Monday, March 25, 2019

Reversing the clearances?

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Scottish landlords cleared the highlands, driving people off their land and forcing them into destitution or to emigrate. The result was a Scottish countryside full of sheep farms and deer-parks, run by and for a small clique of rich lords. Now, the Scottish government has been advised to reverse the process:

Scottish land ownership rules must be radically reformed to reverse the concentration of the countryside in the hands of a small number of ultra-wealthy individuals and public bodies, a major review has warned.

The study by the Scottish Land Commission, a government quango, says that in extreme cases where landowners abuse their power they could face compulsory purchase or community buyouts.

The commission, set up by Scottish ministers who are likely to look closely at its conclusions, found that major landowners behaved like monopolies across large areas of rural Scotland and had too much power over land use, economic investment and local communities.


Describing the worst effects of that monopoly power as “socially corrosive”, the SLC warned: “In some parts of Scotland, concentrated land ownership appears to be causing significant and long-term damage to the communities affected.” The eventual goal of the commission would be to break up many large estates.

The Scottish parliament will be debating the report this week. Hopefully they'll decide to proceed. Alternatively, they could do what New Zealand did when faced with an incipient rural aristocracy in the late C19th: tax rural land, drive the landlords into bankruptcy, and use the resulting proceedings to break up their estates.