A recently released report commissioned by the Scottish Government recommends passage of laws limiting private ownership of land.
On September 18, Scots will go to the polls to determine whether their homeland will become an independent country or remain a part of the United Kingdom. The implications of this historic referendum have dominated the press in Scotland, in England, and throughout the European Union to such an extent that other political activity emanating from Edinburgh has been largely overshadowed, including a recently completed report called The Land of Scotland and the Common Good. Commissioned in 2012 by the Scottish Government, the 263-page study, which is available here, contains an ominous recommendation, one that runs counter to the protections of the Magna Carta:
“The Review Group considers that there should be an upper limit on the total amount of land in Scotland that can be held by a private landowner or single beneficial interest. The Group recommends that the Scottish Government should develop proposals to establish such a limit in law.”
Response to this scheme was roundly criticized by leading Conservatives. Upon publication, Scottish Tory Rural Affairs Spokesman Alex Fergusson MSP fired back, saying, “The recommendations that there should be a limit on how much land anyone can own coupled with the suggestion of a land tax will strike fear in the heart of every single land owning Scot, whether they own 10 acres or 10,000.”
Set on more than 49,000 acres, the Royal Family’s Scottish holiday home – Balmoral – is a landmark holding and would not be affected by the recommendations of the Review Group.
Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners throughout Scotland, issued a statement saying that the report “missed the opportunity to deliver constructive land reform and fails to address the real challenges facing rural Scotland. Instead, the report appears based on a bias against private landownership and makes a series of unfounded recommendations that will create more publicly funded bodies, increase bureaucracy and place an even heavier burden on the public purse.”
“The recommendations that there should be a limit on how much land anyone can own coupled with the suggestion of a land tax will strike fear in the heart of every single land owning Scot, whether they own 10 acres or 10,000.”
In the same press release, the group’s CEO, Douglas McAdam, said, “This report is extremely disappointing in that it does not reflect the very substantial social, economic and environmental contribution made to Scotland by private landownership of all scales – something that successive Scottish administrations have recognised. Instead, the report contains a very negative view of landowners despite the fact that in its first report the Review Group acknowledged and highlighted quite fully the very constructive work private landowners were engaged in.”
In the report’s foreword, Scottish Environment and Climate Change Minister Paul Wheelhouse singled out “the relationship between the land and the people of Scotland.” He cited this bond as “fundamental to the wellbeing, economic success, environmental sustainability and social justice of Scotland and her communities.
With regard to the more controversial recommendations in the report itself, the Minister struck a more muted tone. He promised to study it. Said Wheelhouse, “I am sure it will contain recommendations we agree with and some we do not, but I welcome the overall vision and proposed direction of travel.”