Professor Jim Hunter, Highland historian and former chair of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, was a member of the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Review Group until early April 2013 when he left the group for personal reasons. On Monday 3 June 2013, Jim Hunter was asked by The Herald to comment on the possibility of the Review Group being restructured. The resulting Herald item was published today.

 A fuller 8 page commentary is available here.

Jim Hunter’s full statement to The Herald was as follows:

“If the Scottish Government are serious about land reform, Ministers and the government machine more generally must be involved directly in the work of the group.

“The relevant Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead, should himself chair regular meetings of the group and its advisers. And the group should include senior civil servants with expertise in shaping legislation. This would be to follow the highly productive precedent of the 1997 Land Reform Policy Group which paved the way for the Land Reform Act of 2003.

“The Government should commit right now to legislating in 2014-15 on community land ownership. What needs to be done in this area is clear from lots of evidence already available to the LRRG. The process of getting land into community hands needs to be simpler. And there have to be powers – of the sort to which Johann Lamont has committed the Labour Party – to ensure that moves to community ownership can’t be blocked by existing landlords.

“Beyond that, Government needs to tell the group to explore how council tax and business rates might be replaced by a land value tax – something the Scottish Parliament could introduce with existing powers. Such a reform would benefit Scots right across the board by reducing greatly the cost of land for housing and other development.

“And the Scottish Government has to get serious about giving tenant farmers a right to buy their farms. That’s been basic to land reform all across Europe. Danish farmers got a right to buy more than 200 years ago, Irish farmers more than 100 years ago. How much longer are Scottish tenant farmers to be denied a similar right?

“The SNP Government says over and over again that it’s committed to social justice. But there’s precious little that’s socially just about a Scotland where fewer than a thousand people own more than half the country and where tenant farmers, as the LRRG have discovered, are frightened to speak out for fear of repercussions from their lairds.

“Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said recently of Denmark that ‘it gives us a glimpse of the kind of country we might be’. Well, if she and her colleagues truly want Scotland to be more like Denmark, a country where big estates were long ago confined to history books, then land reform is where they need to start.

“As it is, we’re now six years into an SNP Government which has so far done absolutely nothing legislatively about the fact that Scotland continues to be stuck with the most concentrated, most inequitable, most unreformed and most undemocratic land ownership system in the entire developed world.”


  1. You do not need to touch ownership. In fact you could use the monarchy as it was originally meant. The monarchs collect the rent and hand it over to their majesties’ parliament. Then there is no need for tax.

    • This is insight. Thanks for this comment. I’m an advocate of LVT but I was reading this, thinking “I’d rather the Monach cared for the land, as she does now, rather than have her hand it over to private interests and have to watch them exploit it.” I did not know the monarch is traditionally supposed to collect rent in the way you describe. May I ask if you have any recommended reading in this area? PM if you prefer! Thanks again for recovering this bit of the puzzle for me.

      • I can not think of any reading but it is the basic concept behind the feudal system as a chain of rights and duties from the monarch down. It broke down because the knightly class preserved their rights and shrugged off their duties. In England it seems to have begun with King John and Magna Carta. Under the Anglo-Saxon system, the king HELD the land on behalf of all the people. After the Conquest this was changed to feudal OWNERSHIP and everyone below the monarch held the land from the monarch, in return for providing services to the monarch. The Domesday survey was a land value tax survey.

  2. Alastair McIntosh

    Deep respect to Jim Hunter for having had the courage to speak out on this. It cannot have been comfortable for him. His less-well-known and out-of-print book, “The Other Side of Sorrow”, is, in my view, possibly the most important book ever written on land and the human psyche in Scotland. I see that on Amazon a new copy costs £530.73 (yes!), but used copies start at £16, and it is high time it was reprinted or made available in e-format.

    • Watch this space. I think plans are afoot to re-publish Sorrow.

    • Reiner Luyken

      Courage? Why courage? It’s a very common view.

      • It may be a common view but it requires courage to speak out about landed power. Not so much courage perhaps for the likes of myself and Professor Hunter but a huge amount for those who, as the LRRG itself noted are “fearful of speaking at open meetings, or even of putting their concerns on paper, because of possible recriminations should their landlord hear they were expressing these views in public.”

