Land reform: ‘If the Lairds are looking worried – good!’

Murdo Fraser msp tory

REVENUE TRANSFER: if Tory MSP Murdo Fraser is outraged, it’s proof you’re on the right side

Highlands MSP John Finnie takes a look at the latest land reform proposals There I was, tweeting information a newspaper had obtained under Freedom of Information about the EU’s Common Agricultural Programme and how much public money each of their Britannic Majesties, various Dukes, Harrow and Eton schools had received from it when Land and Estates (the Lairds’ Trade Union) took exception.

Apparently, those public-spirited aristocrats are a real boon to our rural economies, so who better to get yet another quarter of a million pounds of public money than the Duke with his Atholl estate and that ‘private army’. Clearly, I’ll never know my place. Nor understand that whilst the rural butcher, baker and candlestick maker, not to mention the crofter or tenant farmer, had to pay their taxes sporting estates were uniquely exempt.

Now, thanks to this “new left wing Scottish Government”, that’s all going to stop, and I am delighted. However, the self-appointed game-keepers’ shop steward, Tory MSP Murdo Fraser is outraged. Proof, if any were needed, you’re on the right side.

So to the Smith Commission and our country’s land and resources: “Responsibility for the management of The Crown Estate’s economic assets in Scotland, and the revenue generated from these assets, will be transferred to the Scottish Parliament,” is a promising start.

The Crown Estate is a strange beast with a range of assets both urban and rural. I have just checked their web page and the front page story is them welcoming Marks and Spencer to one of their retail parks in England so it’s not all foreshores, boat-moorings and grouse moors.

That same website tells us; “The Crown Estate belongs to the reigning monarch “in right of The Crown” and the monarch remains the legal owner, it is The Crown Estate which has the powers of management and control—i.e. all the powers of an outright owner. This contrasts with the Queen’s private estate, which includes Balmoral and Sandringham,” there you go then, hopefully that clears up any misunderstanding.

The Government doesn’t own The Crown Estate rather it’s managed by an independent organisation headed by a Board—known as the Crown Estate Commissioners—so what, if anything, is to change following as a result of this so-called ‘historic deal’.

The Smith Commission tells us that Scotland’s seabed, urban assets, rural estates, mineral and fishing rights, and the Scottish foreshore for which The Crown Estate is responsible, will be transferred to the Scottish Government and “following this transfer, responsibility for the management of those assets will be further devolved to local authority areas such as Orkney, Shetland, Na h-Eilean Siar or other areas who would seek such responsibilities.”

The three island authorities in my Highlands and Islands constituency will be delighted about that and rightly so. Other communities will be looking for similar access to resources. There can be no more fundamental resource than the land and sea and whose appropriation and abuse, including the subjugation of its inhabitants, must end.

I have a well-informed, regular correspondent who gets in touch with me regarding fishing issues. His directness is helpful in focussing on what matters. He recently wrote to me, saying: “I’m not wanting some **** landowner having all the salmon replaced by seven crofters having all the salmon.”

It’s a point well-made. Land reform which has taken place thus far has not always been punitive to those few land-owners who have ridden rough-shod over our rural communities. Quite the reverse of removing the Lairds’ assets, I can think of one situation where the Laird was relieved on a massive liability—now in the hands of ‘the community’—whilst retaining for himself the only real assets the estate had. Now, after years of delay, it’s important we get things right and the devolution of the Crown Estate may help create a greater understanding of land ownership and use.

Very interestingly, thanks to inane coverage by the vile Daily Mail, described by the redoubtable Andy Wightman as “a dung heap of unadulterated fabricated crap”, the little known Sovereign Grant has raised its head.

This legislation replaced the Civil List and ensures the Queen receives from the Treasury the equivalent of 15 per cent of the Crown Estate’s profits. That’s a disgusting £36.1million for this current financial year, increased from the £31million allocated during the previous 12 months which included £1million to cover the extra costs of the diamond jubilee.

The inaccurate and loaded story run was that, following the devolution of The Crown Estate, the Scottish Government would not pay their share of the Windsor family’s housekeeping. If only… The money will be ‘top-sliced’, so sadly no vote in Holyrood.

We must ensure that all Scotland’s assets are used for all of Scotland’s citizens. The devolution of The Crown Estate, on top of the Scottish Government’s on-going consultation on ‘the future of Land Reform in Scotland’ plus the Community Empowerment Bill making its way through Parliament will all play their part in democratising land ownership and use in Scotland. If the Lairds are looking worried I say good, there’s more to come!

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