On 3 June this year, in response to a question from Ian Davidson MP, the Prime Minister David Cameron announced in the House of Commons that he would co-operate with the Scottish Affairs Committee in establishing who owns and controls the great landed estates in Scotland (see previous post for further details).

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the statement from the European Council and the Government, which says that proper information on “who really owns and controls each and every company” will be provided. Will the Government co-operate with the Scottish Affairs Committee in establishing who owns and controls the great landed estates in Scotland, in order that they can minimise both tax avoidance and subsidy milking?

The Prime MinisterThat is the intention of this move. Having all countries sign up to an action plan for putting together registers of beneficial ownership by companies and the rest of it will help tax authorities to make sure that people are paying tax appropriately. That is a debate that we are leading at the G8 and in the European Union, and that should apply—we hope—to every country.

Tarbert Estate on Jura is popularly believed to be owned by Mr Cameron’s stepfather-in-law, William Astor. In fact, it is owned by Ginge Manor Estates Ltd., a company registered at PMB 58, Nassau, Bahamas. [SEE UPDATE] The name is a bit of a giveaway – Ginge Manor is a manor house in Oxfordshire and the home of William Astor. Indeed it is where David Cameron married Samantha Gwendoline Sheffield on 1 June 1996.

Now, William Astor is a member of the House of Lords. He legislates on matters to do with tax and corporate affairs. So I was sure that he would declare his interests (if he had any) in his Jura estate. In the House of Lords Register of Lords’ Interests, he declares no interest in Tarbert Estate although he is a Partner in Tarbert Estate Partnership (farm and sporting).

I contacted the officials responsible for maintaining the Register to check that, in fact Mr Astor had no further interest in the estate. They said that the matter would be investigated. Meanwhile I emailed him directly and he replied that his children, Flora, William and James, owned the beneficial interest in the Bahamas company.

Now that he is spending some time on the island of Jura, Mr Cameron has the opportunity to do a little investigation for himself and confirm, as the EU Council proposes, who really owns and controls Ginge Manor Estate Ltd.  Given that he is renting property owned by a company in the Bahamas, he might also ensure that the company is following the rules of the HMRC Non-resident Landlord Scheme.

Other than that, I hope he and his family enjoy their holiday. Jura is a fine place.

UPDATE 3 February 2015

On 24 November 2014, ownership of the estate transferred to Altar Properties Ltd. in the British Virgin Islands.


  1. The Astor s made their fortune as slum landlords in New York city i believe.

    • Aye, perhaps and they probably made quite a whack out of societally created LRV in the process as the quality of the bricks and mortar on offer in slums is not high.

  2. I really wish I could have my paranoia back, life was simpler then. Maybe this is one of the great things about the internet, research and communication is easier.

  3. I wonder if this could have anything to do with Mr Cameron’s reluctance to allow the Scottish people control of their own affairs? After all would an independent Scotland with a democratically elected, fully accountable parliament allow the true ownership of land to be obscured in such a way? Surely not…

    • try asking the SNP to reveal the rather short list of names getting the vast bulk of CAP payments

      • SNP’s hands tied and you know that. ECHR ruling. Get that ruling changed and they can release information.

    • I am not so sure. The Scottish Government had scope to sort this out during the passage of the Land Registration etc.(Scotland) Act 2012 but chose not to.

      • Andy,
        You are being your usual polite self to a fault here. I consider the way the SNP Government have handled this specific issue is well within the umbrella of abrogation of policy and committment that has characterised their whole strategic approach to land reform since they came to power. In fact, I consider it a sheer, utter disgrace.

      • Can you provide more detail for the layman on how in the light of ECHR that would be possible. Openness and Transparency where EU public money is involved is a given. Why, how can ECHR over rule that?

      • They didn’t have scope to publish subsidies due to ECHR ruling which reversed the ruling from the Commission.

    • Margaret Gardiner

      Surely yes. I abhor the land ownership distribution in Scotland….around the world, actually. The right to use any bit of land belong to the people who need it to use it for producing a living for their family. Other than this, land should be publicly used.

  4. David Cameron must feel a bit uneasy about this set up. Especially when he goes up there to holiday. This estates must pay absolutely no tax back into the country, being off shore and sporting tax exempt. Residency requirement would help to discourage these people.

    • Slurry Stirrer.

      We also have to look at absentee ownership within our own citizenry. That anecdote I recounted, on the related thread, about the the Norwegian consul not being able to have another day’s fishing with me because he was legally bound to being on and working his farm for a statutory period, comes to mind.
      I think that the introduction of LRV would have massive impact on nondom ownership as I have said on another post, but you are correct in raising the non resident ownership problem. I don’t think Knight and Frank will have many 20,000 acre+ estates in Norway on their sales portfolio!
      BTW I gather from my Swedish friends that when Norwegians buy up Swedish farms ( the Swedes being in the EU cannot prevent foreign ownership of land) and treat them as second homes, in a way that they cannot do under Norwegian law, they can make a pretty lousy non resident owners!
      However in both countries, the national community owns its own national parks and the oxymoronic farce of ours being privately owned by non nationals, just does not occur.

