On Thursday evening last week, Channel 4 news broadcast the above 11 minute film on land reform in Scotland. It’s worth a watch. It highlights, among other things, how grassroots members of the SNP are campaigning for a more vigorous approach to land reform.

The film was broadcast on the first day of the SNP conference where I was a speaker at a fringe meeting hosted by the League Against Cruel Sports as one of the co-authors of a report on the intensification of grouse moor management. I was also scheduled to speak at an unofficial fringe meeting on land reform on Friday evening.

I noticed that there was a debate at the conference on a motion which congratulated the Scottish Government on its land reform and community empowerment bills. (1) I had heard that amendments had been submitted to the conference organising committee but that they had not been accepted for debate. I knew that some delegates were frustrated. So, when the security guard was gazing out the window, I sneaked past and into the main hall to listen to the debate. It lasted 42 minutes and if you click on the video above it will play from the beginning at 1:15:25.

I knew something was up when a young man called Nicky Lowden MacCrimmon took to the stage (at 1:25:45) to propose that the motion be remitted back for further consideration. Coming after workable contributions from two Ministers, Aileen McLeod and Marco Biagi, Nicky made it very clear that the grassroots membership were not satisfied with the ambitions of the party leadership. Here’s a flavour of his contribution.

“This motion talks about a road to radical land reform and I don’t think as a party we can say we’re being as radical as we can be, as we should be and as we have the powers to be right now.

I cannot support the motion wholly as I and many other grassroots members of the SNP believe that our vision for land reform is not radical enough and that we’ve not had an opportunity to debate that as a party and think where are we going to go with land reform.”

[Claps from audience]

“Does radical land reform leave 750,000, three-quarters of a million acres of Scotland, in the hands of unaccountable, nameless corporations based in tax havens across the globe? No, it doesn’t and we have the power to change that now.”

[More claps and whoops]

Does radical land reform leave tenant farmers with no right to buy, no security of tenure – farmers who have invested in that land, worked that land for generations, who have kids in the local school, who contribute to local economies being told your tenancy’s up, find somewhere else to live, work, raise a family. No it doesn’t and we have the power to change that now.


At the end of the debate, the delegates voted to remit the motion back by 570 votes to 440.

Nicky had watched the Channel 4 broadcast and later told broadcaster, Lesley Riddoch,

Seeing Andrew Stoddart on TV and the stories from Islay just made me think someone has to say something. It was one of those, ‘if not me then who, and if not now, then 
when?’ ” moments. I take it very personally when the SNP is characterised as feart or bottling it on radical land reform. I know this isn’t how people feel in my branch or on social media. What I stood up and said was what other members have been saying to me.”

Jen Stout (here) and Calum McLeod (here) both blog about the aftermath of this debate whilst Lesley Riddoch discusses it and the unofficial fringe we held in Aberdeen with tenant farmer Andrew Stoddart in her podcast here.

I will publish a blog on the offshore tax havens issue tomorrow. See here.


(1) See motion here.

Image: Land Reform Minister, Aileen McLeod at launch of Land Reform Bill with Carluke Development Trust. Photo by Scottish Government.

UPDATE 13 August 2015 My Written Evidence to the Rural Affairs Committee

The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill was published by the Scottish Parliament on 22 June 2014. The Rural Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Committee has issued a call for evidence on the general principles of the Bill at its Stage 1 scrutiny in Parliament. The call for evidence closes at 1700hrs on Friday 14 August 2015.

I have prepared a Briefing on the Bill designed to provide a non-exhaustive analysis and to help those wishing to submit evidence.

The Bill forms part of a much wider programme of land reform. Other ongoing work by government includes reform to succession law, council tax, private rented housing, land registration and compulsory purchase law. The Bill should thus be seen as part of a wider programme and not the sum total of land reform measures. It should also be stressed that, as the first two parts of the Bill make clear, land reform is a process that will necessarily not be concluded by the end of this Parliament. Indeed it will probably take a generation before Scotland’s land governance is set on anything like a modern footing.

The Bill itself contains welcome measures and these are analysed in the briefing. The most worrying aspect of the Bill as it stands is the abandonment of proposals made in the December 2014 Consultation to bar companies in offshore tax havens from holding title to land and property in Scotland. This would have been a progressive move and one in which Scotland could have been taking the lead in a UK context. Instead, the Bill proposes a meaningless right to request information.

