Local Control

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at on 22 March 2016.

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Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate tonight. The main reason I want to speak is to pay tribute to the work that Rob Gibson has done during his time in the Parliament.

Some things have already been mentioned about Rob Gibson’s work, but one has not. That is the work that Rob has done, along with a handful of us, to ensure that the Burns club continues to be a success in this Parliament. During his opening speech, Rob delivered a number of quotes, not from Burns but from artists known in the Highlands today. It is very much in Rob’s nature to take the lessons of life from those who have experienced it and expressed it through poetry and song. I will remember that positively.

Another thing that I will remember positively about Rob Gibson is his enthusiasm for localism. Localism means different things to different people, and there is a point at which Rob and I will diverge and take a different view. However, I agree that one of the responsibilities of this Parliament—in a range of fields—should be to avoid the tendency to gather power to ourselves in Edinburgh. Wherever possible, the devolution of power should be carried down through communities to the lowest possible common denominator, because only by ensuring that decisions are made locally can we truly reflect local views and needs.

That is probably the point on which Rob Gibson and I disagree. Rob’s experience, particularly in land ownership, was gained in the Highlands, but land ownership and its functionality exist in a number of diverse forms all around Scotland. My experience was different: it was in a small farming community in Kincardineshire, an area in which most farms were relatively small and owner occupied. That is why I have found the land reform process in this Parliament to be obsessed with a particular version of history, perhaps centred on a particular form of land ownership that is not universal throughout Scotland. As I have said before in the Parliament, it is true that most land in Scotland is in the hands of a relatively small number of people. However, the vast majority of landowners are small landowners and we must be prepared to defend their rights. Their right to the private ownership of land is something that we should cherish.

That is one of the areas in which I have some worries about the position that perhaps Rob Gibson and certainly others in the debate have expressed tonight. The concept of community can mean different things to different people. If community means a press towards some form of collectivisation, it is something that I will not support and I will defend the rights of the individual. I have looked deep into my heart—I have shone a light into the darkest corners—and have even turned over one or two of the stones that I have found there, but I have not found anything that resembles socialism.