Land is a public good and a natural resource that should serve our common interests. It is vital for our sustainability and for Scotland’s biodiversity. However, we currently have a system of land ownership that concentrates wealth and power in the hands of a few. The system operates at the expense of the social, economic and environmental benefits that land offers. That is why I cannot welcome the growing trend of wealthy individuals and corporate interests seeking to use land to greenwash their record. It is a sign not of growing corporate responsibility or the rich engaging with the realities of the climate emergency, but of an unjust transition and a further transfer of wealth and power at the expense of working communities and our natural environment.
If we are serious about tackling the climate and ecological crises, now is the time for redistribution of land. We must create a new system of land ownership in rural and urban spaces that empowers local communities and delivers for the common good.
Rhoda Grant was right to say that the biggest problem that we face is Scotland’s “no questions asked” approach to land markets. The Scottish Government’s commitment to introduce a public interest test for land transfers is a welcome step forward. Such a test would send a signal that common good is at stake when land is exchanged. It would also provide greater transparency around sales. The Scottish Land Commission has also suggested introducing land management plans and a review of land rights and responsibilities. Those measures would be welcome, but they must have teeth and protect the public interest.
There should not be a limit on our ambitions. There is much more that the Parliament can do with the powers that it has. More radical proposals, such as caps on private land holdings and a land value tax, must be considered. After all, why should money and connections enable a wealthy few to monopolise a public good such as land? Why should landowners continue to benefit from the increasing value of land, which was created by public money? The Parliament should empower communities to take ownership of their space and their land.
The issue of land reform has dogged Scottish politics for decades. We have had years of discussing and debating the issue, but now is the time for change.