored and ecosystems would recover, our land would become more productive, communities would thrive and the bare hills that surround us would spring back to the mosaic of life after which the report is named.

Earlier we released our landmark paper Our Land: a vision for land reform in Scotland and how we get there which describes the ways we can get there. It was commissioned by the Revive coalition for grouse moor reform and produced jointly with the New Economics Foundation and concludes that Scotland has all the powers it needs to achieve proper land reform quickly and legally. Veteran land reformer Andy Wightman is calling this report a 'tipping point'. You can see a short film about it here and sign the petition to support it here. Please share these with anyone you think will be interested.

The report was commissioned because one of the perpetual arguments against land reform in Scotland has been that we don't have the powers to do it, or that it is somehow illegal. The report takes these arguments head-on – to disprove them.

First it looks at why current land ownership patterns are bad for Scotland:

  • They enable various forms of 'rent-seeking' which reduce economic performance and increase economic inequality
  • They reduce the capacity for business start-up and business expansion
  • They inhibits rural community development and expansion
  • They are a key driver of the rural housing crisis and lead to depopulation and the inability of business to source a workforce
  • They lead to poor land management which reduces the carbon performance of Scotland's land and harms biodiversity
  • They create significant power imbalance over influence on rural policy and so distort Scotland's democracy
  • All of this suppresses Scotland's human, environmental and economic potential

It then sets out a full toolkit of ways that the Scottish Government would quickly change that pattern of ownership:

  • Complete a comprehensive land registry to provide full transparency on who owns Scotland's land
  • Introduce some form of land taxation to incentivise better productive use of land
  • Reform agricultural and business subsidies to emphasise the quality of land use
  • Introduce a cap on the maximum amount of land one 'beneficial owner' can own
  • Use Compulsory Sales Orders to encourage and if necessary compel landowners to sell land to the public. This can be required to be broken into small plot sizes to enable land access by small and medium-sized businesses, communities and small investors
  • Use Compulsory Purchase Orders to buy land for public good purposes
  • Extend the planning system to rural land to ensure a public-good criteria for land use
  • Give communities a legal right to a say in the planning process for land in their vicinity
  • Create a proper system of local democracy in Scotland to empower communities to shape land use
  • Introduce a rural housebuilding strategy to tackle the rural housing crisis with communities empowered to address this directly through local democracy
  • Reform the regulation of key practices in rural areas such as deer and grouse moor management to require more environmentally-sustainable practices
  • Task the Scottish National Investment Bank to create a substantial land investment fund to support start-up and expanding businesses and community development
  • Establish a National Land Agency to oversee all of the above

These are all within the powers of the Scottish Parliament and the report explains how they are all legal if used properly.

The third of the reports is Work The Land: the employment potential of land reform. That looks at how alternative uses of Scotland's rural land compare in job-creation potential with its current uses. It concludes that tens of thousands of jobs could be created if land was used for the public good and if communities and individuals looking to start land-based businesses could get access to land.

It looks at ten possible new or expanded rural industries - land management, wildlife management, commercial forestry, wood processing, deer stalking/venison production, horticulture, crofting, energy engineering, housebuilding and ecotourism. For each it estimates the maximum amount of employment which could be created and typical incomes for those jobs and it compares this to current use. All but crofting (which is best considered a supplementary income) create higher rural incomes than current use as shooting estates and hill farming. And while it is not possible to sum up the jobs potential to get a single total (as some represent alternative possible uses of the same land), it comes to tens of thousands of potential jobs.

And that's only the direct jobs. It doesn't include the large number of indirect and secondary jobs which would also be created in supply chains, services, retail and leisure, public services and as a result of growing communities. Nor does it include the potential for existing business expansion, home-working relocation and job start-up entirely unrelated to these ten job types which would be made possible as a result of significantly expanded housing availability. And of course it doesn't include the sheer difference growing, thriving rural communities would make to the people who live there.

The report was produced for Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform in Scotland (of which Common Weal is a member). The aim is to show that far from being a threat to rural economies, reforming Scotland's land ownership and use could be a massive opportunity. It is the first part of our drive to break the log-jam which seems to mean land reform is always something in the future, not something we get on with now.

These reports are the culmination of years of work by Common Weal to inspire Scotland to believe not only that land reform is possible but that it represents a real and exciting future for our nation. We will now campaign to try and make these visions a reality.