On 28 January 2017, there was a community engagement event involving the musicians and friends of La Banda Europa at the Platform Arts Centre in Easterhouse. This brainchild of Jim Sutherland crescendos with a performance at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow tonight, as part of the Celtic Connections festival.
I am a director of the company behind this project, La Banda Limited. The nature of last night’s event was a bit of a free for all, in a good way. Given the eclectic nature of the night and its community outreach feel, I offered to say a few words on some of the community empowerment things that are going down in Scotland at the moment. Here is a rough note of what I said.
I appreciate the subject I am about to say a little bit about – property law – is not always the most entertaining, so I won’t take up too much of your time. I also don’t want to get in the way of tonight’s fantastic music. But I hope the few words I do have to say will be of interest.
My name is Malcolm, I work at the School of Law at the University of Aberdeen, but I have been part of La Banda for a few years now. I was also, three years ago, involved in something called the Land Reform Review Group, which looked at land law and policy in Scotland. That group was formed by the Scottish Government because some people think land ownership in Scotland is too concentrated, or that the power balance between landowners and others is not quite right.
My accent is a little quirky by Scottish terms, my mother is from the Western Isles, and believe it or not land raids took place there roughly 100 years ago, after World War I.
People in Scotland often associate land issues with the highlands and rural Scotland, but that would not be the whole story. I went to uni at Strathclyde, in Glasgow, and grew up nearby, in Kilbarchan. Have any Glaswegians here heard of Mary Barbour? She was born in Kilbarchan. She was a radical who, around World War I, mobilised the people, particularly the women, of Glasgow against opportunistic or perhaps even money-grabbing landlords.
Why am I telling you this? Well, a night like tonight and a show like tomorrow is a great example of social or cultural infrastructure coming together; but that is no good if you don’t have physical infrastructure. That is to say, if you don’t have somewhere to put it. We are lucky tonight to be at the wonderful Platform arts centre at The Bridge in Easterhouse, but what happens to those that don’t have access to such facilities?
In Scotland, we now have a number of different ways communities can acquire assets under “land reform” and “community empowerment” legislation. Less than a week ago, rules about “community asset transfer requests” came into force.
Communities now have a few strings to their bow if they don’t have local assets but want to get them.
Communities can now identify private land and buildings to get “first dibs” or “first refusal” in relation to those assets. That is thanks to something called the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.
This is not restricted to rural areas, since last year this has applied in urban areas too. For example, a group in Portobello in Edinburgh has registered interest in an old church.
Communities can also now ask a local council to transfer assets to it and the council must weigh that up fully.
Soon, there will be powers in relation to land classed as neglected or abandoned, to compel a sale.
What about money and support? That is obviously important, and something called the Scottish Land Fund helped finance the acquisition of a boxing gym in Barmulloch, not too far from here. There are also advice agencies to help communities.
Not all of you are Scottish, not all of you might be planning a buyout, but I hope this has given you a little something to think about.
Back to the rest of the evening. Thanks for giving me the chance to say a few words.