Land Reform: the briefing paper produced for the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee
It is possible to read the briefing paper on Land Reform * produced for the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee and think at first glance that they may have a point…
Had the reader recently landed from Mars he might consider it reflects a kind of optimistic naivety whose authors believe their own prejudices to be sacrosanct and that numbers can be used to prove almost anything.
However should the same visitor meet up with a rational human neither politician, left wing, or exclusively urban, he might start to question the rationale of the committee’s approach to land reform.
For a start he might look at those who compiled the report and conclude that they were not exactly representative of anything other than a narrow clique whose agenda was clearly political.
Indeed they state unashamedly that “Between them the group have SNP, Labour, Scottish Green Party and Liberal Democrat affiliations” – well blow me down!
How irritated must they be that the man in the street seems largely unmoved by their almost Marxist denial of property rights and their espousing of the common good – so far, presumably, as it does not interfere with their privileged position as tribunes of the people.
[Indeed, as one reads the paper one begins to understand why Zil lanes were so appreciated as the just reward for time-serving lackeys in the late unlamented Soviet Republic. If you have ever spent time in a properly socialist country you soon learn that only the politicians profit].
The basic precept of the report is private ownership bad, public ownership, good. It confuses – seemingly through a mixture of ignorance and envy - the justifiable desire for the population to have access and enjoyment, which no one denies is, and should be, a right, with the fact of ownership and the right to run your property as you see fit. The committee may not like it, but these aims are incompatible.
The public are, I believe, entitled to enjoy all Scotland’s wonderful countryside, with access at all times – the only exception being those rare and usually temporary occasions when it interferes with management of the land.
It seems to me that those who wrote the report are not remotely interested in this; instead they wish to involve themselves in the running of estates, forgetting that the very thing they claim to want to preserve has been created by generations of farmers and land owners who all know a great deal more than they about land management and preservation
I suggest the public does not know or care who owns the land, only that it is beautiful, well run and that they have access; what the report proposes is that land would be better run by urban “experts”, who may have passed the odd exam but whose practical knowledge is non-existent.
In truth the proposals in the report are directed purely at empowering organisations like Scottish Natural Heritage to take control over areas for which they are they are unsuited. It is unfortunate and symptomatic of what I fear is the long term aim of land reform advocates - the erosion of the rights of ownership, not in the public interest, but in their own.
The rationale of the report is “to create a mood for change which can be supported beyond the constraints of an individual political party or section of society and to build a consensus amongst the people of Scotland for actions which will improve their lives.”
In other words, to create a desire for change where there is currently none, for purely political ends.
The report seems to be founded on the uninformed prejudice that all landowners are seeking to take as much as possible from the public purse and return as little as they can. It fails to address why there is subsidy and assumes all landowners are in it for the money, when in practice most large estates are subsidised by private as well as public money.
Indeed it goes on to infer that the offsetting of estate management losses against landowners’ other (non-landed) business interests is immoral and beneficial to the landowner at the same time.
You can’t win – on the one hand you are stealing from the public purse on the other you are using profits from elsewhere to offset losses on the estate! It is this kind of woolly and envy- driven socialist thinking that invalidates any reasonable points that the report might have been able to make.
In my experience the reality is that as soon as anything is taken into public ownership it immediately employs too many people because there are no constraints, builds ridiculously expensive offices and headquarters where there were none, and then proceeds to run the operations ineptly.
In case there are any out there who believe that public ownership would mean freedom of access for all, look at how similar envy-driven bureaucrats and jobs-worths behave once they are in control to appreciate just how unpleasant it would all become.
Land ownership is an emotive subject for a very small politically driven group of people with their own agenda; it is certainly not the public’s interests they have at heart. In the same way that watching cookery programmes makes you an expert chef, special interest groups are often armed with no more knowledge than the occasional visitor.
The plethora of groups involved in preserving the Cairngorms alone forms a monstrous regiment - however well intentioned. The Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, the Cairngorms Campaign, the John Muir Trust, The National Trust for Scotland, the North East Mountain Trust, Ramblers Scotland, the Scottish Campaign for National Parks, the Scottish Wild Land Group (even the name betokens “townie”) the RSPB, the Mountaineering Council for Scotland and doubtless others, all vying to be obligatory consultants to anything, anywhere.
As ever with politicians it’s all really easy, you just sit in the cheap seats and shout “Gie us the land”.
*432:50 Towards a comprehensive land reform agenda for Scotland. A Briefing Paper for the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee by James Hunter, Peter Peacock, Andy Wightman and Michael Foxley .
In his introduction to the paper, chairman Ian Davidson MP outlines the reasons for its commission. “During our investigation of the Crown Estate it became clear that the wider issue of land reform in Scotland required to be looked at. Accordingly, the Scottish Affairs Committee agreed to request that a paper be drawn up to stimulate debate.
The Committee has now received the paper and agreed to circulate it without change or comment. Some of its comments and proposals will be seen as radical, others as commonsense, but between them they address one of the major yet underexplored areas of Scottish life: the ownership and control of the land itself”.