Community Land Ownership

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 30th September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Emma Roddick Emma Roddick Scottish National Party

I am grateful to my Highlands and Islands colleague Rhoda Grant for lodging the motion, to which I was glad to offer my support ahead of it being selected for members’ business today. In our region in particular, people are very well aware of the imbalance in who owns the land and how that affects the daily lives of those of us who live there, so I am glad to see the issue getting attention early on in this parliamentary session.

I am proud to be standing here today as an MSP elected on the strength of an SNP manifesto that included a specific commitment to new land reform legislation, which is now expected to be brought forward by the end of 2023, with a new community empowerment act.

One policy that I am particularly excited by is the presumption towards community buy-outs of land. That will help us to not only increase diversity in land ownership, but ensure that local people are involved in decisions on how their land is used. I am certain that most people would not choose to have that land used as an indulgent, conscience-easing vanity project for big business. I cannot tell you how many times in the past few years I have let out another sigh at the newest in a line of self-congratulatory press releases from companies that have bought up land in the Highlands and plan on filling it with trees, because they know better than the local community what the right use of the land is and because they have the money to collect our land for use as an asset to their business to offset the damage that they are doing to the climate elsewhere.

The complete lack of self-awareness of many do-gooders, who fail to recognise that they are just another wealthy private buyer of our land who is contributing to the continuation of a skewed and unjust land market, is astounding. Like many people in my region, my ears prick up when I hear the word “rewilding”, not because I do not recognise the need to tackle climate change, but because it is so often raised as an action to be taken in my region by people with little to no understanding of those who currently live on or work the land—or, indeed, those who could be living on and working the land but are not, because of the enduring effects of the clearances two centuries ago. The attitude that the Highlands are a playground for the gentry or eco-tourists persists from those horrific events.

Rewilding can and should happen in conjunction with repeopling, but it will not if buyers dream up their big rewilding ideas based on a romantic or even Cumberlandesque vision of a sparse, deserted Highlands rather than on the voices and experiences of the local community who currently use and live in the Highlands. The Highlands are not just sparsely populated; they are still cleared.

I am all for restoration of the natural environment as long as lairds and MSPs alike keep it in mind that a true restoration of the Highlands includes recognising the need to reintroduce people to our land as well. The fact that it is large landowners who are speaking out against the general principles of a new land reform bill only serves to tell me that it is exactly what we need to be doing.

Let us do more to discourage the idea that it does not matter who owns the land as long as there are trees on it. Let us diversify the type of land ownership in this country. More importantly, let us empower communities to have a say in what that looks like.