It has been a busy time for land reform recently, in terms of legislation and electioneering. It has also been a busy time for me, in terms of writing and conferencing, not to mention the day job. This blog post aims to draw all that recent activity together in one repository. Some brief analysis then follows, with an attempt to gauge what might happen next.
My first post-Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 offering was in the open access online resource The Conversation. That serves as something of an entry point, aimed at those who might not be a lawyer or Scottish.
Next I contributed to the professional journal of Scottish solicitors, the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland. Having my own blog allows me to explain the title of that article in a bit more detail. “Land reform: back, and here to stay” is supposed to sound a bit like a dramatic movie sequel. Further, it makes the serious point that land reform has indeed come back around as a topic for legislation, but also that this legislation will not shy away into the background like earlier land reform measures. This is because it sets up a framework for land reform to stay in the foreground of political thought, by way of: a new Scottish Land Commission; and the preparation and ongoing review of a land rights and responsibilities statement and guidance for community engagement. It took my a while to reach that title, but I am unduly proud of it. (It could have been called something very different.)
I then wrote something of a “long read” for the School of Law blog at the University of Aberdeen. Featuring cats.
Land Reform Road Trip
After that writing, my next phase was more like land reform tourism. The first stop was the University of Glasgow. In an afternoon session there I discussed legislating for community ownership. Other participants looked at Scottish land reform from different and, in two cases, American perspectives. The raw audio of the presentations can be found here. There are also tweets under the hashtag #GFSL2016 and from the account @Scotslaw_UofG.
Next on the tour was Belfast, for the Association of Law, Property and Society Conference 2016. As is my wont, I tweeted proceedings, but I promise I was paying attention. (Just like Stephen Bogle was in the Glasgow presentation.)
A long and varied chain from #ALPS2016 begins here.
Our own presentations built on the session in Glasgow. By “our” I mean my colleague Roddy Paisley, Glasgow’s Frankie McCarthy and Jill Robbie, Loyola New Orleans’ John Lovett, Texas A&M’s Thomas Mitchell, and me. I think it is fair to say some of what we discussed was striking for the American audience, with (and I generalise here) the USA’s different treatment of property “takings”, not to mention its brand of capitalism. For my part, I found the whole conference experience very useful. It also gave me something to speak about in the next leg of my land reform tour, namely…
On Wednesday 25 May I attended Scottish Land & Estates’ Spring Conference 2016 in Edinburgh. Again, I tweeted proceedings, except the bit when I was part of a panel discussion. My chain of tweets is here. The keynote speech was from the new Cabinet Secretary for (amongst other things) Land Reform. More on that below. Other speakers looked at case studies of landownership and the nuts and bolts of things like land registration and the new community rights of acquisition. To try to ensure my panel contribution was completely different, I decided to channel the American property theory I had been exposed to at the ALPS 2016 conference. This allowed me to showcase some of the developments and some of the challenges facing property law across the globe. I hopefully gave landowners some food for thought: my concluding remark was they can either be ahead of the curve or get caught by the curve. To its credit, SLE is already taking steps to remain ahead of the curve, notably in relation to community engagement and the facilitation of transfer of assets to communities.
That leads perfectly onto the last stop of my land reform tour. From Edinburgh (via Aberdeen for an exam board) I made my way to Stornoway for the Community Land Scotland Conference 2016. I was just a delegate, allowing me to sit back and enjoy proceedings, not to mention concentrate on social media output. My chain of tweets from that event can be found here. Whilst I might not have learnt much about the law (and nor did I expect to), I did learn a lot about the great things community landowners are up to but also some challenges they are facing. I also met some old friends and, I hope, made some new ones, so it was definitely worth the trip. On a personal note, it was pretty gratifying to get a “thank you” from the stage for my behind the scenes work in relation to human rights and land reform. (I suppose that work is not so behind the scenes now, but I am cool with that.)
In terms of newsworthy developments, again Roseanna Cunningham gave a speech, but there was also the simple fact that SLE were invited to the event to launch the new protocol for the transfer of land to interested communities. This is quite a development in itself, which was welcomed by land reform activist, and new MSP, Andy Wightman.
Andy Wightman was also sighted in a Stornoway hostelry on Friday evening…
Whilst I was not the only person to attend both the SLE and CLS events, I think I was the only (non-Scottish Government) person to witness the Cabinet Secretary’s two speeches. It would be fair to say there was a different dynamic at these occasions: one audience can be characterised as largely sceptical of further land reform, the other largely encouraging of it. For those seeking more land reform, the mood music seems to be positive, as the Cabinet Secretary asked herself a rhetorical question of whether land reform’s goal has been reached, to which she answered, “We are not there… we are not anywhere near there.” This chimes with what was said in the Q&A after her SLE speech, when she was asked if Scotland’s landownership was too concentrated. Her answer was, basically, yes.
I held my tongue in both Q&As: I felt I had probably caused the Cabinet Secretary enough hassle with a recent drone. Whilst the discussion at SLE was a bit more robust, there was still time for one awkward question at the CLS Conference, about crofting. This was put to the Cabinet Secretary by a recently dismissed member of the grazings committee at Upper Coll. As with a similar question on agricultural holdings at the SLE Conference, the Cabinet Secretary agreed to take that back to the appropriate colleague (Fergus Ewing), as Ewing has such matters within his rural remit. The splitting of these roles has been welcomed by SLE .
I think that is probably enough land reform from me for now, but Calum MacLeod has some analysis over at his blog. As for what might happen politically, I will restrict myself to two observations: this is a “long” (five year) session at the Scottish Parliament (to avoid a potential clash with a UK General Election); and no party has an overall majority at Holyrood. These two things mean that there is the potential for time to be taken for cross-party consensus to develop on land reform matters.
There is, of course, the question of which parties will form that cross-party consensus, which I will leave for another day.