Holding a Land Reform Stake

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.

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About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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10 Responses to Holding a Land Reform Stake

  1. andywightman says:

    Good to read some more coverage of this topic – it is altogether fascinating and important. Would that this were being discussed more widely. It appears that the land reform agenda (which is wide and deep) has been corralled into a small number of discrete and self-contained frames of reference, the most prominent of which are “community ownership” “tenant farmers” and “access”.
    These are the dominant interests of the advisors. And yet there are other profound issues such as land & tax matters (no adviser with special expertise), land tenure (no special expertise though Simon Fraser has a broad and detailed understanding), governance (in relation to, for example landaction’s campaign in Bute & Applecross – again no special expertise) and land relations/land tenure/landownership – especially some understanding of the unique characteristics of feudal Scotland vis a vis the Netherlands, Denmark, France etc. (again, no special expertise). The landowning interests cannot be expected to bring any expertise in land reform cos generally speaking the landed interest in Scotland is hostile to land reform. I spoke on a panel at the Big Tent festival with one of these individuals and he displayed hostility to everything that I was saying and rudely interrupted my speech.
    Finally, my blog contains links to the Call for evidence and biogs of advisers and was published hours before the Scottish Land & Estates piece..:-)

  2. Angus McCall says:

    I know how you feel – I too was spared the email notification and I am disappointed that there is no one on the group with obvious expertise in land tenure or tenancy matters. Certainly as chairman of the Scottish Tenant farmers Association I am somewhat concerned that there is not someone with practical knowledge to balance the landowner views

  3. neilking says:

    Ladies! Ladies! Let the LRRG do their work! I’m sure they’ll make a total horlicks of it because they didn’t have you two as advisors but look on the bright side, it will give you endless latitude to say “I told you so” after the event!

  4. 40kbudgie says:

    It seems to me (me being of limited knowledge in this area) that your original observation of “not getting out enough” is at the root of not being on the inside of this particular exclusive group. Anecdotally, those who “get out more” are more likely to get invites to things like this (who was it that said that ability counted for 25% of success and networking/brass necking the other 75%? Oh that’s right: me!). Your relative youth might also count against you.

  5. Buddhadreamer says:

    OK. To the point. I think it has been “Fixed” to stay within the comfort zone of the Commission members. I did NOT see mentioned, even once, the magic words “Environment”, “Sustainability”, “Ecology” , “Food sovereignty”, “Climate change”, “Rural economics”, “Rural economic Sector integration and contribution to, national economy”, and a lot of other things of like ilk. Of course. The answers would have been very uncomfortable, and forcibly making an obvious case for a total land reform, like the kind done in Latin America. Bolivia has more advanced land reform than Scotland. They are asking all the wrong questions, insomuch as they are not including questions like the ones above, and keeping the remit restricted to a very narrow area. The issues they will deal with are going to also be filtered, I suspect, to produce a “Camel”. (A Camel is a Horse, designed by a Committee”). Nothing much is to be hoped from this. Everyone please comment on my remarks, this is too important to leave aside. The science and environmental base, (not obvious to lay people) is vital. All science and technology, and it’s impacts, excluded from the issues. beacuse the have no expertise whatsoever, in this area. Some agricultural expertise, thats all. In the meantime, has anyone noticed the huge weather system changes, and the terrifying spread of food production collapse, across the Northern hemisphere this last three years. The impacts of this, over the next three years, will simply swamp this committee of the great and the good. Pointless. They either need to agree to widen the terms of their reference, or be publicly attacked until they do so. Also some scientists and ecologists on board, please. Dreadful.

  6. Buddhadreamer says:

    PS. I think an alternative, “Green” report needs to be brought out, when they issue their report, by a parallel commission. Saying all the things, and explaining what needs to be done, that the official commission will not. Betcha there will be no minority reports, from this commission. Someone please order some powerful anti-aircraft guns, we need a Flak barrage, if they try to exclude anything too difficult or embarrassing from their remit. What say ye?
    They are doomed to fail, I believe. That was a given, carefully arranged, at the very beginning.

  7. Buddhadreamer says:

    PPS. The political make-up of the commission is biased.

  8. Pingback: Jura says “Yes!” | basedrones

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