Land is not a possession like other possessions and nor is it an asset like other assets. In the satirical words of Mark Twain, “buy land, they’re not making it anymore”. This is not a market in which demand can stimulate more supply, but one in which a fixed asset is somehow divided between competing interests. Land is fundamental to the existence of nation states and the land of any nation is inherently finite. We wouldn’t allow an entity to claim ownership of all of our water or air, as these are prerequisites for life, yet we treat land more like a consumer good than a fundamental foundation of existence.
Unless a person has lived through a period of significant change in land management or ownership, they will have been exposed to only one philosophy of land management or land ownership throughout their life. This can lead people to believe that there is no plausible alternative. For example, many people believe that Scotland’s grouse moors are barren naturally, rather than this being a consequence of deforestation, close grazing and intensive management.
This paper, created with the New Economics Foundation and commissioned by REVIVE, explores the key issues around land ownership and land reform in Scotland and makes several policy proposals that could help better distribute power and land ownership, develop and facilitate a sustainable land-use strategy in the public interest.
Land reform is viewed not as a tool to redress old injustices (though there are old injustices that deserve to be fixed), but as a key foundation of revitalised rural communities and economies, and a stepping stone to meeting some of the key challenges of the 21st century, namely rising economic inequality and climate change.
Note:- The illustrations used in this report were produced by students of the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in a joint project with Common Weal. The individual artists are credited throughout. Due to these illustrations, the file size of this report is larger than usual. A lower resolution version of the report which may be more suitable for people with slower internet connections can be downloaded here.
― Scotland has some of the most unequal patterns of land ownership; just 432 families own 50% of Scotland's private rural land.
― Landowners have benefited greatly from unearned rises in land prices which have greatly exceeded gains made elsewhere in the economy.
― As well as unequal ownership by individuals, over 750,000 acres of Scottish land is owned by companies registered in offshore tax-havens.
― Scotland should rethink land taxation via a Land Value Tax or, preferably, a flat rate Property Tax.
― Whilst currently outwith Scottish Government control, consideration should be given to how inheritance tax and land subsidies would be reformed upon independence.
― Complete the Scottish Land Register, ensuring that it is open, transparent and free to access. Only land that is properly registered should be eligible for tax breaks and subsidies.
― A hard cap on the amount of land an individual can own should be introduced. The legal basis for doing so is discussed.
― Scotland should form a Land Agency to ensure that regulations are enforced.
― Reformed local democracy and Citizens' Assemblies can help democratise land use.