The September issue of Scottish Field magazine published the first in a two-part series of articles on land reform by Jim Hunter. The article is published on this blog. The second part was published by Scottish Field in the October issue and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Scottish Field.

UPDATE I have been advised that the author of this article does not wish it to be published on my website and that legal advice has been taken. I have thus edited the piece to highlight some extracts only. The entire article can be read in the October issue of Scottish Field or online at Scottish Land and Estates website.


In the second part of our land reform special, the chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, the “landowners’ trade union”, argues that the case for reform has been overblown by radical rhetoric and is littered with inaccuracies.

Douglas McAdam

Question the people on the streets of our towns and cities about the issues that matter to them and they are highly unlikely to bring up the pattern of landownership in rural Scotland. …………….

This has not however deterred a small, yet vocal clutch of zealous career land reform activists from waging an aggressive campaign against those who own and manage rural Scotland. …………………………….

The activists have revved through the gears, none more so than historian Professor Jim Hunter …………………………………………………………………………………………. …………………………………………………………………………The facts again show rural people trying to work towards a common goal, and that is a thriving, social and economic environment.
The land management sector has a hugely positive impact on rural Scotland and our fragile communities.  The assertion that this country is somewhat hindered by its landownership pattern simply doesn’t stack up.

…………….our hope as landowner representatives is that all of the serious effort Scottish Land & Estates and our members have put in to date is not ignored, since this would surely call the entire process into disrepute.

Anyone who reads our members’ submissions to the LRRG  in full cannot fail to conclude that community empowerment and engagement alongside partnership working rather than division are intrinsic to our collective vision and the future success of our rural communities and economy.

This reality is a world away from the picture reformists try to paint ………………………………….. they prefer to ignore the facts and cherry pick emotive quotes out of context in an effort to misrepresent them and undermine the process.

………………………………………….. We have a vision for agriculture and we are sure it is a vision shared – a dynamic, market-led, flexible farming sector with a meaningful role for tenant farming and pathways into the sector for new entrants.

………………..Ian Davidson MP has backed this position by commissioning the most radical land reformists to write a report that forms the remit of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, which he Chairs, to bring an end to apparent “tax avoidance and subsidy milking” by landowners in Scotland. These unfounded allegations will be strongly refuted by Scottish Land & Estates …………………………………………

Finally, with regard to many of the false assertions made by Jim Hunter in last month’s Scottish Field ……………………………………………………………………..



  1. Methinks he doth protest to much!

  2. Christopher Price

    Spot on. The Scottish Affairs Committee briefing report really is very weak and whiny.

  3. Robbie Pennington

    The cry of entitlement, on behalf of other entitled people.

  4. Douglas McAdam suggests that the principle by which we should judge different patterns of land ownership is the creation of the most social, environmental and economic benefits. Since he has very generously provided his own rope, it would be rude not to hang him with it.

  5. i cant leave much of a comment right now, need to go and wash all the vomit off my key board!

  6. In response to a request by the author of this Guest Blog to remove the article from my website, I have reduced the article to a few quotes. See Update at top of piece for information on where you can read it. Comments are still welcome here of course.

    • To be clear, did the author refuse you permission for publication of *all* of the article or just the bits you have edited out?

      • Refused permission to publish the article.

        • So why are you publishing bits of it? Did DMcA agree to you publishing these bits? Or are you applying some legal test such as fair comment, already in public domain, quotations from people who have consented to you repeating their views etc.? (NB, I know nothing about copyright law, just curious!)

          • Reviewing an article allows the reviewer ‘reasonable freedom’ to quote from it without breaching the authors copyright.

    • I see, it’s fine for him to publish in ‘Scottish Field’ where one assumes he thinks he’s talking to his chums but he baulks at a wider audience that may be composed of the thinking section of the population.