  5. You could “pierce the erse oot o an auld tin can” Andy. Keep up the good work.

  6. With the collection of Land Rental Value as the basis of public revenue to REPLACE income tax etc, the nationality and nature of the owner of the deed title of the land will not matter. The ultimate sanction for persistent, deliberate and mischievous non payment of rent will be the same as it is for anyone else doing the same. Such a landowner will of course be due the full market value of his buildings and other improvements, less the cost of the rent due and the cost of taking legal action against the miscreant. The land of course cannot be hidden or transferred, With LRV we will get a very clear indication of those who need land and those who just want it. Nothing wrong with wanting it, as it’s just a matter of paying the LRV the rest of us who created its only value, to satisfy that want.

  7. hebrideanfarmer

    Money makes Money !
    And the rich get richer.
    What a scam this is, whilst we all pay our dues in tax, the landed elite manage to make the rules so that they can keep all their money tucked away and hidden from the tax man.
    It will be interesting to see how all this pans out, and how Cameron’s PR machine deals with it. Either way, he has a huge climb down to do.
    Will he be embarrassed that he is holidaying on his in-law’s estate , that’s registered in an offshore tax avoiding trust ? Let’s watch .

  8. Well indeed HF. What was that about death and taxes? However the rich have a much greater chance of avoiding the latter than most of us, mainly because they are well positioned to hire the services of tax avoidance consultants. One piece of advice given frequently is to become a ‘nondom’.
    Have you ever heard of a tax that cannot be avoided? Have you ever heard of a tax that encouraged work, production, sales and entrepreneurial flair? Have you ever had it explained to you what a fair % level of tax is and how that estimate of fairness was derived? Tax is just a 3 letter word for bad and constitutes de facto State robbery of individual and corporate labour.
    On the other hand the collection of 100% societally generated LRV is 100% fair, does not punish work, production, sales and flair and, since land cannot be hidden or moved to an external tax haven, 100% unavoidable.
    In respect of your last question, I would suspect that finding an embarrased politician will be nearly as difficult as finding an embarrassed lawyer.

  9. Ron, for your info, at an NFU meeting some months ago, the Lairds had their person propose that landlords get tax breaks/incentives to let more land. Shows how they think, just like they hate to fork out for repairs, they hate tax. i really fear that LRV alone is not enough, a combination with ARTB and community RTB.
    I wonder if Astor’s estate has any tenant farmers? would be good to know what subs they get and what they produce in the way of livestock? These facts could be very embarrassing for DC, some political points to be had for opposition. DC would need to handle with extreme care or his tory leadership could be over. ‘mysteriously gored by a stag on the paps of Jura’ !!

    • I am not surprised to hear what the lairds had proposed and we know that they hate tax, which is why they hire the tax avoidance consultants and/or ‘go nondom’. They will not be able to avoid LRV. I am unco swear of community buy outs, especially hostile compulsory ones and I can just see this resulting in a new multiply agenda-ed poltically incestuous, secretive, local ‘Mafiosi’ replacing the present one. The first thing to do is to empower individuals to function in new financially and politically empowered democratic local government structures.( eg like the Nordic/Continental models). In that multiply privately and locally occupied view of Burkelandsfjellet etc, ( did you have a look?), there are no quasi-kibbutzist oligarchs and we don’t need them either.

  10. I have been away from this site for a while, thinking through some fundamental issues re land. I am re-thinking entirely my thoughts on land reform. I think Land reform can only work if it is part of a much larger process. Clearly, land reform on its own, that merely concerns itself with land transfer of ownership, will not work. Transfer to who, and how, and from who?….”Land” in Scotland is an issue that ranges from small holdings and crofts, and even merges, at the tiny end, into the “Hutters”….but at the other end, to the vast, million acre anonymous offshore holdings that are hidden behind impenetrable walls of secrecy and tax avoidance. Somewhere in the middle, are the struggling farmers, trying to make an actual living. There is greater complexity to the whole issue than is obvious. Land reform must be structured. Land reform needs to be based on some agreed principles that are hammered out in wide-scale public debate and discussion, and supported by the general public. If all the land was redistributed tomorrow, without a careful plan and program, it would be a disaster. Distributed to who?…on what terms?….how?…..financed by what?….how would small and medium sized farmers fit into all this?….What about small forestry?…. My thinking was always that the general direction of any reform would have to be by reduction of the great “Million acre” holdings, into more manageable holdings, that would be able to be diverse, allowed to be so, and focussed on the type of farming/forestry required after any land reform. “The Greatest Good for the greatest number”. Best use of the land. family farms.ecological issues. Scale of farms to match the land quality, and also the needs of rural re-population and society. A tiered structure is required. How to create this without doing more harm?…..crucial to an efficient and sustainable countryside and a protected environment and ecology is going to be some serious joined up thinking, where the actual land purchase financial costs, structural costs, and development costs are going to have to come from some where. The costs of even small amounts of change are going to be huge. So a large part of the land debate should be focussed on who how what and where the cash is coming from, how it is spent, and how good farms and farmers can be supported. Without this, you just have a land grab, that clearly leads to disaster.Farming on any scale, from small to large, needs a stream of cash, not just fertiliser. Where is this to come from?…why is there no rural development “Green Bank” ?. Obviously, all this means a Governmental integrated plan, for land, farming, forestry, and ecology, and institutions like a Rural Green bank, “Buy-Out” finance, and a carefully structured program to support what is there already that is good, and works, and which should be copied. A huge problem is the state of rural Scottish society and community. Very good, and often wonderful, people, who do not have the practical and financial resources to cope with their existing problems. Also, they are let down by the lack of proper rural civil society and institutions, although clearly the SNP have done a great deal to start this one going and develop what is required. Once again, all this requires cash, so where is it going to come from?….I would advocate a hypothication of some of the oil cash, if and when Scotland gets it. Say 10% of it, a year. This would leverage say another 3 billion of investment into a Green/rural Bank. Also the social and community programs that will be needed to support a restructuring of Scottish rural economy. So the problem is vast. Theses are my new and very early thoughts, after some recent encounters with farmers struggling to keep afloat, and being told of rural businesses in the same predicament. Also it is clear that large scale “Free-market” corporate raiding is happening to rural Scotland. The buyouts, asset stripping, and “Creaming off” that is going on, on not just land, but rural businesses, is obviously causing great harm. Conveentional banks are alsso treating farmers very harshly. There is also the fundamental issue of new starter farms, price reform, and rural marketing problems. The World is crying out for food. Where to start?…..These thoughts and ideas are all very elementary for me at the moment, but I hope that the above gives some indications. Land reform has to move on from the principle to the practical. It has to stop being a demand and a theory and get onto the practicalities. No one will support a Land reform program that does not work, cannot work, as it does not do joined up thinking, and does not have a proper holistic approach to the whole giant problem. So OK. WHAT SHOULD A PROPER LAND REFORM PROGRAM LOOK LIKE?….Not much like the single issue debate that has gone on until now. We would all like to see real reform and progress in rural Scotland. It is not going to happen unless a realistic and credible program is put forwards that a majority of Scots can and will support. So, the longest journey begins with a single step. I would hope that we can start a commentary on here that will start that debate. Some very serious issues need to be discussed that have not been up and until now. Those who want land reform have a duty to make the case for the alternative…..and make it better than arguments for the existing system. COMMENTS PLEASE!.

