THE Scottish Government must take a “much more radical” approach to land reform, an expert has said after SNP president Michael Russell backed his proposals.

Writing in The National over the weekend, the former constitution secretary criticised the 3000-hectare limit at which, under current Government plans, land sales in Scotland will trigger a public interest test.

Calling for a “new radical approach to the imminent Land Reform Bill”, Russell wrote: “The suggested level of 3000 hectares is universally regarded – apart from by the landowners themselves – as being far too high.

“Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) – hardly a revolutionary organisation – has suggested 1000 hectares and the Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba has brought forward a draft bill to reduce it to 500.

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“I have to say I favour that figure and I also support a cumulative total for individuals or companies and the sale or transfer of key community assets – piers, harbours, shops, hotels – as being triggers for the test as well.”

Proposals for a public interest test on sales of key community assets came from Dr Calum MacLeod, a land reform expert who recently penned a report on the topic for the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

MacLeod welcomed Russell’s call for “a much more radical Land Reform Bill”.

He went on: “The Government now needs to make good on that call by committing to the 500 hectares ‘trigger’ threshold for the public interest test and ensuring that the test can also be applied to assets of community significance in urban areas. Otherwise, the forthcoming bill risks being a squandered opportunity to ensure that Scotland’s land benefits all of Scotland’s people rather than a privileged elite."

MacLeod added that the Scottish Government should "commit to examining the scope for introducing land value taxation and reform of succession law, as part of the integrated approach to land reform policy that I called for in my recent paper".

The National: EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Scottish Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba during Portfolio Questions in the Scottish Parliament, on September 28, 2022 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Ken Jack/Getty Images).

Villalba (above) said that 3000 hectares – which is equivalent to 30 square kilometres or around 7400 acres – is “so vast and would affect so few landowners that it would hardly address the issue at all”.

The Labour MSP also shared figures from the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland which showed there are 2040 registered titles and a further 615 unregistered landholdings over 500 hectares in Scotland.

She told The National: “Scotland continues to be blighted by archaic and unregulated land ownership arrangements which facilitate the extraordinarily high concentration of land in the hands of so few.

“Analysis of the Scottish Government’s recent consultation found that most respondents who suggested an alternative threshold called for a figure lower than 3000 hectares, and the president of the SNP Michael Russell has said this week that the Scottish Government’s suggested level of 3000 hectares is ‘universally regarded as being far too high’.”

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Villalba went on: “The case for a 500-hectare limit is clearly growing and it is heartening that Michael Russell is among those supporting it.

“Our land is a finite resource and must work in all our interest. The SNP and the Scottish Greens must now work with Labour to deliver meaningful 'Land Justice', rather than join with the Tories to protect the privilege of the wealthy."

She also said there should be a “mechanism for the public interest test to be applied to existing holdings over 500 hectares, otherwise we could be waiting for decades for any meaningful change”.

The National: Humza Yousaf (Robert Perry/PA)

Previously, First Minister Humza Yousaf (above) has said the Scottish Government will “seriously consider” proposals to reduce the public interest test limit from 3000 to 500 hectares.

“I think we should be open-minded. I’ve said often that I think the land in Scotland is concentrated in the hands of too few people and therefore I am somebody who believes in fairer land ownership in Scotland so I’ll look at the propositions and proposals and we will seriously consider them,” Yousaf said in July.

The consultation on Villalba’s Proposed Land Ownership and Public Interest (Scotland) Bill is open on the Scottish Parliament website until September 12.