  7. usual tripe from that small band of lairdy zealots

  8. Andy, you are nothing but a zealous career article reform activist! LOL!

  9. I’m not surprised that he’s called for it to be taken off. I have noted though that the original is still up on SLaE’s website. Where on earth did D McAdam get the idea that….. “Forcing an absolute right to buy would do nothing for the farming industry as a whole, as agreed by a majority of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association’s own members ”
    The STFA majority said no such thing ! This has just been made up !!! how extraordinary !! especially as before he edited his piece he actually cried that the opposition evidence was littered with inaccuracies !
    He continues “No new entrants would have access to farms if they were not available to let”
    How arrogant is that? Can he not grasp an idea that maybe, just maybe, there is a young farmer out there who could afford to buy a farm, or is that just stretching McAdam mind too much ?
    Further on he declares that his wishes “to work towards a common goal, and that is a thriving, social and economic environment.”
    If that is the case then why do the lairds stifle tenants’ endevours to diversity by claiming the “lairds share” Why do the lairds sell off farm houses, leaving the farm bereft of the family farmhouse? Why do they leave buildings to go to rack and ruin whilst claiming they support the rural economy (If you want evidence of this I have plenty photos, just let me know Mr MCAdam and I will post them up for you ! )
    Why do they dodge taxes by registering off shore?
    So many questions to ask the author of this article, but I’ll end by gathering the crumbs from his table…….Douglas McAdam’s vision for the future of agriculture is I quote, to have a “farming sector with a meaningful role for tenant farming”
    Well fellow tenants, we can rest well tonight, safe in the knowledge that McAdam has a meaningful role in mind for us .

    • Hebridean Farmer
      Different blog, same discussion. As I’ve said before your characterisation of tenant farming is not one I recognise. There are excellent examples of successful relationships, including diversifications all over Scotland. We have a number ourselves which we encourage because it benefits everyone.
      I’ve argued before and will do again that having a tenanted sector is important to Scottish agriculture. To give flexibility to existing businesses to adjust to opportunities and challenges in the agricultural economy and to provide opportunity to new farmers. I don’t think anyone’s suggesting you can’t start in farming by purchasing – people do every year. But it is expensive (I’ll come back to land value) and renting is by definition a cheaper option. Last years CAAV survey of new lets in England suggested 20% of new lets went to new entrants -Andy may have the stats as he was at the same event – underlining the role it can play if the let market is allowed to function better.
      Land value – clearly the tax status and CAP eligibility of land will affect price but who really drives price? The buyers. And they are not the “lairds” but farmers. The vast majority of land is bought by farmers. If the value of estate farmland goes up it isn’t us driving it and as its value is as a business asset to earn a living from its capital value is of little day to day import.
      Doug McAdam is right to call for a common goal to work to based on maximising benefits for rural Scotland. The current dividing lines are not productive – indeed corrosive – particularly given we’ll all need to carry on working together under most likely scenarios.

      • “The vast majority of land is bought by farmers.” MMMmmmm ! I would not agree with that, I’ll check out some stats and come back to you !

        • Would that it were all held by farmers, were that so there would be no need for this debate and little if any need for land reform; certainly not the type of reform that is being called for and clearly needed!

  10. Mcadams work is only any good for privileged consumption, doesn’t stand scrutiny in the real world.

  11. He should have entitled it ‘Eulogy for the Lairdopoly’ and I hope it becomes its epitaph and obituary.

  12. As one of 50 co-owners in about 230 acres, I’m a member of SLE. My big problem with Douglas McAdam’s viewpoint is that he fails to recognise that individual owners of very large areas of land usually have their own interests at heart. These are often not the same as a community’s interests, or for that matter, the Scottish Government. For example, privacy may trump economic development, sporting concerns may trump local access priorities, and personal whim may trump local housing need. in my experience they often do.

    Mr McAdam rolls out the example of what a few ‘good landowners’ are doing, but to be frank that is irrelevant if the rest are focused on their own narrow agendas.

    To the best of my knowledge, we – SLE’s members – were never asked our views on how the organisation should respond to the Land Reform Review Group. An ‘anti’ stance was assumed from day one, while extensive information was gathered from members to support the SLE anti-reform case, based on the size of the economy across member’s landholdings. It’s a lot of land, so of course it produces a lot of economic output. But could it be used better if substantially more of it was in many more, local hands?

    I say, it could.