    • Graham Ennis makes great sense here; without appropriate means of purchase new entrants need tenancies and some ARTB tenants would need bridging finance so ARTB might mean quick sales to better heeled neighbours/ investors resulting in less farmers & bigger businesses; needs to be paralleled with sympathetic banking, and above all and more important than removing all landlords, given that many are supporting communities or are genuine farmers, recycle profits & socially involved in community themselves what credentials should buyers and indeed occupiers have going forward, so we open up future land to those who will invest heart soul & labour into own enterprise & community. Incidentally any partnership or company, (and curiously individuals pre 2007) have their SFP details available on farmsubsidy.org, if you can’t get name try postcode, though this may be hard in Bahamas.

    • Good to see someone looking for fundamental reform and appreciating how complex it is.

      As long as land reform involves taking land away from people it is bound to be hugely difficult. But in many cases they only own it because we, as a society, have given it to them carelessly through inheritance laws which have never been properly reviewed – laws which were developed in a feudal society when land ownership was part of the machinery of government and maintaining a stratified society was a specific goal of the law. Why, now that equality before the law is recognised as a fundamental principle, does the law still give some people vast amounts of land simply because their parents owned it?

      • what makes you think that the machinery of government has changed that much?

        • Landowners used to be the only local authority there was – now the local authorities are elected. And government used to be paid for largely by land rents (which was almost certainly the original justification for them) – now it’s paid for by taxes.

          To my mind those are big enough changes that property laws which came into being under those earlier circumstances should be regarded as derelict. I treat it as a legal issue rather than a political one; as far as I’m concerned if the people who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the law don’t take steps to update derelict laws when they’re brought to their attention then they are guilty of negligence.

          But if everybody’s set on adding new layers of laws to sit on top of the existing ones, regardless of whether the old ones are fit for purpose, it’s no surprise that the legislators don’t try to tackle them. Why would they?

  11. The case has been made incessantly for at least 12 years that right to buy for tenants has to be a first step.
    Security of tenure and rent control for all tenants as well.
    Wider ownership should be seen as good for the environment, so the green bank should help fund it.

  12. I am heartened by the first response to my calling for a new holistic approach to this very large problem. Finance, and a rural/green bank, is at the heart of it.
    Buyouts are obvious, but need to be financed.
    A rural mortgage program is needed. Also a rural social housing program, that is going to need sliding in in a way that does not damage the rural landscape, but revives smal communities, without upsetting them.
    The list is endless.
    But restricting, as in Norway, rural land ownership to residents of Scotland, and insisting on all land ownership be registered here, would be a great start. No more tax-haven nonsense.
    I would venture that an overall integrated plan, put out to public discussion beforehand, and formed from careful research into what people actually living in the rural areas want, plus what the Government wants, is required.
    Working groups spring to mind, as do some funded research into the problem, that is much wider than just and reform. How does land reform fit into a rural Scottish society?. How can it be made fair, and how can everyone benefit from it?
    Is it worth holding, early next year, a land conference, where everyone can put their ideas, and everyone can have a good argument?……grass roots, I think they call this.
    The UN has a plan, at its FAO HQ in Rome, for this sort of holistic approach. It might well be adaptable for this. Comments?

