Community Land Scotland’s heart and head at odds

David Cameron, Chair of Community Land Scotland – the organisation which represents Scotland’s growing number of community land owners – has made a call for the Land Reform Review Group [established by the Scottish Government and which is due to make an interim report this month] to be radical.

He says: ‘We are soon to see the first insights of a group established by the Scottish Government to examine how, not whether, further land reform can be advanced. They have been invited to be “radical” by the Scottish Government and many people will be looking for clear recognition that successful land reform is about changing the balance of current interests.’

Tying the arguments for further land reform to the drive for greater social justice in Scotland, he adds:  ‘It is hard to think that Scotland could be taken seriously when it comes to securing greater social justice unless achieving significant change in land ownership patterns is firmly part of the agenda. It is time to take the decisive steps necessary to re-shape Scotland’s land ownership and the destiny of communities up and down the land.

‘The purpose of land reform is not to be able to present a national score card on land holdings that looks more equitable.

‘The purpose is to distribute power and influence more widely and effectively, to release economic and social development potential and opportunity.

‘Giving more people access to the wealth of the land is to widen opportunity and contribute to creating a more socially just Scotland.’

While supporting the revolutionary spirit here, it has to be pointed out that not all land has value – and that some community buy outs have inexplicably allowed the owner to retain the valuable land elements of an estate.

For example, in the buyout of the Isle of Gigha, the landowner was permitted to keep for himself the home farm and a salmon farm.

This sort of under the counter arrangement knocks the bottom out of the notion of radicalism and of allowing access to ‘wealth’ for the many.

As we have pointed out before, the pattern of many post-buy-outs shows the creation of dependency cultures driven not to be entrepreneurial but to focus on continual applications for more grants from public and third sector fund awarding bodies.

However, predicting strong arguments for the status quo from the existing private landed interests, David Cameron makes clear that his organisation is looking for much more than tinkering at the margins of change.

He says: ‘The current vested interests argue all is really well, they are doing the right thing by communities, they are effective curators of the land and are job creating, and they would welcome more community involvement in planning and to have partnerships with communities.

‘All that is designed to say there is no need for further change, but the communities I know which are making remarkable progress since taking ownership of their land would see greater community involvement in planning and partnerships with estates as of no value when compared to what is possible with ownership. It is the ownership that is decisive and nothing less is even faintly comparable.’

‘More radical land reform is required, a new balance is needed which gives much more weight to the interests of communities in pursuing sustainable futures. Only Parliament and the law can underpin the necessary change and without the force of the law, expect nothing much to change.’

Mr Cameron is right that ownership is important – not because it copper-fastens economic sustainability – that has not yet been unarguably shown – but because it strengthens massively the connection to place.

However, there is little evidence yet that it creates sustainable jobs in significant numbers to keep young working people and their families in economic health and growth and with career prospects.

Subsistence living no longer attracts the young who are well aware of  different lifestyles and prospects off the land and elsewhere.

Community land ownership is attractive but it is important to be clear about what it can and cannot do.

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