birds'-eye view photography of hills
Photo by Reuben Teo on Unsplash

On Thursday in the Scottish Parliament I led a debate on Community Wealth and the Emergence of ‘Green Lairds.’ The Highlands and Islands I represent is at the forefront in feeling the effects of new forces at work within our land markets.

These forces are likely to further embed the stark social injustice our land ownership patterns represent.

As we all know, Scotland has highly unusual land ownership patterns – very few people owning most of our land.

That concentration of land ownership concentrates wealth, power, and influence into very few hands – it delivers for the few, not the many.

Scotland is also highly unusual in having almost no land market regulation.

That lack of regulation can make Scotland the destination for capital looking for an easy, safe, and rewarding purchase.

What unites this new group of buyers is the climate emergency.

This provides the chance to build corporate reputation, enhance market share and grow corporate wealth on the back of the climate concerns we all have.

It also allows some to continue as carbon emitters while off-setting those emissions through their Scottish land holdings.

Some purchases are likely a hedge against future carbon tax liabilities too.

It is low risk investment with very high returns.

And with the land comes an open door to Scottish government subsidies.

Land-grabbing exploiting an unregulated land market underpinned by taxpayer subsidies.

Even with the welcome doubling of the Scottish Land Fund it will be hard for communities to secure land, even if they had the opportunity.

We know that community ownership of land delivers multiple public benefits.

Community owners are not absentee owners they are the people of the area.

All revenues are kept local and re-invested, building community wealth. Local affordable housing gets built. Population is retained and places repopulated. Jobs get created. Trees get planted and peatlands get restored.

So, while the new owners, the “green lairds”, may be playing to our climate concerns, what regard do they have of these other public interest issues?

We have no guarantees, because when you buy land in Scotland – no questions are asked.

We need to consider capping the total public subsidy of any large-scale owner.

We need to see the uplift in the value of land, effectively underwritten by public subsidy, clawed back for public benefit.

We should act on Community Land Scotland’s suggestion for a Community Wealth Fund.

We need to task Co-operative Development Scotland with promoting co-operative and mutual ownership of land in Scotland.

In her response the minister gave the usual warm words and said that she and the Scottish Government would listen to our concerns as she develops a forthcoming Land Reform Bill.  As a Highlands and Islands MSP and as a co-operator I will be making the case to the Scottish Government about the need to support genuine community ownership of land in Scotland.