    • Graham,

      Highland Forum organised such a Land and Community Conference at Drumossie in 1988. Some, indeed many, of the issues you bring forward were raised in discussion then. A Scottish Land Commission ( I was a member) was set up by the SNP and reported to it in 1997. Its report was accepted, but when in government the SNP took no action upon it and then set up the LRRG ( we have seen what happened to that recently) We have been here before Graham, as Andy, Jim Hunter, Drennan Watson, Frank Rennie, Angus McHattie, Vanessa Halhead, Robin Callendar, Derek Pretswell and myself can attest. Reforesting Scotland also organised a further study trip to Norway after the seminal one by Angus and myself in 1984. Here we are 20+ years later still discussing the same basic parameters. I can assure you we embraced a holistic approach, all the way from the soil -vegetation complex right through to human demographic structures. BUT, there was no political will to change anything and this current SNP government is in a state of regression over land reform, not progression.
      This has not been a single issue debate, but all the multiplicities and complexities downstream depend on going back to the source of all the other problems——LAND MONOPOLY.

      The start button for change has 3 letters on the face—L.R.V. Once this has been pushed, the engine for the changes you, and most of us who have been fighting for land reform for 20, 30 , 40 years and more, seek will have been started.

      • Some extracts from the Drumossie Conference.

        Economic activity—Iain Clark.

        Land use integration— John Humbrey

        Education—- Annie MacDonald

        Window on the world, land management projects from other countries—Drennan Watson and Ron Greer.

        Local participation–Catriona Bell

        Communications—-Jim Crumley

        Control of resources—-John Watt.

  13. hebrideanfarmer

    Excellent suggestion Graham Ennis. Lets have a land conference. I would be delighted to help in any way.
    I have always promoted a new entrants farmers’ mortgage scheme (similar to first time buyers in the housing market ) This would address the problem, in a positive way, of young /new entrants not getting into the industry.
    Restriction on ownership rights is a must I believe….works so well in other countries, let’s have it here .
    We have been down trodden for too long, and no longer are we going to put up with the landed elite having a privileged position with tax breaks, and using our country to achieve it.
    We need
    * ARTB
    * Rural mortgage scheme
    * Scottish Land Ownership rules (land commission ?)
    * Immediate reinstatement of Sporting estates business tax
    * Government investigations into Land Rental Value
    * Crown Estates rent staying in the local community.

    That’ll do for now ! More coming soon.

    • Could I suggest that if we are to do this, that the venue should be the main debating chamber at Holyrood during the recess, but we could allow MSP’s to sit in the public gallery and—–LISTEN!

  14. hebrideanfarmer

    Yes Ron, good suggestion, and I forgot…..NAE LAIRDS REQUIRED, but we will be delighted to debate with them….bring it on.

  15. Good idea, but landlords and factor/lawyers must be excluded as they hog the floor at every meeting i have ever been to.
    At the recent nfu “conference ” on the future of land tenure, they hogged the floor, and the scribing positions in the groups, only putting forward ideas that suited them.

    • Hector,
      Democracy means hearing opposing views, not just the ones we like to hear. If the conference is organised and managed properly then all in attendance should get a fair hearing.

  16. IF factors and lairds are present, tenant farmers will decline to speak up.

    • if they wish their fears to prevent them from pursuing their hopes then that is up to them. So what other kinds of landowner should be excluded—FC, RSPB,RFS, SNH? How about having a conference on land tenure, but no-one owning land should be allowed to attend?

  17. Well, thanks for the comments, which were all excellent, and showed up the problems involved do go back a long way. Ron, the 1988 conference was a landmark, it seems, but it is now 2013, 25 years later. So time for a second conference?. Perhaps. If so, then it needs to be carefully prepared, and set out, and have work groups on key issues before the conference, and in the conference. I can’t see a conference like this lasting less than a long weekend. Four days to change a thousand years.

    More to the point, as much history and documentation needs to be gathered as possible, and integrated into the planning. I should imagine that much of this material is already around, but an on line archive would be a good start. Then anyone can see what is being done, and also deposit materials. I would say that whilst giving great praise to Andy for his pioneering work, (even landowners have told me, in private, that his basic work is fundamental, to an understanding of the land issue) that we all know that the Land reform issue has to move on. Protest is one thing, but proposals, hard edged discussion and debate, and lobbying the SNP Government for a major Land Act, would be a very good idea. The present land review body, which has two more rounds to go, (Section 2 before the Referendum) may or may not be relevant. It might be progressive, or not. We shall see. But I think a coherent idea would be to think along the above lines.

    I make all these things as suggestions. I am searching for a purposeful way to find a path to real land reform, that benefits Scotland and the rural people, allows development that is sustainable, and also makes Scottish land “Sovereign”. What do I mean by that?….no offshore secret hidden holdings, with tax issues, but that all ownership should be transparent, and also that priority should be given to resident people and businesses, with no non resident company or person allowed to own substantial quantities of Land. Land Sovereignty means that the land is owned, used, and managed by Scots residents and resident businesses, paying tax in Scotland. The idea that some land in Scotland gets EU farm cash, pays no tax, and is held in a bank on an offshore island, is not honest, or fair. Norway does this, as do other European States. The corollary of this is that Sovereign land holdings will get the support they need from the Scottish Government that I have suggested, with green banks, rural development funds, and rural programs. The present Scottish Government is cash strapped at the moment, and limited in what it can do But things are changing. The important thing is to have a well thought out, pre-planned program of land reform that is integrated into rural development and communities, where everyone can benefit. Ready to go, in perhaps 2015 or 2016. This is shorter in time than it sounds. The clock is ticking.

