[diggers350] Scottish Land Rights and the MST
tony at gaia.org
Wed Jun 30 01:54:37 BST 1999
Dear tolerant ones,
Sorry for accidentally posting that (embarrassing) message to Zoe earlier.
Hope this refreshing blast from North of the border makes up for it.
General tlio swing of things seems to be:
Saturday 3rd June: Core group meeting 12 noon Oxford office
Wednesday 7th July: Kett meeting point announced
Sunday 11th July: Kett... The Rebels Return to Norwich
Monday 2nd August: Next tlio newsletter out - make sure you're on the
Office 01865 722016
Mobile 0961 460171
ps. Can't get that new number one out of my head... 'I thought music was
dead!' - (Glaswegians Bis)
A leviathan awakes?
Angus Calder & Alasdair Gray's home rule handbook Part Three:
ALASDAIR GRAY : The Scottish people grow particularly warm in argument
concerning the land and its ownership. We understand from the Secretary of
State that 85 organisations and individuals submitted responses to one
document produced by the Land Policy Research Group, which made its
recommendations at the start of this year.
ANGUS CALDER : Perhaps we should be concerned that the number of responses
was so small, since we all live on the land (now that lighthouses have been
fully automated) and a large proportion of us own properties on it, subject
to keeping our mortgage payments up to date. However, "land" as a term in
political debate usually seems to mean "rural land, especially in the
Highlands". Only a small proportion of Scots live in the Highlands but we
tend to believe that our true identity as Scots derives from those windy,
wet, remote, infertile but, to many, perversely attractive landscapes.
There is a widespread belief that Highland chiefs in the 18th and 19th
centuries effectually stole land which properly belonged to all the folk
who dwelt on it, the whole clan. They then extruded people and in their
place introduced sheep for profit and deer for sport. Finally, their
inheritors peans who compounded the original theft by controlling the land
as absentees. Just as wildlife protection groups take no interest in those
resourceful and successful creatures, urban seagulls and pigeons and urban
rats and foxes, so land ownership is rarely discussed as an issue affecting
the urban areas where the great majority of Scots live.
AG : I observe that you are set upon provocation. Was it not admirable
that, in 1993 and 1997 respectively, the crofters of Assynt and the
islanders of Eigg, with heartfelt support from many Scots elsewhere, were
able to purchase the estates on which they live?
AC : Yes, but they are not clanspersons of the clans from which the land is
supposed to have been stolen. The principle involved is not like that
involved in the transfer of lands back to people of Maori descent in New
Zealand. It does not invoke aboriginal rights to the soil. It is the
conception perhaps sound, and universally valid that estates should ad
co-operatives of actual residents. It might be applied to housing estates,
or "schemes" as we call them here. However, such groups, as things stand,
do not have ultimate ownership of the land.
AG : But surely, in the worldview prevalent in the West since the 17th
century, property is deemed to be sacrosanct. Those who have paid for the
island of Eigg, own it. If they dont who does? ...
AC : We all do.
AG : Sir, I perceive that you are intoxicated.
AC: Nothing stronger than mango juice has passed my lips this day. What I
say is true. Just one mortifying shadow falls over my glee at this
discovery. The English, the Welsh and the Northern (although not the
Southern) Irish also own the whole of Scotland.
AG : Pursue this point if you must, but I fear that you will confound
AC: You are aware, of course, that alone in Europe Scotland still has a
feudal system of landownership?
AG : Yes, and lawyers and civil servants have been struggling for several
decades to invent a sound scheme for getting rid of it. We understand that
a major obstacle has been that Scottish land law is so intricate and
outlandish (please forgive my childish wordplay) that the Westminster
parliament could never have found time to discuss it properly. Thus, though
Mr Dewars group has worked out how to do away with it, and his party will
probably command a large number of seats in our own new parliament, where
he promises that land will be a topic for early discussion, feudalism, for
the moment, survives.
AC : Perhaps we should retain it.