        This might not be easy to see Reiner as I know you have taken a dim view of those who have struggled against the odds in the past as this article The Lie of the Land reveals.

        • Reiner Luyken

          Dear admin, just for your information, the Scottish Police has recently forced somebody to remove the above link because it contains a passage that is deemed to be racist (I would prefere the term ethnically stereotyping).

          • Goodness me. What powers do police have to “force” anyone to do such a thing? I thought that was a job for the Courts?

    • The deep rooted burning injustice, that has smouldered for centuries, of the Highland Clearances in Scotland and the Enclosures in England Mr Luyken does not understand. The injustice is felt more in Scotland.

  3. Reiner Luyken

    It would be interesting to know how the Professor backs up his claim that Scotland continues to be stuck with the most concentrated, most inequitable, most unreformed and most undemocratic land ownership system in the entire developed world. Are the farming areas in Wyoming, New Mexico etc. more equitable and democratic (whatever “democratic landownership may mean) with one single landholding of 2,2 million acres, an area nearly as large as the whole of Ross & Cromarty, and many more in the 300.000 to 500.000 acre range? Does he think the grain farmers of Iowa would take kindly to urbanites trudging over their vast acreages that they work with machines nearly the size of a Highland croft? Even before the right to roam legislation, he would have been hard pushed to find many places in Europe where there was more freedom of movement than in the Scottish Highlands!

    • “Does he think the grain farmers of Iowa would take kindly to urbanites trudging over their vast acreages that they work with machines nearly the size of a Highland croft?”

      The farmer with crops on his farm would not like that in the UK either. But as lots of the UK is grazing land, there are no crops to trample on grazing land.

      “whatever “democratic landownership may mean”

      I see the land the Lairds occupy was not gained by them in a democratic system.

    • Unlike the USA, the UK has over 60 million people in 60 million acres. One person in one acre. Approx one acre each. The USA has 0.13 people in one acre. That is 7.32 acres per person.

  4. I’ve always had immense respect for Jim Hunter but I’m not sure this episode casts him in a very favourable light.

    I don’t know much about the protocols for such things but I would have thought that, if he had issues with the set up of the process, the more honourable thing to have done would be to decline the invitation to join. If, having joined nevertheless, presumably in the expectation he could have turned it round from within, he failed to do that, then I should have thought the more honourable thing to do would be stay the course and write a dissenting minority report. As it is, though, he just looks like someone who’s thrown his toys out the pram for not having got his way. If he had to resign from the LRRG for personal reasons, then he should have saved his thoughts up for his memoirs 20 years from now when the dust has settled instead of walking out and immediately p*ssing inwards. Thus I agree with Andy on one thing – it’s ridiculous to talk about JH having had “the courage” to speak out. I’m disappointed in him over this …

    And finally, what’s the point of remitting to a group if the government chairs it, tells it what to do and commits to legislating on its remit?

  5. Reiner Luyken

    Admin is obviously too preoccupied with his land agitation to have had a chance to keep up with the development of equality policies since 1999.

  6. hebrideanfarmer

    Well done Prof Hunter, at least someone understands the problem with Scotland landownership pattern.
    Interesting to read so many thoughts on the LRRG interim report. However, we are still to hear what the Government’s views are on this report. Has it met their remit? Was it radical and far reaching?
    Will it fulfill their objectives of addressing the concentrated pattern of land ownership in Scotland?
    We wait with bated breath !

    • I think we will learn of their response by the end of the week. There is a debate on the topic tomorrow afternoon in Parliament and Alex Salmond is giving a speech to Community Land Scotland conference in Skye on Friday. Dont hold your breath though!

  7. Did you have permission to use this copyrighted image? You have failed to credit the photographer. We don’t work for biscuits you know.

    • You are right. I have contacted the photographer and will remove it if he does not consent to its use.

