International Perspectives Pose Questions for Scottish Land Reform

Land Commissioner, Megan MacInnes, reflects on last week’s Macaulay Development

Land Commission board portraits
Megan MacInnes, Scottish Land Commissioner

Trust workshop on Scottish land reform in a global context held at James Hutton Institute with participants from the US, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Ireland, South Africa, as well as the UK.

As a self-confessed land reform geek, getting to spend two days sitting down with people who are researching and working on land reform from around the world sounds pretty perfect. Last week was such an opportunity, with the James Hutton Institute bringing practitioners and scholars from more than ten countries together, to discuss how Scotland’s efforts at land reform fit within the global context.

From initially focusing on our own model of community land ownership and how it compares to community, communal and municipal land ownership in other countries during the initial webinar, the presentations and conversations became more wide ranging over the course of the workshop.

Some topics were all too familiar: the challenges for young people wanting to get into farming; the ways in which community land trusts and other community groups are improving access to affordable housing in urban areas; and the extent to which land reform, in any context, is connected to a wider range of needs – soft and hard infrastructure, economic development, access to finance and unfavourable policy environments.

Others were radically different: how local communities are responding to large-scale land grabbing for agribusiness in the Philippines; how first nation communities in Canada were using land and property codes to gain greater autonomy over their own reserves; and the challenges of campaigning for and implementing land reform where there are long-term conflicts and internal displacement such as Myanmar faces.

Much bigger-picture questions the group tried to grapple with were the need for a new conceptualisation of land rights and responsibilities within land reform, away from the traditional focus of private property rights, and on this Scotland has a lot to share. Likewise, whether the future trajectory of land reform is radical, based on social justice, or whether it is steady, evolving through existing structures and frameworks is something that is still up for debate.

My personal reflections throughout were on community land ownership – what could Scotland learn from other countries, and what do we have to show in return? From my own experience working on land reform in Asia and internationally (particularly around strengthening community land rights) the direct comparisons are tantalisingly close, yet elusive. This is because the historical and contemporary context of community land ownership in Scotland is so very different from community and customary land ownership in much of the world. In fact, the most obvious comparison between arrangements for community and customary land and natural resource governance internationally is our crofting system, but even then significant differences are clear.

What is clear though is that like in Scotland, models of community land and natural resource ownership have a clear and prominent role in achieving future sustainable development and delivering broad public benefits.

Where I think there can be lessons learnt are around the governance structures enabling community-based models of land ownership. This includes how ownership models can be transparent and accountable, how to overcome the challenges of limited capacity and high burn-out of community members, and how to ensure governance models are forward-looking and not just reflecting the past. If we are going to truly normalise community land ownership in Scotland then I think there is much to be learnt from international experiences of hybrid and joint ownership models between community groups, the public and private sectors.

Where Scotland is already demonstrating leadership in community land ownership globally is our focus on legal title (rather than just recognising access or user rights) and the explicit and positive connection between land reform and the economic, social and cultural human rights.

We ended the conference with suggestions for ongoing research, discussions and more gatherings – so I am sure we shall have plenty of opportunities to continue the conversations.

The international experience and discussions from the webinar will be incorporated in to the review of ‘International experience of community, communal and municipal land ownership’ we have commissioned and the final report from SRUC, in cooperation with the James Hutton Institute, the University of the Highlands and Islands, the University of Aberdeen and Ting Xu, will be published in the coming months.

Featured Image – James Hutton Institute

Addressing Scale and Concentration of Land Ownership in Scotland

Land Commission board portraitsScottish Land Commissioner, Dr Sally Reynolds, looks at scale and concentration of land ownership in Scotland:

 

The issue of scale and concentration in land ownership has been an underlying theme and driver of the land reform debate in Scotland for decades. Scotland has an unusually concentrated pattern of land ownership with relatively little public regulation by international comparison.

That these issues remain a public concern is reflected in the current Programme for Government which sets out the expectation for the Scottish Land Commission to ‘review the unusually concentrated pattern of land ownership in Scotland, including the potential risk of localised monopolies in some situations, and its potential impact on the public interest’.

To begin this work we are publishing a discussion paper and research report. The Land Lines discussion paper, independently written by Peter Peacock, asks some challenging questions about fairness, economic opportunity and the risk of localised monopoly situations. It recognises the complex relationship between scale, accountability and productivity and suggests a number of potential interventions.

The research report by the University of the Highlands and Islands and University of Aberdeen, commissioned by the Land Commission, provides a rigorous review of international examples of the way in which countries regulate the scale and concentration of ownership. It considers a range of measures that are commonly used and explores the drivers behind these approaches and what we can learn from them.

For the Land Commission, it is important we get behind the headlines and land ownership statistics to understand the implications and issues that people associate with scale and concentration of ownership. It is not a simple relationship and there is unlikely to be a single answer. But it is directly relevant to our objectives to increase the productivity, diversity and accountability of the way land is owned and managed in Scotland.

Addressing these questions is core to modernising our system of land ownership in a way that people feel comfortable reflects Scotland’s current needs and ambitions. We know this is a topic that provokes strong views and feelings from different perspectives. That is why we want to address it straight-forwardly and openly.

The Land Commission is opening a call for people to submit evidence and experience on the issues associated with concentration of ownership. This is an open opportunity and we want people from all perspectives to submit experience and evidence including individuals, community groups, land owners and managers. We want to understand both the good and bad experiences and examples of issues associated with concentrated land ownership.

The Commission will then use this information to inform its consideration of the issues and also how they can best be addressed. We intend to publish an interim report of our findings towards the end of 2018.