Following the Scottish election in May, the thoughts of those of us who want to see radical land reform in Scotland turn to the question of what next. As someone who has campaigned on the land question for over twenty years, my perspective is now utterly changed as a newly-elected MSP. This new Parliament is one of minorities with the initiative in the hands of any party that can develop, promote and secure agreement to take the next steps on the way to comprehensive land reform.
The next year or so will be dominated by the various bits of secondary legislation necessary to implement the 2016 Land Reform Act and the Scottish Land Commission is to be up and running by April 2017 and will help in providing a focus for fresh thinking.
But already a list of topics is emerging where there is an appetite for further progress. For example, the Land Settlement Act 1919 remains law but hasn’t been used for 50 years and is out of date. Modernisation could provide a mechanism for resettlement of the land by families and communities across Scotland including in and around cities as part of efforts to boost local food production.
Land could be made cheaper for new housing by allowing local councils to buy it at existing use value rather than the inflated value that arises following the granting of planning permission. This approach, still followed in Germany, would allow local input for more affordable and higher quality housing led by local people rather than developers.
Transparency of land information is vital and more work is needed to complete the Land Register, to make it freely and easily available to users, and to end the secrecy surrounding offshore companies.
Taxation also needs a comprehensive shake-up. Reform here has been ad-hoc. The SNP and Tories are committed to continuing the council tax, the non-domestic rating system is to be reviewed by a former RBS banker and the re-introduction of sporting rates is scheduled for 2017. There is an opportunity here to ensure that all land pays its fair share of local rates and that we move towards a comprehensive system of land value taxation.
Many other topics require scrutiny. Compulsory purchase law is being reviewed by the Scottish Law Commission, the Crown Estate is being devolved, crofting law is coming under renewed strain following the suspension of grazing committees on Lewis and common good law governing common land in Scotland’s former burghs is clearly no longer fit for purpose.
I will be discussing these and many other questions with MSPs from all political parties with a view to building support for a further Land Reform Act within the lifetime of this Parliament. There is a progressive alliance to be formed with Labour, Greens, Liberal Democrats and SNP. We should be bold and ambitious and so too should communities across Scotland. There is a real prospect of taking land reform forward in new and exciting directions and I look forward to being part of that effort.
This article first appeared in the West Highland Free Press