    • Andrew
      Happy to discuss further (I’m an SLE director) however you wish but a few points meantime.
      Most of our members have landholdings of less that 250 ha – or about that. Although the bigger estates are important we are very conscious of our wide range of members.
      You are quite correct that different owners have their own agendas. But that’s big or small. The impact on others may not relate to size but where the land is and therefore who is affected. That is I think one of the errors of obsessing about acres. Some acres have more impact on communities etc than others. There is clearly therefore an obligation on all land managers (and I say that deliberately because a tenant, who has day to day control of land, will be the main controller of impact) to try and consider the wider implications of decisions. I believe some if the positive proposals, particularly related to community, from SLE build on that theme.
      I’m not surprised that people would believe SLE is in the anti camp – because people expect us to be. We are anti a reform movement all about ownership and redistribution of land as the key objective. That does not mean we don’t believe reforms cannot take place. There are a number of things that can be done to increase community engagement and involvement in the future of their areas which do not need ownership to change. I think it would be fair to say we have a different view of what reforms would benefit. That doesn’t mean we’re anti everything.

    • Excellent Andrew Donaldson, at last a straight talking SLAE member with some vision. You have asked the question could it be used better? that is all we have to investigate. STAG are ready to give evidence, it is so simple for us, we just tell the truth and fight for our future.

  13. Andrew Howard, you are not really saying anything in that last reply. Are you trying to defend Dougs total anti land reform stance or are you trying to reach out to small owner occupiers? This is the problem SLAE are facing, they are starting to upset too many sectors. Possibly doing it unwittingly, because all it boils down to, is the preservation of the Big Landed Estates.
    Land reform right now is all about the redistribution of ownership, now we know you are against it and you will emphasisie where in a few cases you believe tenancy relationships to work. But land reform is not about evicting tenants or clearing the land of tenanted farms, or trying to prove that tenancies work, actually it could and probably will increase tenanted ground(and new opportunities) So what we need to know is, what specifically is it about a large estates and lairds that makes them more suitable for the job of letting land? please dont base an answer around the fact that they already own loads of land.

    • Slurry Stirrer
      What makes estates more suitable for the job of letting land? Simple. And it’s also why I disagree with Andy’s Norway example. There’s next to no evidence of owner occupies letting land. In fact they’ll have nothing to do with. And I see no evidence (lots of European intra family lettings is not relevant) which suggests that will change. So you get owner occs with some short term (1yr probably -conacre?) arrangements and contract farming. So argue for ARTB if you like but its a HEROIC assumption (with no evidence) to suggest there will be lots if letting afterwards. That I believe will be bad for the farm structures and flexibility needed in the future. Estates will let because its a key part of their business. You want long term lets you NEED estates.

      • It’s not just Andy’s Norway example and it’s not just about Norway. The key issue in Norway anyway, is not the tenancy situation, nor even the community ownership issue, but the extensive nature of private ownership pattern in a bio-climaticand geo-botanical scenario with strong parallels to our own upland one. A scenario that here is used to support the ‘well what else can you do with it anyway’ attitude of the sectional interests in control of the tenure. Amazing the way ownership is so directly associated with use, isn’t it?; and in Scotland it is a tenure pattern which remains unusual compared to, not just Norway, but the rest of Fennoscandia, continental Europe and North America.
        When I went to Norway in the early 70s, there really was nearly one private landowner per square mile and though the numbers were reduced at the time of my study trip with Angus McHattie in the mid 80’s and a little further by the time of filming with the BBC in the mid 90s we were still talking about tens of thousands of individual owners and their families. Do you honestly think that after the current review in Norway that Andy mentions, that they are going to end up with Hallingdal owned by a pro-rata equivalent of the ownership pattern from Drumochter to Dunkeld, the Jaeren turned into the tenure equivalent of Strathmore and the Mearns or that the Jotunheimen national park will be owned by billionaire Swiss bankers, Danish clothing manufacturers or Dutch industrialists?