  8. What on earth has wyoming got to do with it, it is hardly in the developed world.?
    Prof Hunter has shown great courage in dissenting from the view of the LRRG. Scotland is still a feudal society, where rural people have to watch their step if they want to retain their farm/house/job. They certainly cannot speak openly at meetings on land reform.
    I believed i was voting for land reform by voting snp since 2003, but it seems i was wrong.

  9. “Half of Scotland is owned by 608 people”

    Land and the UK…

    * The UK has 60 million acres of land in total

    * 70% of the land is owned by 0.6% of the population.

    * Just 6,000 or so landowners – mostly aristocrats, but also large institutions and the Crown – own about 40 million acres, two thirds of the UK.

    * Britain’s top 20 landowning families have bought or inherited an area big enough to swallow up the entire counties of Kent, Essex and Bedfordshire, with more to spare.

    * Big landowners measure their holdings by the square mile; the average Briton living in a privately owned property has to exist on 340 square yards.

    * A building plot, the land, now constitutes between half to two- thirds of the cost of a new house.

    * 60 million people live in 24 million “dwellings”.

    * These 24 million dwellings sit on approx’ 4.4 million acres (7.7% of the land).

    * 19 million privately owned homes, inc gardens, sit on 5.8% of the land.

    * Average dwelling houses has 2.4 people.

    * 77% of the population of 60 million live on only 5.8% of the land, about 3.5 million acres (total 60 million).

    * Agriculture only accounts for 3% of the economy at most.

    * Average density of people on one residential acre is 12 to 13.

    * 10.9 million homes carries a mortgage of some kind.

    * Average value of an acre of development land is £404,000. High in south east of £704,154, low in north east of £226,624. London is in a category of its own.

    * Of the world’s 15 most expensive prime commercial property locations, five are in England.

    * London West End occupation costs per square foot are the most expensive in the world. They are around 40 per cent more than any other city in the world, and double that of Paris, the next most expensive European city.

    * Prime site occupation costs in Manchester and Leeds are more expensive than mid-town Manhattan.

    * Reservations of land have been placed by builders to a value of 37 billion to build the 3-4 million homes required. The land reserved is almost wholly owned by aristocrats; with none of it on the land registry. This land is coming out of subsidised rural estates, land held by off-shore trusts and companies and effectively untaxed.

    * Tony Blair ejected from the House of Lords 66 hereditary peers, who between them owned the equivalent of 4.5 average sized English counties.

  10. You said “Reservations of land have been placed by builders to a value of 37 billion to build the 3-4 million homes required. The land reserved is almost wholly owned by aristocrats; … This land is coming out of subsidised rural estates, land held by off-shore trusts and companies …”

    There seems to be a contradiction there. Is the land owned by “aristocrats” or “off-shore trusts and companies”?

    • Many of the large hereditary estates have been vested in trusts to avoid IHT and the assets held by private companies. There is no contradiction.

  11. The answer is not to set up “Community Land Companies” which then act as instrumenst for colonisation by the middle classes from the South ! We have seen this in at least one island where local involvement is minimal !

    • Reiner Luyken

      Not just one island community – I fully agree, Hamish. There seem to be a lot of people participating in this blog who don’t know what’s happening on the ground.

  12. Well done Jim, I thoroughly agree with your comments. You have not only spent years working in issues related to land ownership and management, and therefore have direct experience not simply gained from summer holidays, but also you took the opportunity to work with the the Review Group to try to move things forward. Sadly without success. The argument used to be that used to be that “the community would not be able to manage land” and that community ownership was “too complex” to work, but with the successes of a growing number of Community Land Trusts these lies have been exposed. As has been said, there is already a vast amount of evidence gathered in support of radical reform, and any politician, whether ‘radical’ or not, should surely be questioned closely on their views as the Scottish political campaign hots up.

  13. Paul Cochrane

    Instead of defending vested interests, could landowners explain how they came to own their land? Was it through feudalism, snaring common good land or graft?

  14. I’d guess the overwhelming majority of them bought it.

    • Land in the Scottish Highlands was originally held from the Crown in a shared arrangement by the clan. The clan chiefs grabbed it after the 1745 rebellion and kicked of the rest of the inhabitants in the period of the clearances in the third quarter of the nineteenth centry. They were deported to Nova Scotia. The transfer was not a purchase.