    • Graham, you speak with the same fervour and indeed using almost the same words to describe essentially the same hopes and aspirations as those organising and participating in not only the first Drumossie Conference on Friday 27th to Sunday 29th November 1987 ( I still have a copy of the programme). There was also a second Drumossie Conference ( may have been 10 years later but I did not attend) and two others very similar in nature at Saoghal Mor Ostaig and at the Aigas Centre in which my colleague Derek Pretswell and I participated, contributing material from our New Caledonia Project.

      I am of course in deep empathy with some of your views, indeed many of them and I’ve been promulgating some of them since 1974.( others in the ‘movement’ for even longer) However, sadly I cannot agree with you in respect of the strategic scenario; things may have changed, but they have NOT moved on. Yes, organisations like Reforesting Scotland, Trees for Life, Scottish Native Woods may have come and, in the case of the latter, gone, and with native woodland grants we have found yet another way to pump money into the coffers of the ‘lairdopoly’ BUT the core problem of the intensity and narrowness of the private land tenure base remains essentially the same. The land reform package of 2003 just scraped the surface and community buy outs hardly any more than that. We don’t even have a Labour Party or SNP that can understand the concept of a national park being owned by the nation. The SNP went on to ignore its own Land Commission report and appointed people to the LRRG who were associated with the ‘lairdopoly’. Despite all these conferences we have only got next door to nowhere. Please be aware and appraised of that. Watching the movie Viva Zapata starring Marlon Brando would also be very helpful.

      I was perfectly serious about having the conference in the main debating chamber at Holyrood.

  18. Ron, I hear you clearly and the idea of a return of the tax on commercial sporting estates, and some rigorous ecological controls on how they are run. There are some sporting estates, where the deer are almost being farmed through the winter, with feeding stations, to get them ready, as otherwise there are so many of them, that they would not last out a winter. This is an abuse. Likewise the need to diversify ecologically, so that some estates that are bare moors would have to do some forestry, where possible, to establish bio-diversity again. All of this in a new level playing field, which I have outlined above, and properly funded from rural programs and a Green Bank. The whole tax situation in rural areas needs to be reformed and made relevant and realistic. But land stewardship, bio-diversity and new ideas for the land should attract proper support.

    • Significantly the first Drumossie conference was entitled Land, Wildlife and Community and I’m glad to see you have taken cognisance of the biodiversity angle. Yet once more, I agree with your core arguments for these are exactly the ones brought up a quarter of a century ago and more, but it’s just that the sectional vested interestswwill just go ‘yes uh huh’ in a posh accent, roll with the punches, and the traduced, suborned political class does and will do nothing. An example is the so-called national parks. The Cairngorm one would be a special place in nature and extent, even in Fennoscandia, but it is not owned or serviced in a manner like Sarek, Padjulanta or Laponnia. It is in fact largley privately owned by individuals and NGOs and the political class see it as a site for urban and light industrial development. Here is an oxymoron bordering on farce if ever there was one. If we can’t get the deer population in harmony with the true potential of the native soil-vegetation complex within a national park, then where is it going to be obtained? Where is the political will to give us real national parks with a real national parks and wildlife service? I don’t think traditional national parks are the answer and I suggested an alternative option to Roseanna Cunningham MSP whilst she had the environment portfolio both in opposition and government. I got the same amount of reponse from her( and at the time my) SNP colleagues to whom I have been explaining for 25 years, why the upland sheep farming landscapes shown in http://www.westcoastpeaks.com/Peaks/burkelandsfjellet has the kind of native soil vegetation complex of a kinde that we’d put under an SSSI or SAC but has glens and straths that are well populated. They know why, but they just won’t do, because they are very comfortable with the status quo.

    • I do not wish to see any kind of income , I wish to see the massive source of the public revenue that is societally created Land Rental Value being returned as public revenue instead of being diverted to the private pockets of the land monopoly. So NO TAX—JUST RENT and that would apply to any sporting revenue regardless of the tenure system.

      • I see that I hate the T word so badly that I left it out after income—yes income should be left alone!

  19. hebrideanfarmer

    Ron, you make a observation ;
    “BUT the core problem of the intensity and narrowness of the private land tenure base remains essentially the same. ”
    Please let me point out to you that the private tenure base is terminal, and far from remaining essentially the same.
    Government figures show that there has been a “steady decline in tenancies over the last 30 years” http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2013/06/2849/3
    We have to act now. Surely with Richard Lochhead’s announcement of a land Holdings review, the LRRG re-visiting land tenure, and then the Scottish Affairs Committee report 432:50 somebody will show some sense !

    • Hope your last paragraph is correct HF, and that this hope will triumph over my 30 year experience with the SNP. My comment was angled at the relatively unchanged concentration of land in the hands of so few outright owners.

  20. Ron,
    I think we are convergent. The ecological, social and economic issues of land, and production, all merge, in any holistic analysis. What I am keen on is some serious social engineering to fix the landscape and the social problems, and make the land productive, whilst improving it ecologically.

