Following the publication of the Land Reform Review Group‘s final report in May, the Scottish Government has committed itself to the introduction of a Land Reform Bill in the current Parliament.

The report (hard copies of which are now available from the Scottish Government) provides an intellectually coherent framework for land reform designed to make the ownership of urban, rural and marine land and property serve the public interest and the common good through increased transparency, accountability and democracy.

The Land Reform Bill provides an opportunity to implement some of the specific recommendations in the report and to put in place a statutory enabling framework that will enable key reforms to be taken forward in future.

What I am presenting here is merely an outline of what the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill 2015 should look like. A key consideration in deciding what might be included is the time necessary to develop detailed proposals. Some of the Review Group’s recommendations require significant further work before any legislation can be drafted.

In addition, some measures will be the subject of separate legislation including agricultural tenancies, housing, succession and wild fisheries and are thus not included here. Finally, it should be noted that much of the land reform agenda does not require legislation (at least in the short-term). Future blogs will flesh out the detail behind some of these proposals.

Chapter 1 Land Information, Valuation and Registration

1. Establish a national land information system providing open and transparent data on the ownership, value and use of every parcel of land in urban and rural Scotland. Such a system will pull together data currently held and administered in separate places such as the Scottish Assessor, Registers of Scotland, Historic Scotland, Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and local authorities.

2.Update the data held by the Scottish Assessor to include site values and improvement values for all domestic and non-domestic land and property in Scotland. This should include all land that is currently not included on the valuation roll such as agricultural and forestry land. Bill should make provision for a mandatory annual valuation of all entries. Any reform of council tax and non-domestic rates or introduction of a new system such as land value taxation will require up-to-date valuations for all land both to inform policy and to provide transparency on who pays and who might be exempt. Even if exemptions continue or rebates are given, a universal valuation will enable policy-makers and the public to assess the cost of any such measures.

3. Introduce a protective order mechanism as an amendment to the Land Registration etc. (Scotland) Act 2012 to allow the public to register areas of common land and prevent them from being “land-grabbed”.

4. Make it incompetent for any legal person not incorporated within the jurisdiction of an EU member state to register title to land in the Register of Sasines or Land Register.

Chapter 2 National Land Policy

1. Provide a statutory basis for a National Land Policy taking full account of international best practice.

Chapter 3 Compulsory Sale and pre-emption

1. Introduce a new power of compulsory sale to address the persistent challenge of vacant and derelict land. Unlike the power of compulsory purchase, a compulsory sale order would compel a landowner to sell land to a third party in circumstances where land is not being used.

2. Introduce a right of pre-emption over land to be exercised by the Scottish Government, its agencies and local authorities where this is in the public interest.

Chapter 4 Community Land Rights

1. Establish a Community Land Agency with a range of powers to facilitate negotiation between communities and landowners and to promote, support and deliver a significant increase in local community landownership.

2. Introduce new community land rights as outlined in Figure 17 of the Report.

Chapter 5 Common Good

1. Further to proposals already included in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill, introduce a statutory definition of common good, a statutory right for communities to manage their own common good fund and a statutory right for communities in Scotland’s burghs to recover title to their common good assets.

Chapter 6 Crown Rights

1. Abolish all remaining Crown property rights in Scotland that are not currently administered by the Crown Estate Commissioners and replace them with appropriate statutory arrangements.

2. Nationalise the Crown’s property rights in the foreshore and seabed and set up a statutory framework for transferring rights as appropriate to local authorities and local communities.

Chapter 7 Land & Property Commission

1. Establish a Scottish Land and Property Commission to provide an ongoing focus on all aspects of Scotland’s system of landownership including the provision of advice and initiation of research, monitoring of public policy as it interacts with the system of land and property ownership and keeping under review the Scottish Government’s programme of land reform.

Chapter 8 Miscellaneous

1. Introduce a statutory right for the public to become members of charitable bodies that own substantial areas of land (such as on the Isle of Bute, Applecross and Atholl Estate).

2. Repeal the Division of Commonties Act 1695.

3. Provide a statutory basis for imposing a ceiling on the maximum extent of land that can be owned by any one beneficial interest. The precise nature of such a provision to be the subject of secondary legislation.

Guest Blog by Ruth Cape

Ruth works for Community Land Scotland although she writes here in a personal capacity. During the summer of 2009, she spent six weeks volunteering at the Tent of Nations farm in the West Bank, Palestine.

