Last week BBC Scotland’s new Scotland 2014 current affairs programme took a look at land reform. The last time that BBC Scotland ran a studio discussion on the topic in its current affairs TV output was (if I recall correctly) in 2000. Since then BBC Scotland broadcast a documentary (The Men Who Own Scotland) on aspects of land reform in January 2014.
One of the persistent problems with land reform is how the media frame it almost exclusively as an issue concerning communities in the Highlands and Islands. (1) As the recent report of the Land Reform Review Group makes clear, reform in the relationship between society and land involves a wide-ranging agenda including housing, fiscal matters, public rights, and urban renewal. Indeed of the 62 recommendations in the report, 31 deal with urban issues (including some that also deal with rural issues). Community interests in particular are as relevant in urban areas as they are in rural ones.
When the producers of Scotland 2014 approached me to take part in the programme, I emphasised this point. They said that they would be doing filming in the Outer Hebrides and so I suggested that they film me discussing urban matters on a parcel of derelict land at the Waterfront on Edinburgh. The land is owned by a company in the British Virgin Islands. I wrote a blog about it in November 2012. This would have provided the opportunity to talk about offshore secrecy, community rights to acquire and use land, the failures of the existing volume house-building model, the failures of the existing land taxation system, the Community Empowerment Bill’s right to use proposals, majority land assembly etc. All these are topics covered by the proposed land reform agenda and all affect hundreds of thousands of people across Scotland.
This was agreed but in the end the idea was dropped and I was invited on the show as a studio guest with Murdo Fraser MSP. We talked about a very limited range of matters for 3 minutes and 37 seconds. As I tweeted following the broadcast,
(1) For the avoidance of doubt I fully support the community landownership movement.