Scottish Land & Estates today appealed to the Scottish Parliament for an end to the ‘politics of confrontation’ on land reform and to embrace the major social, economic and environmental contribution land-based businesses make to rural life.
As the Scottish Parliament prepares to debate the final stage of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill on Wednesday, David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said that an incessant clamour for radicalism from land reform activists had led to landowners being cast as the 'whipping boys' in an increasingly hostile debate.
Mr Johnstone said: “From the outset of this latest land reform review process two years ago, landowners have tried their level best to be constructive, putting forward suggestions that would benefit rural economies, communities and tenant farming. Also, we are in favour of key land reform measures such as greater transparency of ownership and encouraging community engagement at every turn. These are key planks of our Landowners’ Commitment and we are working with partners to provide support to members and increase activity in both these areas.
"Unfortunately, the debate has become feverish and instead of the focus being solely on delivering what is best for rural Scotland, time and again we have seen raw anti-landowner sentiment come to the fore. This has led to increasing pressure on politicians to ramp up radicalism at a time when the Land Reform Bill was already going to produce legislation that would have far reaching and detrimental consequences for land-based businesses.
"We are now seeing the second Land Reform Bill being passed by the Scottish Parliament in little over a decade. Our members are not anti-land reform. We want land reform that brings about better use of land, rather than a tired, narrow debate that focuses only on who owns what.
"It is time to move on. Landowners are major employers in rural Scotland. We are the main providers of affordable rural housing. We are a key part of Scotland's tourism and country sports industries. We are central to the Scottish Government's aim to produce more renewable energy and we are in the vanguard of conservation management – including landscapes, habitats, wildlife and built heritage. We have a constructive and worthwhile role to play and all too often this is disregarded.
“We know that the majority of people who work with land businesses and visit estates enjoy it and are not calling for the heads of landowners so we hope that the passage of this Bill will end the politics of confrontation and we can be regarded as willing and enthusiastic partners in delivering prosperity in rural Scotland.”
Mr Johnstone said the Land Reform Bill will still leave many questions unanswered when it is passed by the Scottish Parliament tomorrow.
He said: "We still do not know how the power for Ministers to intervene and enforce the sale of property to a community will work in practice. We don't know how the proposed re-introduction of non-domestic rates on sporting enterprises will impact on employment or conservation and the most contentious proposed changes to farm tenancy legislation are a recipe for disaster in the tenant farming industry.
"Our members will continue to make every effort locally and nationally to demonstrate that landowners and their businesses are part of the fabric of rural Scotland and hope that we can go forward into a new era of co-operation."