  14. Andrew, i thought you lot were wanting freedom of contract? The vision and the evidence suggests that with more owner occupation there is a greater pool of potential letters of land. Have you ever heard of farmers nearing retirement? or Share farming? Retirement/new entrant schemes? i know several owner occupiers that let out land to local youngsters on short lets or 5 yrs.
    So Andrew is this now SLAE calling for freedom of contract to be pulled off the table? What happened to SLAE’s CHURN juggernaut?
    You have conveniently ignored the evidence once again, more owners of land means opportunities for letting, the stats clearly show that this is the case right across Europe. Are you saying that your smaller members of SLAE are not suitable to let out land? A bit disappointing that you put down the family letting structure, the best way to get youngsters into farming.
    SLAE, or you and Dougie, have totally bamboozled me.

  15. Slurry Stirrer

    Not only you , they have tried to bamboozle us all including the Scottish Government . The agricultural industry has bent over backwards from before 2003 till now to satisfy the desires of the Scottish Landowners Federation who now call themselves S L & E They are now wanting to blame owner/ occupiers It seems that the landowners have been bluffing all along to get their way . Where is the promised land from 10 years ago ??.

  16. Andrew BruceWootton

    Anyone commenting on SLE’s capacity for contributing to the discussion on land reform should first read their submission to LRRG :

    The debate needs to be about establishing change that is good for Scotland now and in the future rather than adopting a blueprint from someone else’s country or seeking to apply retribution on a personal or collective basis.

    We are dealing with a fragile but precious commodity in all ways and we need to protect what is currently good and working well and build on that, focusing change where evidence shows we are underperforming. There is no room for prejudice or bigotry in that debate. We are all on the same side and wanting the same thing.

    Scotland needs to be intolerant of mediocraty, incompetence and inefficiency at all levels and in all capacities to ensure her people and place are protected and handed on to the next generation better than the last. If that is the case then there are a lot of work streams to follow and obsessing on land ownership can be a distraction, albeit a convenient place to park attention that avoids having to deal with possibly more complex and important issues. That isn’t to say ownership is not important and it is right for Scotland to have ways of evaluating and dealing with ownership impact and that is hopefully one work stream but I hope it is managed in a way that reinforces Scotland’s support and defence of those who are contributing to her well being, what ever their accent, size or bank balance.

    • “Mediocraty, inefficiency and incompetence”
      If you want to see that, take a run round your local estate.
      The best people to manage land are the farmers on it, not a distant factors office or lawyer in edinburgh.
      Nae Lairds required!!!!!

  17. Addressing ABW comments.
    Nobody is suggesting that we adopt a “blueprint from someone else’s Country” We have a very clear vision for our own Country, and are happy and willing to look to our neighbours for evidence of what works and what doesn’t, and to apply where and when change is required. You have also suggested that there is a obsession on land ownership. SlurryStirrer has been trying to get to the root of why the lairds are so transfixed in retaining ownership, when in many many cases they haven’t walked the ground for decades or have any notion of where it is even. (Our land manager refferred to an issue with us that wasn’t even on our/their farm, or even their ESTATE ! so that doesn’t say much about their connection to their land) let me attempt an answer for SS. The lairds are obsessed on power, control and privelige, and it is precisely that that they need to hold on to to preserve their elitism.
    Apart from that, and the link to SLaE’s submission, I endorse all you have said.
    Change is coming, and yes it will have nothing to do with their ” accent, size or bank balance”

    • spot on,HF, taking a direct template or blueprint from another country and applying it directly to ourselves is not what we are on about. I have been a long time Nordophile, but have never suggested simply copying what’s going on in Norway or Sweden. Starting from scratch, the Norwegians would probably not come up with what they have now ( and indeed they are reviewing it now and hence Andy’s title), but at the end of the day are they going to have Lyngdal looking like Glenfender, Burkelandsfjellet looking like the flanks of Ben Lawers or end up with the equivalent of our toothless community councils?

  18. Andrew bruce. you say obsessing with land ownership, that is a bit harsh on most of SLAEs members. Do you think that ownership is the key to unlock the debate or not? Its all very well saying we need to build and focus on what is good, but that leaves the vast majority of secure tenants stuck under the cloud of landlordisim.

  19. Scottish Field. Really not much need to read the article if it’s been published in that atrocious magazine.

    Pretty much the same argument used here as was used against reforming fishing right ownership. ‘Very wealthy people – some even with titles! – fish the Scottish rivers. We’re in danger of losing that honour if land reformers get their way.’

