11. December 2011 · Comments Off on 100 years of waiting for the land · Categories: Democracy, Farming, Land Reform, Land Use, Politics, Poor had no Lawyers

One hundred years ago, the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act 1911 was passed by the Liberal Government of Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith. It was a bold and radical reform designed to allow families to obtain landholdings across Scotland on the same basis as the crofters had achieved in 1886. It thus, in effect, extended crofting tenure across the whole of Scotland. Subsequent Acts of 1916 and 1919 provided greater powers for state intervention to acquire land in response to promises that had been made to men who enlisted for the Great War that they would receive land on their return. The story of land settlement is told in the late Leah Leneman’s comprehensive account, Fit for Heroes, Land Settlement in Scotland after World War I (Aberdeen University Press, 1989).

I recall this groundbreaking legislation prompted by an interview I did for BBC Scotland’s Out of Doors programme on 10 December 2011 (funnily enough I was last interviewed – on the topic of farm subsidies – exactly a year ago). The programme interviewed Chrissie Sugden from Acorn Co-operative, an organisation with is trying to obtain land in Argyll to create crofts and allow young people and families to get hold of land to build an home and livelihood. It turns out that the co-op is having difficulty finding land to buy. I was asked to respond and frankly, I wish I had been a bit more frank about the ongoing scandal that is land in Scotland.

How is it that 100 years after an aristocratic Liberal Prime Minister finds the will to intervene in the land market in order to provide land to those who need it, a succession of Labour/Liberal coalitions and now SNP governments in Scotland have singularly failed?

How is it that the Russian Mafia can buy as much land as they want in Scotland and hold it secretly in offshore tax havens in the Caribbean but a group of enterprising people in rural Scotland who are looking for land to make a home for themselves and their families cannot?

I think it is rapidly getting to the stage where we need to get back to the tactics of the late 19th and early 20th century in the form of land occupations, rent strikes and civil disobedience.

It’s not hard to distribute land more fairly and equitably. It just requires a bit of political backbone.


16. November 2011 · Comments Off on Capping the CAP 1 · Categories: Farming, Land Reform, Land Use, Land Values, Politics, Poor had no Lawyers

In the rapidly expanding digital world, it is encouraging to welcome an outbreak of online participation among our elected representatives. Not only do many MPs and MSPs have blogs, twitter accounts and facebook pages but some of them are even asking us our opinion on the great questions of the day. Step forward, Alyn Smith MEP, who, as a member of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, has to agonise over reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).

Currently, Scotland’s farmers and landowners receive over £500 million in public subsidies each year. The division of the spoils is somewhat skewed, however. During the 10 years from 2000 to 2009, the top 50 recipients of the subsidies included many of Scotland’s Dukes, Earls and Lords who between them received £168 million – over £3.3 million each. In 2009, over £175 million was paid to 1032 farmers – a mere 5.3% of the total recipients and half of the£555 million went to 12% of farmers. Some even received over £1 million each.

In response to such inequitable largesse and out of consideration for newer member states who have never had their fair share of the CAP, the European Commission is proposing reform including a cap on the CAP (as it were) – in other words an upper ceiling on what any one farmer can receive. Sounds reasonable enough. So what precisely is Alyn Smith seeking our views upon?

Well, it turns out he is opposed to capping on the rather bizarre basis that if a recipient is doing a lot of farming, producing a lot of food and employing a lot of people, then they deserve a big subsidy.

I’m not quite clear on the logic being applied here but I’d say they deserve the precise opposite. Farmers who can operate at scale in the market place should receive no support at all. Instead, support should be focussed on those facing real disadvantage and providing clear public benefits.

Maybe I am missing something but has always been a cause for some wonder that the Scottish Government (and therefore, presumably Mr Smith) are keen to keep rewarding big farmers and landowners with seemingly unlimited largesse. Who is making the policy here and in whose interests? Is it the public (whose cash this is) or is it a cabal of big farming lobbyists and politicians whose misguided interpretation of their Ministerial office is to seek to serve just such vested interests?

Alyn Smith, to be fair, recognises that Scotland (and he himself) are in a minority in this view and he is therefore looking for a steer from his constituents on the question. Should he continue to oppose capping? If it’s going to happen, then at what level should it be set?

I welcome this healthy outburst of opinion seeking. Whether you want a fairer and more equitable distribution of farm subsidies or wish to continue doling out millions to Scotland’s aristocracy, please do let Mr Smith have your views (by 30 November) at www.alynsmith.eu.

UPDATE:- 27 November 2011

On 17 November, the Scotsman reported that the position of the Scottish Government in opposing capping was softening.

“He said both the UK and Scottish governments had traditionally opposed capping because it penalised large-scale farming“ with Scotland and the UK having proportionately more farmers in this category than other EU countries.

However, he told a large audience at AgriScot that the public did not like the idea of very big payments going to individual farm businesses and many of the farmers he had spoken to across Scotland had acknowledged that.”