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TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

The social cost of unjust land ownership

This opinion piece is about 10 years old

David Cameron, chair of Community Land Scotland,explains why unjust land distribution is still a major social issue in Scotland

David Cameron, chair of Community Land Scotland
David Cameron, chair of Community Land Scotland

When we get immersed in an issue, it is easy to see the trees and lose sight of the wood. Well, the wood, in this instance Scotland’s land story, came firmly back into focus for me when Community Land Scotland started to explain Scotland’s land ownership patterns to international land reformers recently.

People can assume that the way our land is owned is the same as everywhere, isn’t it? Well no, and for some Scottish people this is news, our land ownership patterns are massively out of line with the rest of Europe and much of the rest of the world. Most European countries took radical action to reform land ownership in centuries past.

It cannot be right in a country that believes in greater fairness and social justice, that just 432 people own half of Scotland

Is this relevant to today’s world? Established land interests tell us it is land use and not land ownership that is the key issue. We have also been fed a regular diet of propaganda that suggests the way land is owned and managed in Scotland is the best and most efficient way, indeed the only way, and we should be grateful to wealthy private owners for subsidising us!

The truth is rather different. Not only are we discovering just how much we subsidise the largest wealthy landowners through beneficial tax breaks and large grants, while they watch their land values soar, we are challenging the conventional wisdom on land ownership.

It cannot be right in a country that believes in greater fairness and social justice, that just 432 people own half of Scotland. That fact concentrates welath and influence, and power over what happens on the land, in very few hands. Land reform can widen opportunity, spread influence and power, and distributes wealth more widely.

Opponents of reform might want to portray this as the interest of a minority of political activists, but achieving land reform is a mainstream international cause supported by international institutions. It is about people-centred land governance, empowering people to take responsibility for a more sustainable future. Where we see community ownership of land in Scotland, it is delivering remarkable social and economic results in combatting decline.

Community Land Scotland is active in promoting more change to provide the practical means to liberate and empower more communities. It is time we finally dealt with our outdated land ownership arrangements in pursuit of greater social justice, greater fairness and stronger communities.

David Cameron is chair of Community Land Scotland. In his next TFN blog, he will explain how Community Land Scotland proposes land ownership should be reformed in Scotland.