We fully support continuing land reform in Scotland. There is no place for Feudalism in the 21st century, nor for absentee landowners, especially non-Scottish ones, who use Scotland as an occasional sporting playground to the detriment of the land. Scottish people need free and clear title to their land in the Highlands, and the right to purchase homes, crofts and farms at affordable local prices.
The right of lairds to have a say over land they formally owned must also be curtailed. How can it still be possible that after buying a house and land from one of the landowners of a large estate, that the new owner must still seek the lairds permission to build an extension or start a business? The idea that such feudalism can still exist in the modern age is truly beyond the realm of logic and reason.
The question of land ownership and land reform has been on the political agenda in Scotland for many years, yet little of substance has been done until very recently. How can it possibly be right that 80% of Scotland is owned by around 4,000 people? In addition, how can it be right that many of these 4,000 people who own vast tracts of Scottish land in the Highlands are foreign absentee landowners with no roots in Scotland, let alone the Highlands?
Continuing 'improvement' in the glens
As an example of all that is currently wrong in the Highlands. A large Middle Eastern owned estate of some 20,000 acres is raking in a bumper harvest of cash, hundreds of thousands of pounds, via the CAP’s ‘set aside’ policy for agricultural land. It is part of this foreign landowners policy of removing Scotsmen from the land they have inhabited for generations. The landowner allowed the houses and land worked by tenant farmers to fall into disuse and dereliction, when the farmers either retired or left the estate.
In effect, good agricultural land of which there is precious little in the Highlands was being left unused. A Scottish farmer was unable to either work the land or buy the farm, as the foreign landowner would not sell land to local Scottish people, reserving the land for his own family. How can this possibly be right? Scottish people effectively being cleared from their ancestral lands once again, it is nothing short of a national disgrace.
These people are not running their huge estates for the benefit of the local community. They are doing almost nothing to keep local people in the rural areas, and the countryside is being depopulated as the young head for the big cities and better opportunities south of the border. The Scottish Highlands should not be the playthings of wealthy businessmen, the nouveau riche, Arab sheiks or offshore corporations.
Maybe it is time to limit the size of landholdings that one individual can own, and ban corporate ownership altogether? Perhaps foreign ownership of rural land should also be banned, as it is in many other European countries? It is our view that the size of landholdings should be limited and agriculture once again encouraged where it is viable. We are also against corporate and foreign ownership of rural land in Scotland.
The winds of change are blowing across Scotland
Land reform in Scotland is beginning to happen at long last with the coming of a devolved Scottish parliament. There is now a sense of expectation in the air, a new broom to sweep clean.
Crofters are now able to buy their crofts on very favourable terms. The local community are also able to purchase land for use by the community. This is a very good start but much more needs to be done if land ownership in Scotland is to be spread more widely, and managed for the benefit of the Scottish people as a whole.
The new Land Reform (Scotland) Act of 2003 has certainly addressed many of the land access issues, giving Scottish people the right to roam in their own countryside. The big landowners may not like it, but they will just have to accept that they cannot have the sole access to 120,000 acres or more of Scottish countryside on their particular estate.
Some of the most virulent anti land access reactionaries are the new breed of landowner who have made their money in business, and now want to own vast tracts of Scotland for their own pleasure and use. They tend to treat the ordinary Scottish people like they do their employee's, as inferior beings to be dealt with in whatever way they see fit. Unfortunately for these reactionaries time has caught up with them, the time for 'improvement' in the Highlands has now come to an end.
A new way forward
In the main, the large traditional landowners have accepted these rights of the people, provided certain safety restrictions are in place during the sporting season. This is a very real advancement for the countryside and for people’s access to it. Some of these traditional landowners are the descendents of the great clearers of the 18th and 19th centuries, who removed the Gael from their ancestral lands. It is only fair that the Gael may roam those ancient lands freely once again.
The pace of land reform may well slow now, as there is no momentum for change from the urban conurbations of the Lowlands. The city dwellers of Glasgow and Edinburgh do not see land reform in the Highlands as a pressing matter of concern to them. However, the Highlands are the lungs of Scotland, they are one of Europe’s last truly wild places and a vital recreational resource for coming generations of Scots.
It is so important that effective changes are made now, so that we can leave a wonderful legacy to these future generations. It is vitally important that they can enjoy the beauty and fresh air of the Highlands, as their natural birthright and as part of being a citizen of Scotland.
©Copyright - James of Glencarr