    I do not know if you know of the work of the Austrian scientist Sepp Holzer, an agronomist who has been outstanding. Experimentally, he is able to convert bleak moors into productive crop land, in a single year. The re mediated soil can go on to be reforested, or used as improved grazing. So the technologies are there for land transformation and re-mediation. But what to do with this land?…..good question. I would start, in a multi-level program, with a new crofting act, making all of Scotland croftable. Secondly, making the Government establish a proper Green bank, and a rural bank, plus rural programs greatly extended from those of today. This is a start. Also the rural program has to buy up the large amounts of “Blocked” land that are owned by non-dom, offshore, tax avoidance entities. (Several million acres) Split and subdivided, and offered as modern crofts, a million acres would give 50,000 20 acre crofts. They would need technical, financial and social support. There are probably four million acres held offshore, in entities of dubious legality and tax liability. There has to be a Government act to do this. non-resident land purchased at “Book value” and subject to estate tax. The four million acres I speak of are about twice as much as required for a 20 year program to establish 100,000 crofts, in working condition. The other two can be community run forests. This is the direct program needed to take the sting out of the historic grievances and injustices of the past. The economic impact would be very large, the social impact even larger. This would be a profitable investment, financially and socially, for the government. It does not impact on the issue of resident land holders. That has to be handled differently. As I said before, that term encompasses everyone from a “Hutter” to the large holdings of ancient aristocrats. That has to be a separate program. See my previous comments on these issues, for y thoughts. We do need a joined up thinking, evidence based program proposal for the land, and this one is a good start. It kick starts the key issues of rural re population and ecological restoration, whilst greatly increasing the food and timber production. I would emphasise the benefits of community forest, which is fairly common in Scandinavia. I’m approaching the vast problem of land reform in bite sized chunks here.

    I note your comment re Bergen. Yes, exactly. let a 300 million trees and 100,000 crofts bloom.
    Some calculations I have done (provisional) indicate that the social and public economic benefits of a croft program as i have proposed, would make it profitable to pay each crofting family say £6000 a year as a “Crofting Stipend” to live on a croft. Some of this would be funded from reduced social security costs, etc. It might even be a Zero-sum game. If you add the new CAP EU payments and tweak it, and the existing Scottish Government rural and farming grant system and tax allowances, it becomes very attractive. Agreo-eco-nomic farming and biodiversity, and it could last a very long time. Comments?

    • Why should only ‘crofters’ get a stipend? If we go down this route and the concept has been around for a considerable time, we could encompass it within what some call Social Credit or the term I prefer personally, a universal, non means tested and graduated Citizens Income to REPLACE the whole inane Byyzantine nightmare of the current social welfare system.

  21. Could I remind those wishing to leave comments of the comments policy (see “About” in menu). Comments should be courteous and relevant to the topic of the blog. Many people view these posts and are entitled to expect discussion that is relevant. Thank you.

  22. Graham, i agree the crofting act should cover the whole of scotland, and cover all agricultural tenancies.
    Then crack on and buy out the foreigners.

  23. Andy, I hope that you do view my comments as relevant. I do try to make them so. Lwwt me know if they are “Drifting”.

  24. Hector, I think we do need a new Crofting Act. A modernised one, that fits the times. This sort of thing is where a group of people like the ones that post on here can make a difference, getting shoulder to wheel, and writing, debating, discussing it, and lobbying the SNP to do it. But as I have also said on here, absolutely key is the infrastructure that does not yet exist, such as the Rural Bank, the Green Bank, (presently obsessed, at its HQ in Edinburgh, with speculation, and not interested in Scotland or Scots) and all the other things I have suggested need to be built. No foundations, and a building will collapse. The big offshore holdings are a scandal. The flushing out of who owns what, and who avoids tax, on them, is vital. A fair and level playing field, for all in Scotland, land registration and ownership must be legally based in Scotland. All taxes must be paid in Scotland. Absentee non resident ownership must be made illegal. Simple. also I think that within reason, there has to be a ceiling on size of holdings, as I have said many times before. Huge blocks of land are being grabbed by offshore and shadowy banks and corporations, for land banking, speculation, collateral for further loans, (which are used to buy yet more land) in an endless spiral. Inevitably this becomes a Ponzi scheme and eventually, it crashes. The impact of such a crash on Scotland would be very serious. So the non-resident bar is essential. The Norwegians have it. So what to do? I would also make it the core of a new LAND BILL but also create a permanent Land Commission, like the new Crofters Commission I am advocating. Some elements of this already exist, so as to speak, in the new land tribunal, replacing the old land Court…..but it needs other bits added. Likewise, there needs to be a greatly beefed up self-standing department of state for rural development, in the widest sense, that would control the Rural and Green banks, both of which MUST be State owned, and receiving some oil revenues for investment. Throw in legislation on farming cooperatives, rural credit unions, tax breaks for food and forestry production that are not huge corporate operations, (financial cap) etc etc….then I think we have a broad brush outline of the new Rural land and ecological policy that needs to be done. Another (Rural) Scotland is possible. Comments please?

