The Earl of Hopetoun, Prince Michael of Kent, The Countess of Hopetoun and Princess Michael of Kent

Last night in our ScottishSix show, the topic of Lesley Riddoch’s talk was “Harpies & Quines – is this still Macho Caledonia.” It was a thought provoking analysis of Scotland’s failure to promote the equality of the sexes. I went first and set up Lesley’s part of the show with a link between landownership and gender. For centuries, women have been discriminated against when it comes to inheritance and still today do not enjoy the same privileges as men.

More generally, Scotland stands almost alone of all European countries in not providing legal rights for children to inherit land and property (see Chapter 28 of my book, The Poor Had No Lawyers for a fuller background to the topic including the thoughts of Adam Smith) and so I related the tale of the Earl of Hopetoun and his stated ambitions for his children. The Earl owns the 25,600 acre Hopetoun Estate and is a Director of Scottish Land and Estates (where 8 out of 10 members are men). He has four children – Olivia, Georgina, Charles and Victor.

One of my followers on twitter is a retired lawyer, Neil King (@NeilKing11). He tweeted his concern over what I had said we would be discussing (he lives in the Azores and so cannot make it to any of our shows).

For the record, here is the relevant part of a feature published in the Scotsman entitled “Country Heir” on Thursday 19 July 2012. In the show I read this out to the audience.

Together with his wife, Skye Bovill, whom he married in 1993, the daughter of an army general, he has four children Olivia, 15, Georgina, 13, and twins Charles and Victor, ten.
     Despite his two oldest children being daughters, it is his oldest son who will inherit. When asked whether that posed potential difficulties in choosing his successor, as they are twins, he says: “One is older and one is younger.” He does not want to dwell on the subject but reveals he has had conversations with his own younger brother about who was the lucky one.”

I then handed over to Lesley to discuss the the lot of Scotland’s women folk.

Does anyone feel uncomfortable talking about this? What do folk think about the role of succession law in perpetuating Scotland’s concentrated pattern of (predominantly male) landownership? Should children have the right to inherit land and property? Should anyone have the right – should we not expropriate land on the death of its owner and redistribute it to those in greater need? What do you think?

 

Today, the Scottish Government announced the establishment of a “Land Reform Review Group” that will oversee a “wide ranging review of land reform in Scotland”. If this happens it will be very worthwhile.

However, the remit and membership of this group are yet to be agreed with Scottish Ministers and it is unclear how wide the remit will be. If it is simply to undertake a technical review of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, it will be of very limited value when the real issues concern inflated land values, affordability of housing, succession law, tax avoidance, secrecy, absentee landlordism, theft of common land, land registration laws, common good etc. etc. etc.

Whether any of this gets looked at depends on two things.

The definition of the term “land reform” and the remit for the group. Let’s crowdsource ideas on both of these. Please leave comments on:-

1. a definition of land reform and

2. a remit for the Land Reform Review Group.

I will moderate comments strictly to these two questions.

My interview on Radio Scotland Newsdrive at 1750 today 24 July 2012.

UPDATE 25 July 2012 Rob Gibson MSP has issued a press release welcoming the establishment of the Group. From his comments it appears that the review will focus on community land issues. The “Overview of Evidence on Land Reform in Scotland” published by the Scottish government also restricts itself to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Given too that a review of the Act was the focus of the SNP manifesto commitment, this all suggests that the remit of the Review group is not going to be a review of land reform but a review of one piece of legislation. Since the remit has yet to be published, however, it is still impossible to be sure.

UPDATE 27 JULY 2012 Professor Peter Dale OBE who is a past President of the International Federation of Surveyors 1995-99 and currently their Honorary President has contributed a useful summary of what land reform means. It is an analysis that I agree with. In my view land reform is about the reform of power relations and how that power is derived, distributed and exercised form the core of any serious land reform project. Here is what Peter has to say.

“The words ‘land reform’ often mean almost whatever you want them to mean and depend on to whom you are talking.

Unless I have missed it, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 does not define the term, it merely lists those examples of land reform that the Act addresses. It is as if you had a Health Reform Bill that didn’t address health, only some service delivery such as patient waiting times.

Land is a diverse concept that depends on whether you are looking at it from a legal, financial, land use or social perspective i.e. its ownership, value or use. Reform may concern the changing of land rights (land tenure reform), the redistribution of ownership or use rights (including land consolidation and land reallocation, i.e. reforms to the pattern of ownership), alterations to land use (e.g. physical changes in agricultural practice or through inner city development), changes to land tax (that bring about changes in land ownership, value or use), or changes in how land is managed, etc.

In summary, the term ‘land reform’ embraces all those processes that alter the pattern of land ownership, land rights, land values or land use within a specified area.

Professor Peter Dale 26 July 2012

 

Communications and public relations are a necessary part of modern political life. Indeed, getting your message over often absorbs more time and effort than the content of the message itself. So, when the First Minister, Alex Salmond, was invited to speak at the AGM of Scottish Land and Estates, I assumed that he would have a well-thought through political objective. I tried to ascertain what this might be and was told by an SNP insider that the invitation to speak “seems to have come about as a result of a door-step invite at some occasion. I am not lending it great significance”.

Thus it was no great surprise (to me at any rate) to read an anodyne and vacuous speech which contained no challenge to the established order and to landed hegemony. I hope the Scottish Government are pleased with the headlines they got in the Scottish landowners in-house journal. I presume this is what they wanted since, if they didn’t, they should sack their communications and strategy staff. The editorial by the Chair of Scottish Land and Estates could not be more triumphant (and see further coverage here and here). Salmond has been well and truly nobbled (and according to the last paragraph some sort of partnership is being negotiated between landowners and the government). Land reform is off the agenda.