Michael Russell sets out land reform vision

Michael Russell sets out land reform vision

Michael Russell

An opportunity exists to build on the “continuity of the commitment and policy of Land Reform” that is shared by a majority of Scotland including a majority in the Scottish Parliament, Michael Russell, chair of the Scottish Land Commission has said.

Mr Russell, who was appointed to the post amid claims of corruption, opened his keynote by quoting Donald Dewar’s John McEwan Memorial Lecture in 1998, which set out the need for land reform “that looks to the future”.

He reflected on the consistency of the commitment of Scotland’s political parties to land reform, as well as the consistency of those critical, both those campaigning for more radical and accelerated reform and those opposing meaningful change.

This illustrates, he said, a remarkable consistency in policy goal since devolution as well as the need to continue and complete that process with as much consensus as possible, but also with clearer goals in sight and a renewed sense of both ambition and urgency.

He welcomed the new Land Reform Bill introduced into the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish government in March and described its “lotting” proposals as “a significant step which shows that the rights of property are not absolute” reflecting as it does Scotland’s commitment to the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. He also acknowledged change on the ground, including the leadership of some land owners in Scotland who recognise the spirit of the times.

Quoting a submission to the first Labour consultation on land reform a quarter of a century ago he suggested that what was required to “finish the job” of land reform in Scotland was the collective development of a set of proposals that addresses key issues such as taxation, overseas ownership, size of holdings and were “reasonably fair to all parties and will stand the test of time”. He added today’s context would also frame this as “delivering community wealth building and a just transition to net zero, placing land reform firmly within the overall context of a wellbeing economy and progressive society”.

Mr Russell also highlighted the role land reform should play in addressing practical challenges such as housing. He noted that the Scottish Land Commission convened a meeting on land supply for rural housing earlier this week and stressed the importance of helping to provide land reform solutions for the current rural housing crisis, a process in which private and public sector landowners have a key part of play.

He spoke of the role of the Scottish Land Commission to take forward the land reform agenda, by means of independent and evidence-based advice including on issues such as land pricing, vacant and derelict land, transparency of land owners and re-energising the process of community acquisitions which has stalled in recent years, largely as a result of high land prices and constraints on government funding.

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