MSP Michael Russell writes for the Corncrake: “Land Reform is back in the news again. Paul Wheelhouse, the Environment Minister, told the Community Land Scotland Conference in early June that the Scottish Government was committed to continuing to expand the resource and the opportunity for communities to buy where they live and the Land Reform Group proposals, made to the Scottish Government in May, are likely to be influential in setting a future direction of travel for this most important of issues.
I used to hold Paul’s Ministerial job and I have had a strong involvement in the issue of land reform. For example in 2009 was glad to be able to be helpful to the community of the Island of Rum who had faced an unreal and difficult situation for many years in that they were both employees and tenants of the SNH and its predecessors. Creating the circumstances in which parts of the island could be sold to this diverse group of individuals and a wider mix of land usage created was a challenge but it was one that was successfully met.
But much more remains to do and as the MSP for Argyll & Bute I am more than aware of places within my constituency where traditional landownership has failed and contributed to either continuing depopulation or a bad set of relationships between tenants and owners which has resulted in stagnation or stand off. I hope that the recommendations of the LRG and the Tenant Farming Review Group will inform legislative changes that can open up the possibility of more individual and collective purchase which will lead to greater investment, more relevant local decision making and the injection of an element of democracy into something which – in the words of that unlikely land reformer Winston Churchill in 1909 – “ differs from all other forms of property, and (therefore) the immemorial customs of nearly every modern state have placed the tenure, transfer, and obligations of land in a wholly different category from other classes of property”.
Interestingly Churchill went on to say something even more relevant for Scotland today – namely that “ It is not the man who is blameworthy for doing what the law allows and what other men do; it is the State which would be blameworthy if it were not to endeavor to reform the law and correct the practice”
It is time for more reform of the law and practice of land ownership – and stewardship – in Scotland and there will be lessons and opportunities for Colonsay in that. As the local MSP I would be happy to discuss them on a future visit to the island for that purpose. “Share