Photo: Roxburghe Estate Photo reference Library


Yesterday in Parliament there was a debate on land reform (Official Report here and watch here) initiated by the Labour Party. Congratulations to them for doing so. Eighty years ago, in 1923, when Labour was elected to government for the first time ever, their manifesto contained a section on the land.

The Land

The Labour Party proposes to restore to the people their lost rights in the Land, including Minerals, and to that end will work for re-equipping the Land Valuation Department, securing to the community the economic rent of land, and facilitating the acquisition of land for public use.

We are still waiting.

The day before, there was an announcement that the Duke of Roxburghe (pictured above), the owner of 55,136 acres of land (some of which is held in trusts in the Bahamas), had agreed to lease 2 of them to the people of Kelso for a period of ten years to use for allotments. The Head of the Scottish Government’s Food, Drink and Rural Communities Division attended the opening ceremony and Paul Wheelhouse, the Environment and Climate Change Minister provided warm endorsement.

Quite why a 2 acre cabbage patch should attract such attention from Government Ministers and officials is a mystery. I can’t quite imagine other Cabinet Ministers in the UK, Denmark or Germany getting quite so excited. But this modest redistribution of land for 10 years sums up the land reforming ambitions of this Government quite well.

In the debate yesterday there were some interesting contributions from MSPs with Claire Baker and Patrick Harvie standing out for their clear and focussed speeches. It was left to Mr Wheelhouse to try and breathe some life into the dying corpse that is the Land Reform Review Group (it’s membership will increase from 3 to 5). I would rather have seen it wound up, given a clearer, unambiguous remit and a membership of people with a background, understanding and commitment to land reform. It is to bumble onwards though.

In 1999, out of frustration at what I then considered (but now look back on with fondness) to be Labour’s timidity on the land question, I wrote a short book called Scotland. Land & Power: the agenda for land reform. I have several copies left if anyone wants one free of charge.

Much of what I wrote then could be reproduced today and still be relevant but one passage caught my eye as I skimmed through the pages. I quoted Jim Hunter, whose intervention on Monday was noted in Parliament yesterday. In a conference on land reform in 1998 he said that,

The process on which we are embarking could, if we make it so, be far-reaching in its implications … It could certainly result in very basic alterations in the current pattern of ownership and control [of land].”

I then proceeded to argue that whether or not such alterations were well in hand by the end of the first or even the second or third terms of a Scottish Parliament was open to doubt.

As it happens I was proved right. Such alterations are not well in hand. Nor do they look as though they will be anytime soon.

The land reform debate is over for the moment. What we now have until April 2014 is a debate about community ownership.

Now, I don’t so much mind about that (it is an important topic) if in fact that was what Scottish Ministers always intended. It’s just that it would have been more honest of them never to pretend that this was going to be about land reform.


The title for this blog post is taken from the Land Restoration League Manifesto.


  1. Reiner Luyken

    Don’t you think your headline is slightly out of kilter with the realities of 2013? Or is it the dictatorship of the proletariat you are after?

    • He wants half of Scotland to not be owned by about 600 people. Which is out of kilter with just about everything of 2013.

  2. I have been reading recent reports about the behavior of some landlords to their rural Tenants…..absolutely disgusting and feudal behavior. The ill-treatment and exploitation of Tenants is endemic, and appalling. As an interim step, what is needed is a proper land tribunal, with legal teeth, that can adjudicate in farm tenancy agreement disputes. No tenant dares to go to Court and challenge a large landlord, who will arrive with a powerful and expensive legal team. Sheer intimidation. They need to have power to vary contracts that are unfair, give secure tenancy orders, order repairs, etc, and impose fines on bad landlords…….(who routinely violate the Housing Acts). None of this will happen, of course. It’s just a tiny bit too close to social Justice, for the increasingly socially conservative politicians in power right now.

  3. I know Reiner. I said a land tribunal with teeth. Not rubber ones.
    If the Court, and the associated land tribunal are so wonderful, why are the appalling conditions of the Tenant farmers allowed to continue. The legal costs of the Court would bankrupt anyone but a Millionaire. No tenant dare challenge a millionaire land owner in it. They would be ruined. I want a proper reform and a proper Tribunal….where acess for ordinary people does not start in the thousands of pounds region.