      • But what proportion of land in Scotland is still held by clan chiefs?

        Farquharson of Invercauld – 121,000 acres
        Countess of Sutherland – 83,000 acres
        Duke of Argyll – 61,000 acres
        Cameron of Lochiel – 76,000 acres
        Macleod of Dunvegan – 31,000 acres
        Colquhoun of Luss – 50,000 acres
        Mackenzie of Gairloch – 57,000 acres
        Fraser of Lovat – 7,000 acres

        Total – 486,000 acres

        Taking the Highlands to be the counties in which these estates lie (Aberdeen, Argyll, Dumbarton, Inverness, Perth, Ross & Cromarty & Sutherland), their total area is 10,972,000 acres so the proportion of that held by clan chiefs is 4.4%.

        I’d still guess that the overwheming majority of the other 95.6% was purchased.

        [If I’ve missed out any clan chiefs, let me know and I’ll alter the figures proportionately.]

  15. The more I hear, the more I realize that only practical action, social and political agitation, etc, will move the land question forwards. In my opinion, the large land owners are morally unfit to own the land, The damage they have done, environmentally, and socially, are simply beyond belief. There were a million more Scots living in Rural areas 150 years ago. What happened to them?…….grim. It’s called social and cultural genocide. Thats why the rural areas are heavily under populated today. The land owners refuse to accept any social and ecological responsibilities for their behavior. So time for an effective Land League, which can have some impact. I am tired of reading research papers, that then, excellent though they are, result in no one taking any action…..some symbolic public protests, would be a start…….

  16. Of course some of the clan chiefs have sold on their ill-gotten gains, but that does not change the underlying situation. Buying stolen goods does not nullify the original crime.

    You could, incidentally, add in the Duke of Buccleigh for good measure, though not technically a clan chief.

    But really, area is not as important as value. It is all in Kevin Cahill’s book. Very different from Sweden where the king took the most of the land off the aristocracy in the late 1680s in the Reductions, and turned the country into a nation of small-scale farmers. Britain needs its own Reduction.

  17. Reiner Luyken

    Between 1820 and 1930, approximately 1.3 million Swedes, a third of the country’s population, emigrated to North America. About 85% of the population live in urban areas. Agriculture accounts for 1.8 percent of the Swedish economy.

    • so is there a group of 608 private landowners owning 50% of the country or are there thousands of people in rural areas owning land?

  18. Sweden had the Potato Famine. Unlike during the Irish one, the country was not exporting food at the same time. However, rural land ownership in Skåne and Halland, the most fertile parts of the country, remains concentrated,

    • Reiner Luyken

      I’d be more interested to hear from Andy Wightman how much money Anders Holch Povlsen received in subsidies for native wood planting, environmental schemes, single farm payments etc. for his Scottish estates.

    • into how many dozens, scores, hundreds or is it thousands of outright private landowners?

  19. Pingback: The enemy is the landlord, the agent, the capitalist and the Parliament which makes and maintains iniquitous laws | Land Matters

  20. In an Independent Scotland, of vital importance is to have a law that enforces prohibition of Non residents and foreign corporations owning land……..simple.

    • How would that work with a, say, Norwegian oil company looking for premises in Aberdeen in connection with its operations in the Scottish sector of the North Sea?

    • The nationality of the owner does not make a ha’porth of difference. The important thing is that the rent of land should not be privately appropriated. By anyone. It should be collected by government and used as the main source of public revenue. If anything is left over, it should be distributed.

  21. So a Norwegian oil company would be allowed to own premises in Aberdeen, yes?

  22. The nationality of the land owner is irrelevant. The important point is that most of the rental value of all land should be collected and used as the principal source of public revenue. It then becomes possible to get rid of that shameful and immoral system which robs the labourer ie everyone who works for a living – of the fruits of their labour.

    The rental value of land arises solely as a result of the presence and activities of the community. The private appropriation of that value is a second robbery and is the reason why that robbery which passes as a tax system is necessary.