Act on land to counter twin threats to Scotland

Significant reform of how Scotland’s land is owned and used so as to benefit the people of Scotland is needed if we are to emerge successfully from the long dark shadow cast by the Covid pandemic, and tackle the ‘Code Red’ threat of climate change.

Community Land Scotland (CLS) has sent a briefing paper to MSPs returning to Holyrood next week urging them to view further land reform as a vital tool in addressing the sheer enormity of this dual challenge.

The CLS briefing paper follows a commitment for a new Land Reform Bill by the end of 2023 contained in the draft Shared Policy Programme published by the Scottish Government and Scottish Greens last week.

CLS has welcomed the prospect of a public interest test to apply to transfers of large scale land holdings, and a right of pre-emption in favour of community buy out where the public interest test applies, being contained in the new Land Reform Bill.   It views these measures as essential to help diversify Scotland’s unusually concentrated pattern of rural land ownership.  67% of that land has been calculated as being owned by 0.025% of the population.

The CLS briefing paper cites recommendations from recent reports by the Scottish Land Commission, the Just Transition Commission, Scotland’s Climate Assembly and the Social Renewal Advisory Board which support the case for further land reform.  It also reminds MSPs that in 2019 the Scottish Parliament passed a motion urging the Government to “deliver a more equitable distribution in the ownership of Scotland’s land assets in the public interest.”  The briefing paper asserts that there is widespread public backing for further land reform.  It quotes recent Scottish Government research showing that 71% of survey respondents supported widening ownership of both rural and urban land to include more public, community and third sector ownership, while only 7% opposed that aim.

The briefing paper highlights that prospective purchasers of large estates, including corporations, private individuals and institutional and absentee investors, are increasingly attracted by the considerable public subsidies and the lucrative market in carbon credits now available to landowners. But giving already wealthy ‘green lairds’ more money in an overheating and unregulated land market with no thought for community benefits does not chime with the Scottish Government’s commitment to ‘a just transition’ to a net zero carbon economy, the paper argues.

CLS also tells MSPs that community ownership of land and assets is central to sustaining Scotland’s places in the wake of the Covid pandemic.   It was community bodies at the local level, particularly those which owned land, that helped ensure the Scottish Government’s ‘stay at home’ instruction during lockdown worked on the ground. They made certain the most vulnerable had food, medicines and human contact. They were the local anchors for so many communities, in urban as well as rural Scotland, at the time of greatest distress. The briefing paper argues that community ownership of land and other assets provides a proven model for building community wealth ready to be rolled out more extensively throughout Scotland.

CLS‘s Chair, Ailsa Raeburn, has written to the SNP, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Greens welcoming their commitments to pursuing further land reform policy measures during the current Parliamentary session. In launching the briefing paper, she said:

“There has long been a strong argument that further land reform measures to diversify Scotland’s uniquely concentrated pattern of land ownership and give communities more control over their local land and other natural assets, are necessary to ensure a sustainable future. With the need to rebuild so much of society in the wake of the pandemic; and the existential crisis of the climate emergency, the power of that argument is now irrefutable.”

“Community Land Scotland welcomes the commitment in the Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party’s draft Shared Policy Programme for a new Land Reform Bill to tackle scale and concentration of land ownership in rural and urban Scotland. We are pleased to see inclusion of a public interest test on transfers of large scale land holdings as part of the Bill.  It’s also encouraging to see acknowledgement of the need to ensure that communities benefit from land use changes in support of a just transition to net zero, and recognition that rural repopulation is a vital policy objective for Scotland alongside nature-based solutions to address the environmental and climate crises.”

“It’s clear we need a step change in land reform to ensure that Scotland becomes the greener, fairer and more inclusive nation to which we all collectively aspire.  A new Land Reform Act can play a vital role in that by ensuring that the interlinked benefits of land ownership and land use are distributed more equitably within communities rather than being the preserve of already wealthy individuals, corporations and investment firms.  The Scottish Government and Parliament also need to give serious policy consideration to how the monopoly power of large scale landowners to thwart the legitimate development aspirations of local communities can be curbed.  Potentially limiting the scale of such land holdings needs to be part of that policy conversation.”

Briefing: Land Reform for a Sustainable Scotland

Letter to Màiri McAllan MSP, Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform

Letter to Ariane Burgess MSP, Scottish Green Party Spokesperson on Land Reform

Letter to Rhoda Grant MSP – Shadow Minister for Land Reform and Islands




For further information please contact:

Dr Calum MacLeod, Policy Director, Community Land Scotland

M: 07974829149