“We refuse to be enemies” is the sentiment upon which the Tent of Nations project in Palestine is built. Painted on a stone which greets every visitor to the Nassar family farm, where the project is based, the phrase encaptures the deep sense of humanity, resolution and faith which emanates from the 100 acres of land and the family who own it.

At 8am on Monday 19th May 2014, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) bulldozers arrived unannounced – presumably rolling past the Nassar’s defiant welcoming statement – and proceeded to destroy between 1,500 and 2,000 mature, fruit-bearing apricot trees, apple trees and grape vines in the lower valley of the farm.

Resting on a hill six miles southwest of Bethlehem in the Occupied Territories of Palestine (the West Bank), the Nassar family hold registration papers for this land dating back to the Ottoman Empire. For over 20 years now, the family have been fighting a legal battle to prove their ownership of the land. For over 20 years they have been challenged by knock-backs, obstacles and violent provocations. The attack at the beginning of last week comes while their latest case for proving ownership has been in the Israeli Military/Civil Courts since February 2013.

Image: The valley before and after the bulldozers arrived.

In 2001 the Nassars set up the Tent of Nations peace project on their farm; a project committed to building intercultural cooperation and understanding; to promoting dialogue and non-violence and to highlighting the connection between people and land. As a volunteer in 2009 (planting and harvesting many of the trees now destroyed), I was struck by the family’s steadfast resolve to remain on their farm despite the pressure to have it evacuated and claimed as Israeli State Land. I noted in a blog during my time there the “shuwe, shuwe” (“slowly, slowly”) attitude to the Nassar’s work; commenting that it “sums up their calm, thoughtful and sustained approach to dealing with an intense and emotional situation.” Such an approach couldn’t be more necessary now as they cope with this latest act of oppression; as ever – they are rising to the occasion with dignity and hope.

In addition to the destruction of the trees, the terraced land on which the trees were planted was also destroyed and left in a state of rubble which cannot currently be re-planted. Having generated income from the fruit of the mature trees, the family are faced with an attack on their livelihood as well as their property. As advised by their lawyer, the Nassars are now appealing for compensation; critically, they are also appealing to have the demolition orders which remain on the tents, compost toilets & other structures on the farm removed. They have asked for international awareness to be raised and for the international community to support their case and to understand that the injustices they face are representative of the oppression faced by the wider Palestinian population.

If you’d like to take action to support the Nassar family and hold the Israeli Military and Government to account for its actions, please write to your MP using this standard letter - doc and rtf.

See the Tent of Nations website Facebook and twitter for more information and updates.

 

Forty-one years ago today, the play that revitalised Scottish theatre had its first theatrical performance in public at Aberdeen Arts Centre on 24 April 1973.(1) Above is the BBC’s Play for Today version – a fascinating mix of live performance and documentary that ends with moving sequences on the impact of oil in Aberdeen and interviews with Texan oilmen, roustabouts and young folk made homeless by the price of houses.

Having spoken at two public showings of the film in the past two years, it is remarkable how the key theme of the play – control of natural resources – remains as vital and relevant today as it did when the 7:84 theatre company toured Scotland in the 1970s.

An account of the play and its significance can be found at the National Library of Scotland’s website here and this academic article in International Journal of Scottish Theatre provides much more detailed analysis of the play. On 26 January 2010, the National Library of Scotland hosted a discussion of the play which can be heard here.

Here’s what theatre writer and director Davey Anderson said about the play.

“I saw the Cheviot on my honeymoon. It was October 1973, we’d got married in my home town, Rutherglen, and decided to take a road-movie holiday, hippies that we were … 

“First stop Kyleakin, Skye. The gig – Kyleaking Village Hall. The Audience – the good people of Skye. The Performers – a bunch of folk who didn’t seem ready: five minutes to go and they were still setting costumes, tuning instruments and blethering with each other and the audience. 

“Where were the curtains, the hushed reverence, the dinner jackets, the blue rinses? 

“… That night in a community hall in Skye proved to me that theatre was far from dead, as I has assumed it to be. 

“All the mince in the West End, where the actors couldn’t even be arsed acknowledging the presence of the audience was forgotten. Here was theatre that spoke to you about your life, the important things, the daft things, the things that give you joy and the things you can change. The company were startling in their energy, anarchic versatility and joyous commitment.”

Time for a revival?

(1) It was first performed at the What Kind of Scotland Conference in Edinburgh in April 1973. Thanks to Rob Gibson MSP for that clarification – he was at both performances. Another informant tells me of an earlier performance at a conference of the same name but held in Callendar Park College of Education.