‘Absentee landlord’ Minister leads SNP charge to make landowners the latest decoy hate victims

There is a hilarious irony in the fact that it is Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse who is leading the SNP government’s populist charge to redistribute landownership across Scotland.

Wheelhouse said tonight that it will be a failure if there is not substantial redistribution ‘within this parliament‘.

This is the Minister who was described by the crofters of the Isle of Raasay, less than a year ago and with good reason, as ‘acting like an absentee landlord’.

Needless to say, this phrase struck terror into the indy vote-catchers.

The Raasay Crofters Association had been formed back in 1994 to take over the management of of the island’s shooting and fishing rights on behalf of the island’s crofters. That powerhouse of initiative and ambition, Highland’s and Islands Enterprise – once memorably described by a frustrated Argyll businessman as ‘just a pocket’ – had decided they were no longer interested in leasing the rights from the government.

In February this year, the Scottish Government, through the Environment Minister, sold these rights from under the Raasay crofters – in the best capitalist traditions, to a higher bidder: a firm from Ayrshire, South Ayrshire Stalking.

As the ‘acting like an absentee landlord’ tag struck a match across the media, Mr Wheelhouse showed his mettle under fire.

He publicly blamed his officials.

No nonsense about the buck stopping with the bold Wheelhouse.

Within little more than a week, the government, with antennae glued to this September’s indy vote, had leapt all obstructions, withdrawn the rights from the Ayrshire stalkers and returned them to the crofters – who took them and, one presumes, cannily marked the Wheelhouse card.

You have to grin today, at the sight of this weakling sent out to bat for the Scottish Government in the latest of what has been an increasingly desperate series of distraction efforts in the past week, none of which has hit the boundary with the public at large.

There has been:

  • the ‘cold war’ demand for the MoD to explain what a Russian naval vessel was doing off the east coast of Scotland. Answer: it had been on exercise with some of the Black Sea fleet and was trying to get away from the storm conditions. Was it really likely to shell Bute House?
  • the daft cry to Labour party members and voters by Nicola Sturgeon to vote indy to escape from Tories, with Scotland already the most Tory-free zone in the UK? And making Hallowe’en guys out of ‘Tories’ is so unevolved.
  • the cage rattling, chest beating of an ageing primate to try to get the youngster Cameron to strip off and give him one last crack at a payday.
  • the pre-announced announcement by the First Minister of free school meals for P1-P3 – that somehow forgot to be upfront about the fact that this was the result of additional UK Barnett formula funding to make sure Scotland’s tinies [and Wales's and Northern Ireland's] could enjoy the same support as England’s.
  • and today it’s the inflaming of the lynch mobs – out there, near you, are those greedy landlords who must share what they own with  all comers ‘within this parliament’.

This is becoming an unstable, dishevelled and primitive campaign.

And if any crofter is daft enough to see Paul Wheelhouse as the latter-day champion of the people’s land rights, they really will have been blinded by the rhetoric of an earlier time from seeing that this is all about indy votes.

This government has been in power since 2007. If they had focused on taking land reform seriously, they could have made real progress in the seven years they’ve had. Instead they have muddled around half heartedly with a diminishing and discredited Land Reform Review Group, established and managed at a level of incompetence that would raise the eyebrows of a child on an abacus.

There was tacit SNP support for a flash in the pan stunt last year – an ill-judged attempt fronted by campaigner Andy Wightman, designed to ratchet up nationalist antagonism to landowners as a genre, by targeting two of Scotland’s estates – the Mount Stuart estate on Bute and the Applecross estate in Wester Ross.

A bizarre grab campaign flooded an Edinburgh solicitor’s office with hostile applicants to be members of the boards of trustees of each of these estates – with the applicants almost invariably having nothing whatsoever to do with the areas concerned. This wheeze was obviously about local empowerment?

For the record, the Mount Stuart Estate in Argyll showed its openness and lack of fear by appointing and welcoming a new trustee from the batch of applications it had received.

If the campaign had had the bottle to go for the Crown Estate it would have been respectable – but then the SNP Scottish Government itself has been remarkably muted about the Crown Estate – this body hightailed it to London upon devoluti0n. But perhaps we’re to keep it after all, along with the Queen?

The trouble with this latest ploy to distract from a struggling pro-indy campaign – which could have been so different if it had had the courage of its convictions – is that it is old fashioned, the campaign of a different day.

In the 21st century we are no longer diggers and levellers – although Billy Bragg’s The World Turned Upside Down remains a visceral recruiting sergeant, touching on ancient fidelities.

The reality is that demographic projections see the continuation of the rural exodus, in the urban drift that Britain has progressively known since the 19th century.

This is a worldwide pattern not one specific to Britain.

In a way, the majority of landowners, who in reality struggle with keeping their estates going and do what they can to provide local employment, do us a favour in taking on those responsibilities and keeping the countryside scenically appealing for the occasions when the majority of us drive or walk through it.