AG : If I ever ingest mango juice, it will be with extreme caution. Why
should we propitiate the evil ghosts of rapacious noblemen who oppressed
poor men and, to boot, ravished their wives, while they persisted in
betraying Scotland to the English?
AC : Because we ourselves possess feudal sovereignty.
AG : I think that you should hasten to report that to the marines.
AC : Nay, hearken ... The Queen, you will agree, is nominal sovereign of
the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ...
AG : "Ukania", as Tom Nairn has called it, yes ...
AC : But since the 18th century it has been understood that Ukania is
governed by the monarch-in-parliament. Effectively, this meant at the
outset that the monarchs ministers, led by the prime one, and commanding
as a rule a majority of votes in the House of Commons, shared out among
their friends and other persons who might be useful to them, including
Members of Parliament, moneys acquired by direct and indirect taxation of
the gentry and populace. To justify this larceny they maintained armies and
navies which could sally forth and loot the rest of the world, while
extending scope for Ukanian merchants and manufacturers and so, as they
could argue, increasing the nations general wealth. During the 19th
century, the fraudulence involved in all this was made less blatant. A
civil service emerged which was presumed to be wholly incorruptible. The
army and navy were only allowed to steal the property of non-white peoples.
Some governments in the 20th century have actually used the tribute
rendered by taxpayers to improve the comfort and prospects of the
generality as, for instance, in the creation of a National Health Service ...
AG : You wander off your point ...
AC : Not so. My point is that in our own times the notion that we, folk at
large, have our interests genuinely represented by a parliament which is in
effect sovereign throughout Ukania has, intermittently at least, ceased to
be fictional. In a democracy, the interests of the people are expressed
through representatives who govern on their behalf. Do you deny that we
live in a democracy?
AG : That is debatable, but most folk seem to think so. Pursue your point.
AC : It follows that under Scottish feudal land law the Ukanian electorate
have ultimate sovereignty over all the straths, braes, landfill sites,
council schemes, football sta et cetera , of our bonny country. Whether
tenure is by feuing or allodial, whether land is held by "box tenure" as in
Paisley or by a "kindly tenant" in Lochmaben or under old Norse "udal"
custom as in the Northern Isles, all of us, voting regalia the Crowns
sovereign and inalienable rights.
AG : But if we were to create a Scottish republic ...?
AC : That "state", if we must use a term which many, not without reason,
find sinister, would take over sovereign feudal ownership of the whole of
AG : Are you suggesting that our new parliament assuming, as Mr Dewar
clearly does, that sovereignty in this sphere of interest is devolved from
Westminster might assert its feudal superiority over tenement flats in
Partick and modest villas in Broughty Ferry? Might it, for instance, compel
all tenants to acquire digital TV at once, on pain of eviction?
AC : No that would clearly be tyrannous, though such a consideration
would not necessarily deter the present Ukanian Prime Ministers very good
friend, Mr Rupert Murdoch. Sovereign though we are, we must legislate when
needful to restrain the exercise of our own power. Law needs must safeguard
honest tenants against cruel and arbitrary treatment by our sub-landlords,
just as it might prevent the inhabitants of Knoydart, were they to wrest
immediate control of their 17,000 acres from an English businessman
currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, from turning the
whole area into a Highland theme park or using every tract of water for
insanitary fish farming.
AG : Mr Dewar himself clearly believes that our parliament will be within
its rights to dispossess absentee and otherwise delinquent landlords.
AC : Yes. A very wise man once pointed out to me that if one had an idea
which was wholly original it would certainly be wrong. So I am happy to
think that Mr Dewar might agree, in effect, that the principle of common
sovereignty over land, if we can preserve it from the devastation of the
rest of our feudal system, would permit our parliament to act decisively,
without particular legislation, overriding unsatisfactory landlords.
"According to our power yew are oot , Jimmy" ... a formula as brief as
that might suffice.
