The Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) appointed by the Scottish Ministers has now appointed a raft of advisers. In July it was promised that ten people would be appointed, and those people would have “expertise in areas such as property and land issues, economics, legal issues, community-led organisations, landownership, forestry and access”. It now transpires that ten has become eleven: the more the merrier. A list is available over at land reform campaigner Andy Wightman’s blog. A quick look there will make it apparent he is not one of the appointed eleven advisers. Not only that, he was apparently not a land reform stakeholder and therefore was spared an email notification of this news. I share some esteemed company, then, in that I too was overlooked for an appointment and failed to be classed as a land reform stakeholder*, meaning that I only found out about the whole appointment situation after it first dripped to Wightman’s blog than dropped to me. The other online announcement that can be readily tracked down is via the Scottish Land & Estates website, where they helpfully make the LRRG’s “Call for Evidence” available, which includes biographies of the eleven advisers. As at 7 October, there is nothing on the Scottish Government website news releases page.
Now, I am not so immodest as to think I should have been a shoo in for an advisory role, but it would have been nice to be a stakeholder. (*On which point, please see my clarification below.) I suspect Wightman has more of a cause to moan than I do at the Scottish Ministers’ apparent oversight, maybe they have not read some of his literature; which literature is admittedly, and unashamedly, radical in its outlook. That being so, he could have been a useful counterpoint to the views of the Scottish Land & Estates representatives. Those representatives are hardly likely to (metaphorically) drive a stake through the heart of the landowning élite. Wightman does not even get a stake to drive.
For my part, I was a tiny bit miffed to have been completely overlooked. I have written a fair amount on the issue – 9 out of my 16 “learned” pieces of writing are distinctly flavoured with land reform (right to buy or access to land related). You might have noticed the issue cropping up on my blog from time to time. Maybe I need to get out more. I would like to think all my pieces are quite balanced, I have certainly tried to make them such as legal critiques can be easily critiqued in turn if they appear partial. I have responded to Government consultations about urban renewal and Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 access rights. I have spoken at conferences on all aspects of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and I am involved with the Rural Law Research Group at the University of Aberdeen. And not even a wee email to let me know this was all happening? Or any indication as to how the selection process works? Maybe I need to make my interest in land reform more obvious in future. Perhaps I should check if a fellow member of the Scots legal academy has any spare “Abolition of the Feudal System” T-shirts for me to wear with geeky pride. (I understand said academic sported such a T-shirt in a lecture on the appointed day for abolition, Martinmas 2004.)
Thus I fall back on that pragmatic oft-uttered platitude. We are where we are. What then should we make of the LRRG’s advisers? Despite what might seem like a slightly defeatist preamble, I think they have drafted in some very able people. Simon Fraser, the sole solicitor adviser, certainly has land reform form. His old firm, Anderson MacArthur in Stornoway, was kind enough to provide some work experience to a younger me one summer. I do wonder if perhaps another property law mind could have been drafted in as an adviser. “More lawyers, surely not!” Well, that would be an understandable reaction, but there are some very wide questions of property law theory, not to mention property as a human right, that might be engaged by this exercise. I have no idea whether the likes of Professor Reid or Professor Gretton were contacted to see if they were available, but I would have thought there would have been a clear advantage to getting such people involved.
Looking quickly at the other advisers, I can only offer brief observations on two. Agnes Rennie will no doubt champion community interests with some gusto. (If she is wondering what I am basing this opinion on, all I can say is my already alluded to Lewis connections mean I know a little bit about the goings-on at Galson.) Bob Reid will also bring his own expertise to bear in relation to access rights and planning, in much the same way as he did at a recent conference at the University of Aberdeen. As to the core membership of the LRRG, I must make a special acknowledgement of James Hunter. His books “The Making of the Crofting Community” and “The Last of the Free” are absolute must-reads and his historical knowledge of the Scottish Land Question is beyond question. I also owe him dinner, which debt I owe as he kindly bought a younger me haggis, neeps and tatties in Inverness. He also patiently fielded my (no doubt haphazard) questions as I interviewed him as part of the groundwork of a Strathclyde Law School dissertation on the community right to buy and the crofting community right to buy. I would love to buy him dinner in return. I suppose the work of the LRRG gives a perfect excuse for me to do that.
*Update – 8 October. I received an email from the “Head of Land Reform Review Group Secretariat” this afternoon. Although not marked as confidential, it has the usual disclaimer re disclosure so I shall not reproduce it verbatim here. Essentially, it was an apology for my not receiving the “stakeholder” email notification last Thursday, which occurred because the volume of outgoing emails led to something of an overload and that stopped me (and apparently several others) getting the email. It told about the meeting in Birnam last Thursday and that the LRRG website (www.landreformreview.org) will be live this week. Any whinging above by me can be mitigated by this clarification.