  4. I would like to draw attention to:

    and to quote:
    The inequality of late 19th century land ownership is best articulated by the statistic that 800 families owned 50% of the land. Ireland’s overall population stood at around 5,000,000 in 1879, the vast majority of whom lived in the country as tenants on small plots rented from the landlords.

    strange how history repeats itself.
    same population as modern Scotland, same land ownership monopoly. Scotland is a mere 130 years out of date, so obviously not a priority for the politicians.

  5. After seeing the wonderful photograph posted here of His Grand Highness the Duke of Roxburghe, and family, I am speechless. I can only say: “God Save the Czar”.

  6. “the vast majority of whom lived in the country as tenants on small plots rented from the landlords.” I can’t see the vast majority of 21st century Scots thanking you for forcing them out into the country to live on small plots whether tenanted or owned. You need to get out and commune with a broader audience, in particular, speak to MORE Scottish tenants and crofters. Your posts indicate that much of your commenting is shackled in the mire of history. Of course there are still cases of bad practice today, sadly there probably always will be, but ALL minds are certainly focussed on stamping that out and looking forward to new solutions. However, I doubt your extreme solutions would be universally welcomed in a 21st Century Scotland.

    • The need and intention is to not force,( the mentality of the feudal supremacist) , but to encourage and facilitate those who wish to, to take up the option of small-medium sized holdings. In thar context the primary strategic approach should be based on the collection of societally created Land Rental Values.

  7. hebrideanfarmer

    Yes they would !
    Well done Graham for speaking up. There is a raft of tenants out there who are just waiting for the chance to tell the truth about how they feel about the tenant landlord relationship. Last year there was a tenants’ survey on a west coast island that showed exactly the situation. The NFU commissioned that survey, and said they would roll it out over other areas. Due to the result of the survey, and the relationship with the landowners, not another survey was sent out, because the result just didn’t suit them.
    Then we hear just the sort of stuff above, about how everything is wonderful. Perhaps DT would like to get out and commune with a broader audience indeed, perhaps the tenants on the west of Scotland ?

  8. Allegations without evidence and facts are very unhelpful to our sector. Scottish Land & Estates will investigate any complaints of bad practice between landlord and tenant – both sides. STFA, NFUS and indeed some MSPs have raised concerns on specific cases with us in the past. We always look into such cases diligently and report back on the facts to the party that has raised them. Not surprisingly when both sides of the story are heard things are not often as reported initially and that is the end of the matter. Being realistic things will not be perfect all the time and some people will just never get on – that is life and to do with personalities not the system. Also there are bad apples, but they can be on both sides. So enough of the unevidenced rhetoric, if someone has an issue please bring it to SLE and we will look into it, indeed via your MSP if that is easier.

  9. “The enemy is […] the Parliament which makes and maintains iniquitous laws”

    The most iniquitous laws don’t seem to need any maintenance; they persist because most people don’t question them. Why is there so much focus on landlord/tenant relationships, and so little on the processes which give the landlords ownership in the first place?

    I’ve been saying for a couple of years that before a right to land can be established, we need to clarify the purpose of inheritance law (I’m in England but I imagine that’s equally true in Scotland). It seems to me that landowners’ power to bequeath land is really a responsibility that the state delegates to them, rather than a privilege it grants them, and it’s only an accident of history that the courts treat it as a privilege. I can’t think of any reasonable defence of it, either as a matter of principle or historically.

    That shift of perspective wouldn’t change anything directly, but it would fundamentally alter the dynamics of the situation. My feeling is that it would lead to a transformation over the next fifteen or twenty years. But what hope is there of bringing about a change like that when so many people, even among reformers, seem to accept current patterns of ownership as immutable?

  10. hebrideanfarmer

    The Napier commission was set up in 1886 and insisted that factors would give a written guarantee that they would not persecute crofters/tenants. Nearly 130 years later, it’s interesting to note that landowning groups are still unwilling to sign up to an arbitrary code of conduct.
    Tenants have a new sense of empowerment now, and are slowly being able to stand up to the feudal system (yes it DOES still exist!)
    Standing up for justice does not make us a bad apple.
    Plenty evidence was submitted into the LRRG and RACCE committees. Some have acted on that evidence a little more than the other.

  11. Take a look at:

    for a typical example of persecution by Feudal Relics…….
    All over the Western Highlands, as Hebridean Farmer has said, there is similar persecution. When police are called, victims are told: “It is an estate matter”……..unbelievable.

