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So the SLF wants to change its name:
but more than a change in image is needed
Teviot Agriculture, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie,
Teviot Scientific, Edinburgh
Filed 24 Dec 03
© www.land-care.org.uk & LandCare Scotland
As reported in the national press the Scottish
Landowners Federation (SLF) has decided to put to its 3000 or so
current members that it should change its name to THE SCOTTISH RURAL
PROPERTY AND BUSINESS ASSOCIATION (SRPBA). The proposal is to be
put to the membership early next year at an extraordinary general
The author of this article is unlikely to be there
as I resigned from the SLF on 13th October 2003. My reasons for
doing so are described elsewhere on this website (1).
As ably pointed out in an article entitled "More
than image change needed" (Opinion - A Reader's View, Dundee
Courier, December 22, 2003):
"If SLF members vote next month to change their name, operating
status, and membership they should be aware they are doing no
more than tinkering with the structures. The real issues about
their relevance to modern Scotland have barely been touched"
According to what the SLF has told the national
press, it is trying to underline its commitment to rural development,
including housing in the countryside and tourism. No longer will
there be a requirement for members to own a minimum amount of land.
The proposal is that it will be open not only to landowners, but
to managers and to anyone who supports the aims of the organisation.
But what are the true aims of this organisation?
How will the new aims differ from the current ones, even if we knew
for sure what these currently are? Is it not just largely a device
in the attempt to attract a larger membership which it so desperately
needs, but at the same time loosing focus? Rural property and rural
business is a wide brief as far as tempting new members, but opens
up a hornet's nest of conflicting interests as our towns and villages
become progressively urbanised, and the countryside is viewed as
the playground for the urban elite.
It would appear that the SLF in choosing a new
name is opting for the side of the urban elite - after all that
it is where more people are likely to have more money to spend on
membership. In so doing the SLF would appear to be abandoning what
I perhaps mistakenly thought was their prime interest - land management.
The SLF may do a great deal of window dressing,
but will it radically restructure itself in such a manner that others
may be tempted to join, let alone retain its current membership?
Over the past years it has endeavoured to change its ways, but the
process has been painfully slow. Some may loose patience, while
others like myself may have already done so.
Its financial status may be helped by changing
the organisation into a Company with an elected Council and maybe
limited liability. Filtering out a few Earls and Deputy Lieutenants
from its top executive circle may help its image. But it is doubtful
if that will be enough.
I originally joined the SLF as a new man on the
block with modest credentials or indeed aspirations about owning
land. What I wanted to do was to participate in looking after a
bit of beautiful Scotland in a functional manner in terms of running
a traditional type of Scottish farm as a business, concentrating
on producing quality livestock. Indeed it is my belief that there
is no other credible way of looking after this type of land. At
the same time I wanted to try to do my bit to maintain Scotland's
heritage in terms of the beauty of its landscape and the internationally
renowned quality of its produce.
In so doing it did not take long to realise that
the aims and objectives of the narrowly focused Scottish Natural
Heritage, with its emphasis on ecology but lack of competent knowledge
of farming, was not necessarily an ally. The advice to government
coming from the Macauley Land Use Research Institute was also increasingly
less than helpful.
As I have described elsewhere (1),
the Director of the SLF is currently a Governor of the Macauley
Land Use Research Institute (MLURI), the current convener of the
SLF was a Governor of the same Institute when he was a vice-convener
of the SLF, and the current chairman of the SLF Land Reform Task
Force and of the SLF Access and Tourism Committee is a region Board
Member of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
It is a condition of accepting these appointments
that such persons uphold the objectives and aims of these bodies.
However, the objectives and aims of MLURI and of SNH are not necessarily
the same as those of the membership of the SLF - indeed far from
Thus, it is not in the interests of all members
of the SLF to necessarily agree that:
*the politically fashionable but essentially
meaningless "sustainability" creed for Scottish farming
is the way forward;
*nor that effectively uncontrolled open access
to farms as proposed by SNH is compatible with good farming, conservation
or competent business management;
*nor that Scottish farming should be put at further
disadvantage compared to other major EU countries;
*nor that quality meat production should be sacrificed
along with everything else on the alter of promoting farm land as
a place for "the people" rather than as a place for quality
*nor that it is such a good idea to encourage
those with scarce farming skills to diversify out of the industry.
It would appear that, unbeknown to many of its
membership, some senior members of the executive of the SLF have
for some time been quietly and inappropriately committing themselves
to promoting the policies of government. At least some of the SLF
membership thought they were there to try to persuade government
to modify its policies along more realistic lines in terms of land
What comes hard is the thought that the SLF executive
may have been stringing the membership along with all sorts of assurances
as to its motives, but all the while undertaking other commitments
which may conflict with the interests of the membership but which
advance their own.
If there is a lack of trust in the executive it
will matter little what future name it chooses to call itself.
© www.land-care.org.uk and LandCare Scotland
1. Irvine, James (2003). Why I
resigned from the Scottish Landowners Federation.
See Social/Economic/Political Homepage, filed 21 Nov 03,
Here to View)