Making them targets of what is a short termist political hate-campaign, for motives other than genuine rethinking of the role of land in today’s nations, is brutish and primitive.

The revisioning that needs to be done would take more than the time available between  now and 18th September  – and so is of no interest to the one trick pony that the SNP government increasingly appears to be.

Another disappointment.

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16 Responses to ‘Absentee landlord’ Minister leads SNP charge to make landowners the latest decoy hate victims

  1. Land reform???? I remember the 7:84 Company (and the reason it was called 7:84) Land ownership is a disgrace in Scotland.

    Newsie’s desperate defence of the tax-avoiding trusts subsidised by us the taxpayers reveals that in her ‘journey’ from SDLP, to Labour, through fervent SNP and finally to Tory she had finally found her spiritual home.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 8

    • So who should own the land then? Surely not Trump, Sir Tom, Sir Brian, and anyone else who donates obscene sums to Salmond and his henchmen? The SNP’s motives are more than a bit dodgy.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

    • Confused barely comes close.

      Reductio ad absurdum of FA’s “logic” would have us all sitting in our urban shoeboxes whilst a handful of speculating oligarchs, sheiks, City banksters and run-of-the-mill gangsters would be “doing us a favour in taking on those responsibilities and keeping the countryside scenically appealing for the occasions when the majority of us drive or walk through it.”

      As Andy Wightman points out, the price of land in Scotland is several times its true economic value. Mostly, it’s the subject of speculative investment, with such items as “sporting” uses, tenant rents and occasional sales of overpriced rural housing plots as fringe benefits. Oh, and mustn’t forget the windmill windfalls.

      Over the past ten years, the price per acre of Scottish estates has increased by well over 200%, outperforming the FTSE by a factor of 4. Over several decades, the comparison is breathtaking.

      In, short, you make money for nothing, pay no tax in the interim, and with a half decent accountant to help you, can generally duck out of capital gains tax on the sale too. Wightman’s argument for land tax is compelling (see The Poor Had No Lawyers: Who Own Scotland and How They Got It, Birlinn, 2013).

      And, lest we forget, much of the inflated value is supported (encouraged, you could argue) directly or indirectly by the taxpayer, whether it be through tax breaks for forestry or through agricultural subsidies such as the Single Farm payments.

      Many times its true economic value: it’s a bubble which badly needs to be burst. That way land becomes affordable to those Scots who want to make it productive by living and working on it.

      (Oops, did I suggest that land could fall into the hands of Scots?)

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

        • Read the book, JB. That way, there’s a chance, albeit slim, that you’ll comprehend.

          And, lest you jump to any conclusions, no, I don’t expect the present government and its gormless minister to do anything worthwhile to tackle the problem, apart from throwing some crumbs at that most questionable of solutions, “community ownership”, in line with their instincts which are straight out of 1960s Labour.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

          • Thanks, pm, maybe you could lend me your copy? I seem to have misplaced mine, hence the question.

            I was wondering if you were referring indirectly to the Planning Policy that ensures that land for building is only available for the rich, and thus prevents anyone on moderate or low incomes from building their own homes? The Planning Policy that favours urban developments and effectively prevents anyone apart from the very rich from building in rural areas and exacerbates many other issues, the ‘Bedroom Tax’ being one. The current sticking plaster approach of thowing money at is is doing little to resolve the claimed housing issue

            Land Reforms on their own will, in practical terms improve little without a wider reform on Planning Policy to allow, as an example, housing in less populated areas. All very well building up a business on land you’ve acquired if there is no affordable accommodation for workers.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

      • Tell me PM, are you anti Semitic as well as anti English. Is this what we can expect in the brave new Independent Scotland?

        Racism is racism whether it’s anti Jewish or anti English.

        By the tone of your comments on this website I’m sure your a payed up card carrying SNP member.

        As a UK supporter of Friends of Israel we have been made aware of SNP MSP’s who have anti semitic views and even one who used to have a copy of Mein kampf on his bookshelf. We reserve the right to out these MSP’s at a time and place of our choosing.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

        • Well said, I’m acutely aware of the SNP’s anti-Jew viewpoint. I fear any form of Nationalism. Note the disgraced SNP councillor who was banned from political office in the Highlands for fiddling election expenses, giving a ‘heil’ to the camera in today’s press. You just can’t not notice these things.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

        • What are you on AF? Just exactly what did pm say that was either anti – jewish or anti- english? And as a UK supporter of “Friends of Israel” can I assume that you are a zionist and therefore have anti-semitic (i.e. anti-arab) views yourself?
          Frankly, your “noting” of SNP supporters sounds a bit anti – Scottish to me. Inform us – can we out you now as a racist?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  2. Within ten years some mega rich tycoon will buy all these broken estates up for a song. All the SNP are really about is taking the land off one bunch and giving it to another. Foreign investors Trump et al., and SNP Ministers, will be laughing their way to the bank.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

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