Rob Gibson, a former SNP MSP and author of Reclaiming Our Land, and Wylie Horn, a practicing ecologist with wide experience of biodiversity loss and the climate crisis, tell The National why the Land Reform resolution being heard on Saturday 8th of October at SNP Conference is so important. 

MOST Scots see land reform and independence as inseparable aims. Rapid progress on both is essential for us to build a democratic, fairer and greener nation. Too often these twin aims are opposed by large scale land owners, land agents and property lawyers.

At the first face to face Conference since 2019 independence activists gather in Aberdeen on 8th October.

That morning the SNP’s Cromarty Firth, London and Dundee West Branches are debating urgent land reform actions that build on the Scottish Government’s Consultation on Land Reform in a Net Zero Nation which is open for comment till 30th October.

We wrote the resolution before a Scottish Government land reform package became clear. A new Bill is promised by the end of next year followed by a Community Wealth Building Bill the year after.

READ MORE: Community ownership of land in Scotland skyrocketed in last 20 years

Some issues just can’t wait for these Bills. Means to build many more affordable homes, ending secret land deals and curbing carbon colonialism can’t wait. We must show voters how to end depopulation and environmental degradation that inflict on deep harm on many rural and urban communities.

Radical land reform counters human rights abuse, climate change and biodiversity loss. Despite limited devolved powers, Holyrood agreed the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement in the 2016 Land Reform Act. Our Government plans to make it statutory, rather than voluntary. That would unleash extensive, new ways to address land misuse and land hoarding.

Big estates must draw up statutory management plans. Firstly, we argue this must include making available land at existing use value for local affordable housing. Secondly, tough criteria for receiving carbon offsetting grants and paying compensation to communities are required. Thirdly, a community’s rights to bid for land up for sale giving them adequate time to prepare should be the rule.

Estates over 3,000 hectares amount to 380 large land holdings in private or charity ownership but also includes government agencies like Forestry and Land Scotland.

We argue that many smaller holdings can pose big social, economic and ecological problem too.

READ MORE: Scotland's renewable sector generated £5.6 billion in 2020, report shows

Effective assessment and enforcement will need more government employees. More jobs could be created from Passivhaus’e, a German design of low energy built homes using new timber and laminate products. Restoring peatland and planting, or even better restoring, native woodlands will mean more local jobs too.

Therefore, in return for public funds, private estates will have to meet these social and environmental tests.

For too long, Scotland has borne the burden of the most concentrated pattern of land ownership in Europe. Scots need to demand an end to dependency, of being mere tenants in their own land.

Our Scottish Land Commission, created by the 2016 Land Reform Act, deserves public praise for its well-balanced research and advice to ministers. Its creation ensures land reform can never again be ignored. Transparency, diversity and appropriate taxing are all in its remit.

In a complimentary fashion, new ideas emerge from lobbyists like Community Land Scotland. A paper, launched last May, saw Miriam Brett and Laurie Macfarlane lay out a detailed route to achieve Community Wealth Building and Just Transition to Net Zero. Their work informs our debate in Aberdeen.

Clear signals from Land Reform Minister Mairi McAllan should flag up a trial run to publicly advertise large land sales ahead of the forthcoming Bills. She could designate housing pressured areas and environmental action points. Short Term Lets control areas are by inference areas in urgent housing needs. Public service workers, young families and the building trades can only afford homes built at below open market housing prices.

Unfortunately, big money, from who knows where, cashes in on carbon offsetting grants. That’s one trap of devolution that allows UK tax breaks, brought in by Thatcher, to then add, perfectly legally, Scottish Forestry planting grants to their investment pot. Hoarding land for private gain must be ended.

Whether you live in Bridgeton, Ballater or Bernera, debating radical land reform is one natural high point at SNP Conference. Aberdeen on 8th October is your opportunity to join in.

Rob Gibson, a former SNP MSP, is author of Reclaiming Our Land, published in 2021.

Wylie Horn is a practicing ecologist with wide experience of biodiversity loss and the climate crisis.

They will address a fringe meeting at 4.30pm Saturday 8th October at the SNP Conference.