    • Land banking–land hoarding for what purpose? What are they speculating on? Well, since land has no capital value whatsoever, that just leaves its perceived societal desirability, for which several terms have been coined and the one I keep referring to and coming back to is Land Rental Value.( LRV). The FULL collection of this LRV to REPLACE income tax on labour and direct imposts on bricks&mortar ( and other improvements on land) is the first priority to be considered. Not only will this not get in the way of the more specific items described, but will help to facilitate them. With LRV the ethnic/national origins/nondom-offshore nature of the ownership becomes irrelevant as they cannot transfer the land or hide it. We get them to pay us—not the other way about. If they don’t pay up, we get the land back, though they will get full compensation for their capital items, less what they owe us for the LRV and the costs of the litigation. I can give you a fair level of LRV and say why it is fair, can you give me a fair level of income tax and say why it is fair? We need public revenue in very large amounts to cover what you suggest needs to be done, but does that mean a huge hype in tax to raise it?
      I shudder and tremble at the thought of the current status of a Croft being foisted upon the rest of Scotland. You seem new to this debate, but no doubt you have heard of the hoary old joke ‘a Croft is a tiny piece of land, entirely surrounded by legislation’ and it’s a nightmare I don’t want rolled out across Scotland. I have never met a Norwegian who wanted to swap his farming tenure system for the legal entity of a Scottish croft and indeed the suggestion results in polite ironic laughter. However if you and Hector are talking about a new form of democratic, PRIVATE outright extensive land ownership involving thousands of new small holdings and forest units, then I’d be supportive. Expect intense opposition from the ‘Star Birders, ‘The Cellulose Factory Managers’ and the ‘Moorland Myth Brigade'( the last closely associated with the ‘lairdopoly’).
      I cannot however articulate strongly enough again the huge and intense sense of multi-decadal Deja Vu over all this. It all stands or falls with the political will to at least engage with the prospects let alone effect them in law. The SNP you want to engage with have failed us in a deliberate, cogent and calculated way. What makes you think, you’ll be any different?

      • Is the difference not that Graham is outside looking in and has presented with fresh eyes and a global awareness, a vision for a progressive rural economy?

        • His vision is very like that has been expressed by others over the last 30-50 years, but has been prevented by a political class ennervated and traduced by their connections to the land monopoly sectional interests. I agree with a great deal of what he is saying and wish him well. I am merely suggesting that he does not lose site of the jugular that is going to need to be cut.

  25. On the subject of foreign ownership particularly, I came across quite a topical article on the grain.org website called “Land ceilings: reining in land grabbers or dumbing down the debate?”. I don’t know if you’re allowed to put links in comments here but that should be enough for you to google it.

    Below is an extract from the article which I thought was particularly pertinent. I don’t imagine grain.org would mind it being reproduced but if Andy has any qualms about breach of copyright, then he can edit out the following:-

    “In many cases we see that where political elites seek to introduce limits on foreign investors as a way of controlling land grabbing — usually with a lot of nationalistic or pro-sovereignty flair — they can actually reduce the debate at the national level to one of “foreigner = bad”, while evading the more fundamental question of what kind of agriculture, food security or rural livelihoods strategy is being promoted and supported. All this achieves is the vilification of a few actors in a show of “doing something”, when in fact all sorts of other structural biases in a country’s agricultural direction may remain intact!

    It is risky, therefore, to let the issue of foreign investors become a main focus.


    Land grabbing has become a structural plague of our time alongside equally important and interconnected processes such as growing land concentration and other forms of resource grabbing.

    Limiting foreign direct investment in land is not a bad thing as such. But as we can see from flawed attempts in a few countries so far, it would be better to take a more holistic approach and come up with new land policies within a broader recasting of agricultural and rural development strategies that include genuine agrarian reform programmes oriented toward food sovereignty. Otherwise, we may continue to get superficial fixes fraught with legal loopholes, perverse effects and extremely narrow debates that boost the reputations of politicians but fail to actually solve any problems for local communities on the ground.”

    • To a certain extent the Norwegian system works in respect of ‘foreign’ ownership, but they are not in the EU, like us. Their internal system for native resident absentee land owners and second home owning is also quite interesting, but I haven’t seen much enthusiasm for it from our own political class. When the Norwegians buy up farms in Sweden, and treat them like holiday homes, they can be just as a big a pain in the backside as anyone else.