    Refute this please Me McAdam, before you bluster about the wonderful estate owners.
    I think the time has come forr land campaigners to show some practical solidarity with these Victims. The most powerful weapon to do this is demonstrations, in the eyes of a TV crew, and in the other media. Take heed, people will eventually say: “Enough is enough”

    • Refute what – emotive rhetoric? Clearly I cannot comment on cases where I have not been given the evidence and facts, but tenancies ending as per the terms of the agreement are not “evictions” and we have clear evidence that tenancies are not routinely being ended and land continues to be let across Scotland. As I have clearly stated, if there is evidence of bad practice then we need to hear the facts and we will investigate. Also the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), as the professional body for land agents, has a robust professional standards policy and process. If there is any question of unprofessional or bad conduct by professional land agents then this can be reported to the RICS to investigate. Tenants, Secure 91 Act and others, all have protection in law as per the legislation and the terms of their leases and the picture you paint just does not stand scrutiny.

  12. Hebrideanfarmer, can you please contact me via my facebook page? Thanks

  13. hebrideanfarmer

    DMcA , your group is of no consequence to me.
    I shall, and have submitted evidence to whomever I see fit.

  14. Robbie Pennington

    I see the SL&E trolls are out again. There’s clearly a need for the landed and their lackeys to get proper jobs, rather than live on benefits 😉

    • the main ‘benefit’ of course being the Land Rental Value they are sponging off the rest of us who created it.

  15. Hebridean Farmer, you are misinformed, the NFUS survey was indeed rolled out across ALL the Scottish NFUS Regions including my own Forth & Clyde Region who’s excellent Chairman is himself a tenant as are many other members of that Board. Each Region was asked to set up a Tenants Group specifically to collect information and gather evidence on any tenancy issues they may have. This was in addition to the existing work of the NFUS Tenants Working Group and was done in response to “outside accusations” that NFUS were not truly representing the views of their tenant members. It was made clear that without FACTS tenants would struggle to build a case. The setting up of these groups was an attempt to allow sharing of concerns in an atmosphere without fear of repercussions. NFUS did a really good job which was appreciated by their tenant members. Any suggestion that this was not a wholly democratic bottom up process would be refuted by all those tenant members who took the time to meet and share issues. Although previously a tenant, now an owner occupier, I was naturally not involved or privy to any of the Tenants Group discussions.

  16. Andrew BruceWootton

    Where real cases exist of one party or the other trying to push their hand then the industry on both sides need to step in as DMcC has suggested. There are a few tenants and landlords out there who chance their arm but that does not taint the majority who are trying their best to get on with each other and with their respective businesses. Let farming is an important part of our agricultural sector and we need to protect it by making sure the impact of the few does not ripple out to the many. The TFF have recently developed ways to help prevent discord and are now developing ways to affordably resolve disputes when they do come up; available to both tenant and landlord.
    Most agents and solicitors advising the tenants and landlords who are causing these isolated incidents will have professional regulation to think about and those who consider they are acting unprofessionally can pull those strings too.
    Anyone who is honestly committed to the health of the farming sector will support this work and put their backs behind it and not the politically charged attacks on landlords per se, based on isolated incidents which are used to define the whole sector.

  17. hebrideanfarmer

    I am referring to the Isle of Bute survey. Remember ? …… 12 months ago ? …. the one that NFU showed to the landowners group first, even before the tenants or the RACCE committee knew the result ! It specifically questioned tenant landlord relationships. That is the one that showed that the majority of the tenants were dissatisfied with their relationship with their landlord. That same survey was to be rolled out by the NFU, especially in hot spots. It never saw the light of day again.

  18. Why is this ’emotive rhetoric” when the lairds themselves never bother to see for their own eyes the conditions their tenants are expected to live in?
    I fail to think of a single reason why tenants should trust the TFF to sort out ongoing issues. Trust must be earned and our family plus many others in a similar situation have only been shown an arrogant dismissal when we have asked for help.

  19. Yet another letter on the potential of Land Rental Value in the Herald today, this being the 5th in recent days in the two main Scottish broadsheets on this and related topics. Plenty of opportunity to expand the debate from here to a specialised audience already land-matters-aware, to the more general public who are the main victims of land-monopoly capitalism at present.

  20. Andrew BruceWootton

    hebrideanfarmer that’s a shame if the process for the Bute survey went wrong but from what I hear, the relationship between tenants and landlords within that region is better now because of the intervention that survey provoked. Which just shows the benefit of jaw over war.

  21. hebrideanfarmer

    Yes, your’re probably right , I’m sure things have calmed down a lot on Bute, thanks to the fators being able to highlight and question the future of short term tenancies !