David Stewart, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, is urging the Scottish Government to get serious about land reform on following a recent visit to Gigha.
Mr Stewart, who visited the island as part of a wide ranging trip to Argyll, spent time meeting representatives of the Gigha community to learn more about their experiences as one of the pioneers of community land reform.
He was also keen to hear about the current challenges facing the island.
As a result, he has also tabled a motion at the Scottish Parliament that has attracted cross party support and is hopeful that Gigha can be used as an example for further land reform across Scotland.
Following the visit Mr Stewart said:
‘I was very keen to get across to Gigha to see for myself the benefits that community ownership has brought to the island and also to hear the benefits of their experience ten years on from the community buyout.
‘What is abundantly clear is that the community has prospered as a result of the buyout turning round a pattern of long term decline and attracting new people to the island. It is clear that this could be happening all over Scotland and it is time for community land reform to be much higher up the political agenda.
‘I am proud of the achievements of the last Labour Executive in land reform and I am glad that at long last the Scottish Government have agreed to a review into the next steps of the process.
‘It is now time for the Scottish Government to get serious about Community Land Reform looking at ways to not only help new communities buy their land but also supporting communities such as Gigha in the next stage of their development.’
One issue we would point to where reform in community buy outs is necessary is actually exemplified by Gigha,
The landowner from whom the island was bought was allowed to retain some elements of the property which he cherry picked. Coincidentally these were the earning elements – the home farm and the fish farm.
This seems to defeat the purpose of land reform. leaving a community buying out its land, deprived of the strengths of their potential purchase and making the best of the rest. Owning a sodden stone-ridden field is not necessarily better than tenanting a productive one,
Then, while Gigha will be delighted that their experience and achievements are deservedly seen as exemplary and inspirational, it may be that the island community is now entering or already in a new phase where some realities are making their presence felt and solutions are not yet obvious.
Islanders are shop off the island quite a lot at the moment as there are reasons why their needs cannot now be met locally.
There are also strains from the constant need to repay the money they have borrowed, as the novelty of ownership wears off and the flush of adrenaline that drove the community to the buy out subsides.
None of this is any indication of failure. Gigha has been doughty and inspiring. But this is the reality of the endlessly demanding responsibility they have taken on.
As a landowning community with a mortage to service they are rather at the stage of newly weds once the fun of playing house and throwing dinner parties wears off and the fact of enduring responsibility makes freewheeling singlehood seem temporarily nostalgic.
It would be constructive to rec0gnise that this is a necessary stage of evolution as community landowners and to help the islanders to address it. This would indeed create a model for others. Forcing Gigha into a fiction where all is always bright, happy and easy is to obstruct an understanding of the nature of the realities the buy-out communities come to confront.
Scotland also needs to understand that it is in the nature of things that there will be buy out communities which, at some point, will fail. This is unlikely to be Gigha but one day it will happen with one community somewhere. They will not be alone and it will not be their fault.There is simply a statistical probability and it has to happen to some.
The sort of responsibility in scale and duration that such communities take on has massive rewards but it is wearying. There will be periods of exhaustion and defeatedness. Most will come through but not all.
Is there an ‘exit strategy’ for this eventuality?