  20. Andrew BruceWootton


    I think you are asking two questions. Is ownership the key to unlock debate and status of vast majority of secure tenants.

    Which debate? Economic output, population growth, housing etc. Then not really. Where community ownership of land is evidently progressive and genuinely desired, with a clear return on investment for the public purse then it should be reasonably possible. Otherwise, competent and comprehensive regional economic and social development planning, joined up and effectively engaged down to local level is the key linked to existing means of compulsory purchase where land availability stands in the way.

    Status of vast majority of farming tenants? My experience and yours is clearly very different. From my experience, the vast majority of farmers who operate wholly or partially on let land are between reasonably and very happy with the relationship with their landlord, taking into account the availability of margin in the industry to spend on fixed equipment and the reasonable expectation for rental return. This relationship sometimes struggles from operating under overly complex regulation and legislation and the great opportunity looking forward is to ensure the next generation are not shackled with it. Young farmers want a different relationship with their landlord, one that promotes enterprise and rewards hard work. Pre-occupation with right to buy helps a few at the expense of the many while side tracking the debate away from the important topic of making let farming attractive for farmers and land owners alike.

    • I don’t see that there is any argument with ‘farmers’ large or small, owner or tenant who are using there land responsibly/properly to produce food.

      The argument is with those holding land speculatively in the hope of at some undefined point in the future making money from selling it on and meanwhile getting whatever government or european hand-outs that are going.

      • Stuart,
        Aye indeed, and that’s one of the main reasons why I repeatedly post on the advisability of collecting the only monetary value land has: it’s societally created Land Rental Value, to REPLACE taxation as the basis of public revenue.

    • In most of Fennoscandia, and many parts of Europe/ North America, it is, unlike Scotland, not easily possible to deduce those likely to be landowners from the clothes they wear, the cars they drive and the accents with which they speak. Why do you think that is?

  21. A.Bruce having been on hundreds of farms, and some large estate run units included, the length and breadth of Scotland and also Northumberland, Cumbria and N.Yorkshire. I have a fairly well rounded knowledge of agricultural people. My experience dealing with factors has been fairly limited, perhaps six individuals, so i make no claim to understand their way of life. The connection that people make with the land when they work the soil is so fundamental . It is painful and desperate to witness the levering of people from their home and way of life. Not just tenants, but families and all workers of the land. Economics, subsidies, markets that’s the easy bit to grasp, what we as a nation now need to do is protect and enhance the way of life for all rural workers of the land. This simply boils down to enabling people to be in full control of their future. Your claims about very happy tenants are just so naive, please dont pretend to know or understand the needs of the average farming family. Tell us about the Big Landlords and what they need from a farm being worked by someone else? tell us what it is specifically that the Lairds fear?
    Too much land is owned by too many people who choose not to live here, that’s what we need to sort out.

  22. “Right to buy will benefit a few at the expense of many”????????????
    Think you got that the wrong way mr bruce wootton.
    The biggest losers will be the factor class. shame.

  23. Perhaps we can offer the Lairds an “ARTB EXEMPTION EXAMINATION”
    The point would be to try an offer the lairds a chance to prove they have a meaningful link and roll to play with all the farms under their ownership. As we all face examinations and form filling throughout our lives, this may be a fair way to move forward.
    Questions as follows:
    (1) Please indicate on the map the soil type found in every field?
    (2) Please mark the acreage of every parcel?(tolerance of 10 acres)
    (3) Please indicate the general direction of drains, and type e.g. turf,stone,clay,plastic?
    (4) Please give a rough sketch of the steading?
    Pass marks can be set by agreement.
    Exams can be held somewhere central for the Lairds, perhaps London?
    Exam papers can be printed in any language on request.
    Appeals will take the form of a practical exam related to the farm type in question ie clip a ewe, dose a cow or plough a field.
    If you pass the holding will be exempt from the tenant practicing ARTB.

    • P.S dress code informal, no pink trousers, no old school ties, all jewelry including pinky rings to be removed.