Well, Alex Salmond duly gave his speech to the AGM of Scottish Land and Estates on Tuesday 29 May. (1) Unfortunately, he chose not to take up the many suggestions made in response to my earlier blog and, instead, gave a bland speech which included nothing to cause the landed class to lose any sleep. Indeed, it gave them much comfort with many warm words for the role that landowners play in modern Scotland. In particular, Salmond welcomed a new “Centre for Rural Development” being set up by the lairds’ trade union – “a first-class initiative”, he observed. I await with interest its inquiry into the role of Scotland’s distinctive pattern of landownership on rural development.

As @DavidAllenGreen reminded us today, “There nothing more agreeable in life than to make peace with the Establishment – and nothing more corrupting” – A.J.P. Taylor. This speech was an opportunity to deliver some important political messages but none were forthcoming. The First Minister might (for example) have followed up his statement:

“I know that the theme of today’s AGM is boosting rural recovery. That is entirely fitting, because the businesses you represent have a combined turnover well in excess of £1 billion. You are of major importance to several of the key economic sectors on which Scotland’s future economic prosperity will be based.”

with a comment about why it was that Scotland’s landowners are exempt from business rates. He did not. And this, I think, is a reflection on and a consequence of, the demise of any clear policy agenda on land reform.

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the significance of Salmond’s speech – the first by a First Minister to Scotland’s landed class as far as I can tell – is to compare it with the McEwen Memorial Lecture delivered by Donald Dewar in 1998 entitled “Land Reform in the 21st Century” – an ambitious and forward looking agenda for change delivered a year before devolution in 1999.

Why did Alex Salmond not take the opportunity to lay out his vision of how Scotland might look post-independence? He was not shy of doing so when he was an MP as this debate in the House of Commons demonstrates.

(1) I should make it clear that I was not present and thus cannot give a first hand impression of Mr Salmond’s delivery or demeanour nor that of the assembled landowners.


  1. Well, typically the closer democratic politicians get to high office the more anodyne their policies become and the more they cave in to powerful vested interests.

  2. Alastair McIntosh

    The SNPs foot-dragging on land reform is cause for disappointment in them. Whenever I challenge MSPs on the matter they say, to paraphrase, “Wait until after independence; we don’t want to frighten the horses.” Such fear of landed power, as your quote suggests, corrupts. Communities that have achieved land reform are showing what a difference power from the bottom up makes. Surely this is the kind of new politics that Scotland needs, and that all political parties, not least the SNP, should pay heed. We don’t want them doing things for us. We want them to open the doors that make it possible for communities to help themselves because Scotland’s fundamental resource – what Scotland fundamentally IS – the land and its people – have been reunited.

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