The use and ownership of Scotland's land is one of the central issues for the future of our environment, our society and our economy.
Addressing the historical position of large parts of Scotland being owned and used in ways determined not by communities that live on them, but by landowners, often based outwith Scotland, has been a theme of devolution since the first Parliament.
As a result of the Land Reform Acts of 2003 and 2016 and the passage of the Community Empowerment Act of 2015, Scotland has taken significant steps forward in supporting and enabling communities to have greater opportunity to own or to influence the use of the land on which they live.
I am proud of Scotland's record of progressive and innovative reform. But the journey is not complete.
It is now time to take the next steps in this journey of land reform and to respond to the social, environmental and economic issues we now face.
Over this Parliament, first the Land Reform Bill, and then a Community Wealth Building Bill, will continue the legislative journey of land reform and community ownership.
The core aims of the Scottish Government's land reform policy are set out clearly in our Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, they are:
- to increase diversity of landownership;
- to bring about changes in land use; and
- to create more opportunities for communities to engage in decision making about the land around them, and share in the benefits it brings.
Land is a vital resource that underpins the wealth, and the well-being, of our nation as a whole. Private ownership of land – particularly at scale – has in the past conferred significant prestige, associated with for example hereditary titles, status and ability to influence policy and law. While many aspects of society have become more equitable, the privilege associated with the ownership of land at scale remains, and takes new forms.
The Scottish Government is committed to strengthening the role of communities via land reform, because we know that transparency, ownership, and being involved in decisions about land, can sustain and enhance the wellbeing and resilience of local people.
This consultation therefore takes forward the legislative proposals from the Land Commission to address the impact of scale and concentration of land ownership.
But as we continue in Scotland's land reform journey, addressing historical inequalities, we must also be alive to new and emerging challenges with an eye to the future.
Scotland's natural environment or 'Natural Capital' has become more valuable than ever due to its potential to support Scotland and the wider world's journey to "net zero" and nature gain.
Both public and private investment in our natural environment will be essential in tackling the climate and ecological crises.
This presents a substantial opportunity for Scotland and our people which we must be prepared to seize. However, the risk, increasingly understood among rural communities, is that investment could lead to an unwelcome change whereby people are secondary to large, often corporate, projects which are remote from communities, imposed on them and from which they do not benefit. This is contrary to our vision for the future of Scotland's land and its communities and to the principles of a just transition.
We must ensure our communities are in engaged in and benefit from nature based developments. Proposals from the Land Commission to strengthen the land rights and responsibilities statement, to use land management plans and importantly to introduce a public interest test all have a role to play in supporting our vision and they are addressed in this consultation. This consultation goes further, opening questions on how we ensure fairness in natural capital projects, as well as whether our tax system appropriately recognises the wealth being generated and transferred through this market.
My vision, which I know most people share, is of a net zero Scotland with thriving (and growing) rural and island communities and where more, not less, people live and work sustainably on our land.
Reflecting in part another contemporary challenge, namely concerns exacerbated by the unlawful invasion of Ukraine by Russia, this consultation also looks at ways in which we can further improve transparency of land ownership including asking who can and should receive public subsidy, how we might restrict the purchase of land and provision of subsidy to only those registered in the UK and EU for tax purposes, and asking what tests should be applied prior to the purchasing of large scale land holdings.
In this way, we are driving forward reform to historically iniquitous patterns of land ownership, but doing so with an eye to contemporary challenges and future opportunities.
There will be a wide range of views on our proposals: I welcome this. The measures put forward in this consultation document honour commitments made in our election manifesto and as part of our agreement with the Scottish Green Party. They align with the priorities for the economy, the environment, and society that are set out in our Programme for Government.
As we take the next steps on our national land reform journey I hope we can move forward based on consensus as to the best interests of the country as a whole, striking a balance between rights and responsibilities, while respecting the diverse interests and aspirations of all those with an interest in Scotland's land and the human rights of all.
Thank you for taking time to consider these important proposals. I look forward to considering carefully all responses to the questions posed in this document, as we take further steps on the road to reform.
Màiri McAllan MSP
Minister for Environment and Land Reform
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