SNP set to cap how much land lairds can own

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Gareth Rose SCOT­TISH PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

A LEGALLY en­forced limit on land own­er­ship could be in­tro­duced in Scot­land un­der rad­i­cal plans be­ing con­sid­ered by a Scot­tish Govern­ment quango.

The pro­pos­als would set a cap on the num­ber of acres any in­di­vid­ual or com­pany can own.

The SNP has pre­vi­ously been ac­cused of at­tack­ing landown­ers with its con­tro­ver­sial pro­gramme of land re­form.

But the lat­est plans – un­der con­sid­er­a­tion by the re­cently formed Scot­tish Land Comis­sion – would rep­re­sent an un­prece­dented in­volve­ment of the state in prop­erty trans­ac­tions.

Last night sup­port­ers of rad­i­cal land re­form said ex­ist­ing landown­ers should be per­suaded to for­feit some of their estates for the com­mon good with a ‘force­ful ap­proach’ if nec­es­sary.

Crit­ics, how­ever, said the cur- rent sys­tem of land own­er­ship was al­ready pro­vid­ing ben­e­fits.

In April, the Scot­tish Govern­ment set up the Scot­tish Land Com­mis­sion whose aim is ‘to pro­vide di­rec­tion, lead­er­ship and strate­gic thought to land re­form in Scot­land’, and to en­sure own­er­ship and man­age­ment ‘con­trib­utes to the col­lec­tive ben­e­fit’.

The Com­mis­sion is now ad­ver­tis­ing for aca­demics or con­sul­tants to re­search how own­er­ship lim­its work abroad.

Ac­cord­ing to the ad­vert, the aim is ‘to iden­tify and de­scribe the var­i­ous ap­proaches that other coun­tries have taken to limit who can own land and/or how much land any sin­gle in­di­vid­ual or en­tity is per­mit­ted to own’.

It is a sign the Scot­tish Govern­ment is about to em­bark on its most ex­treme land re­form yet. That could lead to state in­ter­ven­tion in ma­jor pur­chases, as in Ger­many and France, or lim­its on for­eign own­er­ship, as in Den­mark. It could also spark moves to cut the size of Scot­land’s largest estates, like the 240,000 acres owned by the Duke of Buc­cleuch, or the 169,695 be­long­ing to Danish cloth­ing ty­coon An­ders Holch Povlsen.

In 2014, the Land Re­form Re­view Group rec­om­mended lim­its on the land the wealthy can own. The Scot­tish Govern­ment de­clined to write the mea­sure into its sub­se­quent land re­form bill but the new £20,000 re­search project ten­dered by the Com­mis­sion sug­gests it now plans to.

Land re­form is a highly charged is­sue, with an es­ti­mated 50 per cent of ru­ral Scot­land held by just 432 in­di­vid­u­als.

Robin McAlpine, of Left-wing think-tank Com­mon Weal, said the govern­ment should seek a ‘mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial’ ap­proach so land is handed over will­ingly, but he warned: ‘In some cases you will need a slightly more force­ful ap­proach. If any­one says we can’t al­low the Duke of Buc­cleuch to lose a sin­gle inch of his estate, that’s an anti-en­ter­prise ap­proach to Scot­land.’

But David John­stone, chair­man of landown­ers’ group Scot­tish Land & Estates, ar­gued: ‘It should be ac­knowl­edged gen­er­ally... that our largest estates are at the fore­front of de­liv­er­ing the pol­icy goals of the Scot­tish Govern­ment, whether it be with re­gards to farm­ing, hous­ing, forestry, en­ergy or tourism.’

The Scot­tish Land Com­mis­sion said: ‘We have is­sued a ten­der for a back­ground piece of re­search look­ing at the ap­proaches other coun­tries have taken in con­trol­ling land own­er­ship and the im­pact this has on own­er­ship pat­terns and the pro­duc­tiv­ity and use of land.’

‘Some cases will need a more force­ful ap­proach’

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