  26. Ron,
    As You said: ” However if you and Hector are talking about a new form of democratic, PRIVATE outright extensive land ownership involving thousands of new small holdings and forest units, then I’d be supportive.”. Exactly. Glad to clarify this one. But “Protected” from banks, speculators, etc.
    The State can obtain blocks of land from non-resident Land holders, offshore, quite legally, using existing legislation, with financial compensation. (At book value plus a “Bother” bonus. ) At least they get their cash back, and it does not hurt the indigenous resident farmers and foresters which have to bear the rampant price inflation of land caused by this speculation. once the national land resource aand land market is sealed off from outside speculators, sanity will return. What is happening at the moment, (of which very little is leaking into the public awareness in Scotland) is a gross abuse and speculation of the national land resource. People in Scotland need land protection from external speculation and monopoly, and a stable, long term market within which to operate. Neil King has some valid points on banning non-doms from land ownership, but Neil, if you carefully read my previous posts on here, you will clearly see my evolving towards a holistic, generic program for the land in Scotland that is based on a national program, to restructure the land holdings, provide proper resources (Rural Bank, Green bank) plus rural programs, training, agronomical research and development, etc…..and matching social programs.) My announced idea is that over 20 years, about 100,000 modernised crofts should be created to restructure rural Scotland, and repopulate it, which would essentially soak up all the demands for land and entryism into farming and forestry. This will require 2 million acres, plus another two million acres for community and local business forestry. This can be done, whilst meanwhile, the very serious problems of supporting the existing small scale farmers, doing livestock etc, are dealt with. (A great number of medium sized farms in Scotland are going bust, being seized by banks, squeezed by supermarkets, and without proper rural funding for development.) A silent cynical program of “Consolidation” into larger estates is going on, led by the banks, offshore speculators, etc.). I hope these notes make where I am coming from clear, as I grope my way towards what will work, and be supported by the voters and Government. Please keep the comments coming, they are very helpful. Ron, LVT, or variants of it, are quite sound, and would cut the big speculators off at the knees, whilst protecting serious farmers, if scale limits were placed on it, so it targeted large scale land holdings that are NOT being used efficiently and productively. here I want to introduce the idea that has been adopted in revolutionary Communist Cuba…..(Yes, really!) as they have got this one right. They did not introduce hard line “Leninist” legislation. They simply revived the ancient ROMAN laws of “Usor Fructus”. (To the user, the fruits (of their labour) ). Simple. it works, how it works is that in Cuba, you can apply for state land, set up a farm, get finance, and grow stuff. Technical support is available. The profits are tax free. What you earn, you keep. The system does not require significant subsidy. There are safeguards on people accumulating large land holdings, or not using the land, but trying to speculate in it. If you do not make the grade, in terms of what you produce, the Government revokes the lease. You can pass on the farms to family. There is otherwise security of tenure. People can also get small holdings on the same basis. If Lord Bertie of Bute was required to lease 10% of his holdings to the government, for sub-leasing to small holders, the 8000 acres would support 400 “modern” crofts, soaking up most of the land demand in Bute. Bertie still gets his cash…..at the market rate for the leasing of land. But there is “Right to buy” for good farms. likewise, he gets his cash, again, with market book value paid plus something on top. He is not mistreated. But the land is made socially useful. The present 80,000 acres is doing very little, and the way it is controlled and used is an ecological, social and financial abuse of the National land Resource. So likewise, “Usor Fructis” law would apply to what he did to the rest of his holdings, plus laws on sustainability, ecological harm, etc. What,s not to like?…..Good practice, “use it or lose it” policies, and ecological laws, and leasing, and this is the outlines of a program here. it can be tweaked. This program is within existing laws in Scotland. Some new laws will have to be passed. It shows what can be done, with minimal legislation, re the ecological and agronomical aspects. No excuses, therefore. please read my previous posts on the infrastructure needs that should be provided. Thanks.

    • Usor fructus is already incorporated with LRV as this is not applied to labour, buildings, houses, crops, animal stock, machinery etc. or other improvements. It will apply to all land, except publicly owned land. Its application will discourage land hoarding/banking without specific secondary leglislation on land holding limits, but will not prevent such legislation should it be deemed necessary. Before we go down the expensive expropriation route we could thin out nondom holdings at their expense, not ours. I have indeed paid attention to your suggested infrastructre mechanisms as I have done to others who brought them up over the last 40 years at various meetings and conferences.

      Yes, there are no excuses for the political class, especially among the SNP, who were at these meetings and conferences, who are aware of them through these and their own specifically commissioned reports. You are dealing, as many of us in the general land reform have been doing since we were angry young men and women on a voyage of discovery,( like you I suspect) with a political class stubbornly, cogently and cold bloodedly resistant to the reform required. Then there’s the ‘Star Birders’, T’he Cellulose Factory Managers’ and ‘The Moorland Myth Brigade’ yet to contend with.

    • We need to deal with the grizzly bear chewing our leg off first, the we can squash the headlice later.

  27. Ron,
    Your comments are interesting and helpful.

  28. So Sam Cams fathers estate on bute would come under foreign ownership (bahamas) and could be a target for purchase?

  29. Hector, if Sam Cams fathers estate continued to be “Owned” by an offshore entity it would not be a target for purchase. it would simply be illegal. A new land reform law would give such non-dom owners a year to either sell the estate to a domicile, or register it onshore, as a Scottish resident. if they were not Sottish residents, they would have to register it and hold it in a Scottish commercial company. This would be forbidden to have charitable status unless it met very rigorous rules for such activities, and operated as a genuine charity. The onshore company would have to register the land after an independent land valuation, and be subject to LRV or LVT, on an annual basis. Such companies would also have to pay corporation taxes. Simple. If they refused to do any of these things, they would get a legal warning, and then the international law doctrine of “Eminent Domain” would apply. The land would be compulsory purchased. land holding size limits, (scaled to the quality of the land) would also be applied. A land tribunal would impose fines for not complying with the land law. They would be substantial. (Say, 20% of the land value, then 10% of the land value thereafter per year. failure to pay would lead to sequestration and sale by the Courts. none of this is illegal. also eminent domain can apply to land acquisition. The effect would be to severely trim down the holdings of the non-dom speculators. Four or five million acres would be freed up for forestry, ecology, and small farming, in an integrated program. Whats not to like?….None of this would greatly effect honest resident Scots or genuine business operations registered for tax through a Scottish commercial entity. But would make speculator and land banker owners very unhappy. Registered companies would have land holding size limits. I think this is a good start.