AG : But is that not the language of Leviathan , erstwhile assimilated by
some sincere Christian folk with the voice of Antichrist himself?
AC : Up to a point one must go along with Hobbes. Consider these facts.
Half of Scotlands 19 million acres are held by 608 landowners, three acres
out of ten by 135, one fifth by 58, and a tenth by just 18. If one takes
out of account the 12 per cent of Scotland which is owned by public bodies
such as the Forestry Commission and the 3 per cent covered by our major
cities, one half of the privately owned rural land in Scotland is
controlled by less than 350 owners, and over a third by less than 125
owners, each with more than 20,000 acres. Mr Robin CalHow Scot (Canongate,
1998), I have plagiarised these statistics, notes that at the end of
Victorias reign, in that classic era of English country house culture,
less than 7 per cent of England was held in estates of more than 20,000
acres. "It appears that no other country in the world can match the
concentrated land ownership in Scotland". Good old Hobbes would surely have
pointed out that it takes some brute of a leviathan to sort our six-score
AG : You do not consider the suggestion, long advanced by the Old Labour
Party, that all land should be nationalised.
AC : Of course I dont. You obstinately ignore my point. We, as voters of
the nation state of Ukania, own all of Scotland already, jointly with most
of the other occupants of the North West European Archipelago.
A G : So a large question might be this can we restrict sovereignty over
Scotland to the people who live and vote here?
AC : Subject to European Union law, if we secured a sufficient measure of
independence within or outwith Ukania, yes, presumably we could do that.
AG : But might not our continental partners take it amiss if we exercised
our sovereign authority to dispossess absentee Teutons and distasteful
AC : This is a particular instance of a general problem facing our
parliament. Scotlands membership, through Ukania, of the European Union
will necessarily constrain any sovereignty devolved to us. I am pretty
clear that we have the right to put desolate housing schemes under the
immediate ownership of their inhabitants and assist them with resources,
such as dynamite, which will enable them to develop their land as they
themselves wish. But in other areas, policies will change in ways that we
ourselves, alone, Sinn Fein, cannot control. For instance, the common
agricultural policy, a racket operated on behalf of the numerous peasant
voters of certain European countries, is likely to change because if the
Community is widened, as it is hoped, to include countries formerly in the
eastern bloc, inconveniently large numbers of genuinely indigent peasants
would join our union, costing well-to-do city dwellers far too much. I am
not clear whether we might or might not be prevented or inhibited from
imitating an excellent idea of the Movimento Sem Terra of Brazil, as
reported recently by Mr Richard Ross, formerly a singer with a musical
ensemble called Deacon Blue, who went there at the request of Christian Aid
AG : You intrigue me. Most people in the wealthy north assume that only
pale-skinned persons have good ideas.
AC : Briefly, the MST, in the teeth of opposition from powerful landowners,
has taken over underdeveloped land and resettled over 150,000 landless
families in the last 14 years or so. These people enjoy a large measure of
self-sufficiency in food. By 2002, the MST plans that all its farms will be
completely "organic". I should like to suggest to MSPs that we should
legislate to ban non-organic farming in Scotland, phasing it out as swiftly
as possible. The Wisdom of the Serpent tells me that if we maximise
production of organically grown crops, we should be able to export them
advantageously, as many customers in the so-called advanced countries are
weary of being poisoned by what they eat and fearful about the pollution of
farmlands. Of course, with our sovereignty at their disposal, our
representatives might simply order all our tenants to comply forthwith ...
AG : I think, too, that local authorities should supply allotments where
folk, in or out of built-up areas, could grow their own vegetables. In most
large German cities Berlin included there are great areas of
allotments, each with a small summerhouse and toolshed. In Britain, the
allotment movement has only been actively sponsored by Government during
the two world wars. Our education system could teach everyone land use as a
recreation as well as a necessity.
AC : Yes, and digging and tending our allotments, we would express our
actual possession of our own land.
Date of article: 15/2/1999
Tony Gosling tony at gaia.org
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