SNP-led Scottish Government unveils radical plans to tackle land ownership inequality

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Wed Jun 24 13:10:54 BST 2015

SNP-led Scottish Government unveils radical plans to tackle land ownership
The Independent
24 June 2015

The question of who holds the rightful claim to Scotland’s majestic glens, lochs
and mountains is almost as old as the country itself, with the debate over land
ownership north of the border resulting in much bloodshed over the centuries.

It is a thorny subject for the SNP-led Scottish Government to tackle. But
ministers have finally published radical plans aimed at widening the ownership
of land across the country, which could result in currently private estates
being taken away from landowners and handed to local communities.

Ministers at Holyrood say the proposals contained in the Land Reform Bill will
go some way to addressing the inequality of land ownership in Scotland.
According to some estimates half of the country’s private land is controlled by
just 432 different owners, while the three biggest private landowners hold
almost half a million acres between them.

The proposals have been met with dismay by some of the country’s landowners,
notably Viscount Astor, the stepfather of Samantha Cameron, whose family owns
the 20,000-acre Tarbert Estate on the island of Jura off Scotland’s west coast.
Last month he described the plans as a “Mugabe-style land grab” which would
wrest estates away from landowners and leave communities in the Highlands worse

The Bill, which has yet to be debated by MSPs at Holyrood, will also end the tax
relief enjoyed by the owners of shooting and deerstalking estates, who ceased
paying business rates in 1994 after being given an exemption by John Major’s
Conservative government. Landowners have claimed re-introducing the tax could
make some estates unprofitable and lead to unemployment.

The SNP has suggested that the money raised from scrapping the exemption could
be pumped into the Scottish Land Fund, which is used to help support community
buyouts of land, increasing its annual budget from £3m to £10m. A Scottish Land
Reform Commission will also be established, to recommend further changes to land

Andy Wightman, the land reform campaigner and author of Who Owns Scotland, said
the changes were long overdue and could easily be applied across the rest of
Britain. “Scotland is a very old nation, but a very unmodern one,” he said.

“We’ve never really settled down as a modern democracy to say ‘Look, we’ve got
all this land, how should it be owned and used, how should it be governed, what
kind of stake should people have in it?’ Other countries in Europe had that
debate 150 or 200 years ago.”

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