Last month, Private Eye revealed that over 750,000 acres of land in Scotland – an area larger than Ayrshire – was held in tax havens. It applauded Nicola Sturgeon for taking a lead in tackling the problem. Their enthusiasm was premature.

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced plans to publish details of offshore corporate ownership in the English and Welsh Land Registry and pressure from NGOs like Transparency International to clamp down on the use of offshore shell companies is proving effective in westminster. The Scottish Government, however, now finds itself being outflanked by the Tories in efforts to crack down on secrecy and tax evasion. The Scottish Parliament has an important role in scrutinising exactly why this has happened.

Other parts of the Bill are broadly welcome though important matters remain to be debated further as the Bill proceeds through Parliament.



There is a lot of complete nonsense being spun in the media today about the alleged refusal of Scotland to contribute to the financial support of the Royal family. Front page splashes on the Times and the Telegraph has been gleefully picked up by broadcasters and others. The population  has now been led to believe that Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government are somehow snubbing the Queen and refusing to pay a fair share of the costs of maintaining her in the style to which she is accustomed,

We have been here before.

Last December, the journalist Hamish Macdonnell spun stories in the Daily Mail and the Spectator. I debunked them here.

So what are the facts?

The Crown Estate is public land and the Crown Estate Commissioners a statutory corporation responsible for managing the Crown Estate. The net revenues from the Crown Estate are public revenues which are currently paid to HM Treasury.

The Royal Family is financed by through a Sovereign Grant established under the Sovereign Grant Act 2011. Section 1 of the Act provides that the Grant is paid by the Treasury each year from funds voted by Parliament (the UK Parliament).

The Scottish Government has no responsibility whatsoever to provide any funding for the Royal Family since it is a reserved matter. Scottish taxpayers pay towards the Sovereign Grant in the same way as they contribute to all areas of reserved expenditure.

The sum of money comprising the Grant is calculated by reference to the net surplus revenue paid to the Treasury by the Crown Estate Commissioners. The first step in the calculation (Section 6 of the Act) is to calculate 15% of the revenue in the financial year two years prior.

The money is not paid directly from the net Crown Estate revenues. That would be illegal. The Crown Estate revenues are merely used as a reference point. Other reference points could (and should have) been used.

I suggested at the time the Bill was rushed through Parliament (see here and here) that the profits of the Stilton cheese industry might be a candidate. Ian Davidson MP suggested GDP. George Osborne himself said “I completely accept that I could have brought other mechanisms before the House, but the Crown Estate is a large commercial property company that is run in a pretty conservative way. It is not a bad proxy for how the country and the economy are doing.”

With the proposed devolution of the management and revenues of the Crown Estate in Scotland the net profits remitted to the Treasury will shrink slighty from any given base and thus the 15% will reduce very slightly (Scotland only contributes around 3% of the net revenue).

The UK Parliament and the Treasury are free at any time to alter the formula and the Smith Commission recognised that it might be necessary. Indeed, a statutory review is due in April 2016. The problem they have at the moment is in fact that the Sovereign grant has grown faster than expected due to the London property market and George Osborne and the Royal Trustees are busy negotiating a reduction in the Grant.

The Palace official who briefed the media would, in a more distant age, probably have been taken out and shot. Quite why the Palace wants to pick an entirely unfounded and counter-productive attack on the Scottish Government is not clear.

Meanwhile, confusion reigns at precisely the moment when, with the Scotland Bill being debate in Parliament, we need calm negotiation.


Buckingham Palace has released a statement as follows.

“Sir Alan Reid Keeper of the Privy Purse said today: “Yesterday’s media briefing on the Sovereign Grant report 2014-15 was intended to highlight some of the issues that may arise when the first review of the Sovereign Grant begins in April next year. The comments and observations were about a principle and never intended to be a criticism of Scotland or of the First Minister or to suggest that the First Minister had cast doubt on the continued funding of the Monarchy.

The principle is about what happens if profits from certain Crown Estate assets, such as those in Scotland, are not paid to the Treasury and the impact that may have on the calculation of the Sovereign Grant in future years. This question will form part of next year’s review.

As we made clear at the briefing, Scotland contributes in many ways to the Treasury’s consolidated fund – out of which the Sovereign Grant is paid. We said explicitly that to imply Scotland would not pay for the Monarchy was simply wrong and we accept unreservedly the assurances of the Scottish Government that the Sovereign Grant will not be cut as a result of devolution of the Crown Estate.”