Back to Land Reform Homepage
9 December 2002
The Inequities of Scotlands Land Reform Bill which is due
to come before the Scottish Parliament in January 2003. Ironically
it is being handled by the Justice 2 committee.
The following article by Jeremy Watson published
in Scotland on Sunday 8th December 2002 highlights some of the inequities
of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. His article concentrates on
the major problem of Crofters right to buy. Do we really live
in a fair Society, or is the devolved Scottish Parliament misusing
its powers to act little better than Mr Mugabe with respect to the
white farmers in Zimbabwe?
It is the will of the people, never mind about the rights of
individuals - if we want it we will have it, because we are in
power. We sort the rights of individuals by changing the law.
What a sorry state that so-call Justice has come to in Scotland,
perpetrated by its own devolved Parliament
There are also serious problems of essentially
the same nature regarding access to land, particularly farm land
next to urban communities. Lip service is paid to biosecurity of
food production, animal welfare, wildlife conservation and the problems
of running an agricultural business - as well as looking after the
countryside that the Government profess is so important (but mistakenly
think they know how to do it better).
Scotland's first 'land grab' victim
JEREMY WATSON, Scotland on Sunday, 8th December 2002
A LANDOWNING family are set to become the first
in Scotland to be forced off their estate under proposed land
The 52,000-acre Galson estate on Lewiss
west coast has been owned by the Graham family for 76 years and
there are no plans to put it up for sale.
But impending land reform laws will allow the
estates crofting community to mount a buy-out of the land
- assisted with public funds - even though the owner is determined
not to sell.
The Galson buy-out plan has been prompted by proposals
by power company Amec to site a 250-turbine wind farm on Lewis.
If the project goes ahead, some of the turbines
may be sited on the Galson estate, which runs 12 miles down the
coast from the Butt of Lewis. Landowners can expect lucrative rental
deals of up to £1,000 per turbine per year from wind farm
Last night, critics of the new law compared it
to land grab legislation in Zimbabwe, which has allowed
the government to seize farms from their white owners.
Despite the growing controversy, the crofters
have formed a steering group and community buy-out experts from
Highland and Islands Enterprise have been asked for assistance.
Rural property sources estimated the crofting
estate would be worth around £520,000, which would put it
well within reach of a bid assisted by public funds.
But Sandy Graham, who manages the estate bought
by a relative in 1926, accused the group of trying to "expropriate"
the land and said any sale would go ahead against the wishes of
Graham, the estate secretary, said: "It is
owned by a brother and sister and a cousin and an aunt and we have
no intention of selling the estate. I find it unbelievable that
land can be taken away from people, basically expropriated, without
the owners consent.
"The irony is that when Uncle Hugh bought
the estate it was after Lord Leverhulme, the previous owner, had
offered it for free to the people here who declined the offer.
"If this legislation goes through, they will
be making a compulsory purchase of something that was originally
offered for nothing."
Graham said he was sure that the wind farm plan
had "spurred" the potential community buy-out. The developers,
Amec, have yet to decide on the exact location of the turbines but
have indicated that some will be on Galson.
"Half the revenue will go to the crofting
community anyway, but I suppose that is not as much as it would
be if they owned the land," Graham said.
What has triggered this off is talk of wind
farms and big money
Steering group member Calum Iain MacLeod, who
is also a Western Isles Councillor, said that if the legislation
was passed by the parliament, communities who wish to buy land could
do so whether it was for sale or not.
"What has triggered this off is talk of wind
farms and big money. People are saying if there is big money involved,
then why shouldnt the community get the entire benefit."
The steering group will now be consulting widely
in the 2,500-strong community to find out if they want a bid to
"We are going to conduct research, get all
the information and then present it to the community," said
MacLeod. "Then we can ascertain whether there is any real interest.
If this exists, we will take it to the next stage, which is a referendum.
"If the community is not for it, then it
will not go ahead but this is a fantastic opportunity which we should
seriously consider. There has never been a better time."
The relevant land reform legislation will enter
its final committee stages at Holyrood next month and is almost
certain to be passed.
In a new report, the parliaments rural development
committee said it was "sympathetic" towards the proposals.
Crofters will have to pay a price set by the district
valuer but which could be less than the landowner would have got
on the open property market.
Landowner and Tory MSP for the Highlands and Islands,
Jamie McGrigor, said: "This Bill has communist tendencies.
Im afraid I do think its like Zimbabwe. Whenever you
bring in the right to buy Im against that because it also
brings in fear.
"I agree with crofters being able to buy
their own crofts but this is a step too far.
"This begs the question whether it is correct
to use [public] money for this kind of purchase against the will
of someone who is considered on the island a good landowner."
Earlier this year, Robert Balfour, convenor of
the Scottish Landowners Federation, said the change in the
law amounted to "state sponsored expropriation that will create
conflict where none exists".
Last night, he said: "We do not believe that
the compulsory acquisition of property not for sale is the right
thing to do, even when a crofting community is involved."
"The indications are that this legislation
will go through parliament and be law by next Spring but it may
well attract a strong challenge."
If the bid goes ahead, the Galson community will
receive help from the specially set-up Community Land Unit at Highland
and Islands Enterprise. They can also expect financial support from
the Scottish Land Fund, which was set up with National Lottery money
to help fund community buy-outs.
Previous successful buy-outs - at Assynt, Knoydart,
Eigg and Gigha - have all been purchases of land put up for sale
on the open market by their owners. The Land Fund gave the islanders
of Gigha a £3.5m grant towards the purchase.
The fund has also offered financial assistance
to the community team currently trying to buy the 55,000-acre North
Harris estate owned by cider magnate Jonathan Bulmer. It was put
on the market earlier this year with a price tag of £4.5m
but negotiations between the two parties have broken down.