Letter to The Herald
Printed 9 January 2014
It suits those dedicated to securing the demise of country estates to continue to peddle the story that rural Scotland is a prisoner of the lairds and prevented from realising its true potential.
Last night (Wednesday) the BBC screened a documentary, clumsily entitled 'The Men Who Own Scotland’. In fact, the 'people' who own Scotland - even estates -include many women, charities, organisations such as the Forestry Commission as well as Scottish and local government.
The programme had made a good job of selling itself beforehand, even moving The Herald's Harry Reid to afford saint-like status to land reformer-in-chief Andy Wightman and branding land ownership in Scotland a national scandal.
Is it really a national scandal that private landowners in Scotland are the single largest providers of affordable housing in rural Scotland? Are these the same self-indulgent lairds who let 15,000 houses and employ 10,000 in their land-based businesses which promote tourism, farming and renewable energy? Investment in development projects will be around £1 billion in the next decade. Even the First Minister has publicly praised the contribution of estates and the role they play in rural communities. At least Harry had the good grace to acknowledge he is not an expert.
The main barriers to rural development are more likely to be found in the planning system than anything an individual landowner has or has not done.
The land reform debate gets mired in well worn arguments around the skewed statistic of 432 people owning half of privately owned rural land. The complete picture is that all of privately owned land is owned by tens of thousands of people and the overwhelming majority of landowners own on average less than 1000 acres. There are a few large scale landowners, but even they are heavily out-acred by the likes of the Forestry Commission. There are indeed some landowners who do not live in Scotland full-time but - despite popular myth – they are often active members of the community and substantial investors in their properties and businesses, bringing much welcomed local employment.
In Scotland there is a mix of landownership - public, private, NGO, community small and large. The real land reform debate needs to be on what is done with land rather than who owns it - a mature, modern debate on how we can deliver social, environmental and economic benefits from our land.
Sadly, those who insist on characterising private landowners as being dinosaurs rooted in another age are themselves behind the times.
Landowners have put forward some very constructive proposals to the Scottish Government's land reform review. Our members want rural Scotland to be a vibrant, productive place to live and work and are committed to doing their bit. If it was recognised more widely that private landowners are part of the solution, rather than the problem, we could make more progress.
Douglas McAdam, chief executive, Scottish Land & Estates