Land Grabbers and Losers



Ben Nevis in autumn light

You can tell the civilisation of a country by how well it protects its land, and the cleanliness of its public toilets.

In between tending my own wee plot, currently a construction site and a temporary toilet, building a house in fits and starts and attracting a face scar for my effort by walking smack-bang into a wooden beam artfully lodged at bloody nose height – oh, the humanity! – I’m boning up on the SNP’s Land Reform Bill.

The Bill is presented as a means to stop exploitation of the land, and its secret ownership. Though we like to explore it by car, backpack, or hill climbing boots, it is owned by earls, landed gentry, lairds, celebrities, all for their personal benefit. They use it to shoot things. In fact, when out on walking holidays, more than taking safety equipment with you, if keen on survival in any situation you are best not to look like food.

Anybody in ignorance of the Land Reform Bill’s existence will have noticed various toffs who own vast tracts of Scotland complaining bitterly how we dare question their heritage. (How you become a ‘toff’ is for another essay.) One land owner in particular claims Scotland is undergoing a “Mugabe-style land grab”.

Land grab

Let us lay aside historical fact, that much of the land in current ownership was originally a land grab from commoners, from clan chiefs, and from the church, and swathes of it changed hands a few times over the decades in a single game of cards.

The process was the same as in many a poor country today. To grab a parcel of Scotland’s earth you paid a lawyer to draft a document purporting you and you alone own the land. By that ruse you ensured the poor who had tilled it for generations had no ‘legal’ piece of paper of their own to counter your claim, too poor to pay a lawyer to draw up a deed. In the land grabber’s case bribe is the operative word. The lawyer you bribed to overlook the theft of the land you stole, then passed a ‘consultation’ fee on your behalf to a flaky politician who drafted legislation protecting your deed in law and others like it, effectively enshrining the lie that the land was yours since Noah’s flood abated, the poor merely tenants on it.


The Mugabe insult came from the halitosis breath of Lord Astor, David Cameron’s father-in-law, who owns a chunk of the estate of Tarbet registered as company in the tax-free harbour of the Bahamas. Temptation to add the acerbic aside ‘English patriot’ is avoided.  The patriotic Connery lives there too with his money and minders.

To some Unionist politicians, narked by Scotland’s ambitions, progress is all very well and fine, only it has gone on too long. The Reform Bill must be killed.

The reason why so many of us live on top of each other in Victorian or red brick tenements of various designs and quality in the southwest of Scotland is precisely because the likes of Astor, and 431 others, own most of Scotland. They do not pay taxes for the privilege.

There’s no need to take a trip around the Highlands to discover how bereft of life is our land that once held villages and towns. You need only look at the Duke of Buccleuch’s acreages, or Lord Hamilton’s estate a few miles outside Glasgow to see why over 3 million of us are squashed up together. (Is that what Tory and Labour meant when they said ‘Better together’?)

An Alpbach valley

If not devoted to  sun, sea and sand visit Austria. Take a leisurely climb in an Alpbach valley among mountainside wild flowers and milk herds. There you will find three hundred year-old houses still in use, still inhabited, ham shanks hanging from rafters, smoke cured. Small holding farms sit as far as 2,000 feet on the slopes. We have lost all of that.

Take a similar stroll anywhere in the Highlands of Scotland, (aber nicht so gross wie der österreichischen Berge) and you will see areas of glens terraced, silent except for the cry of curlew, a rickle of a fallen cottage or two where once children played and families lived, and herds brought in from the winter, all wiped out in the infamous Highland Clearances.


What struck me, (besides that solid wooden beam) is the tameness of the Reform Bill.

The main elements of the Bill are: (a) Local people get consultation rights over land use, but no guarantee of blocking anything they dislike, however, (b) it boosts the opportunity of communities to buy land. (c) It reduces tenant farmers fear of summary eviction. (d) It implements taxes for land ownership and profits from forest investment, a steal gifted by grammar school boy John Major, an example of England’s class system at work, the humble thanking the elite. (e) And it aims to seek out who owns what, how many acres, and where the money goes. It is a start.

A land commission

The main innovation is the institution of a Land Commission – hopefully with real teeth. There are other proposals, such as reducing the concentration of commercial deer herds in specific areas. However, unlike Lord Astor, I failed to find any reference to non-Scots dragged out of their homes by the hair, beaten up, their houses set on fire, they and their chattel driven from Scotland, the fate that befell our forefathers during the Clearances.

Of course, as soon as you get into any sort of debate with the right-wing about land reform they immediately launch into a witless description of Scotland as nothing but miles and miles of useless bog, scree slopes, treeless expanse, and perma-snow covered mountain. I heard Annabelle Goldie trot out that very dirge only days ago in a radio politics programme. After arguing the Highlands are only good for deer, sheep and grouse, (pheasant and rabbit prefer the Lowlands) their cue to demean Scotland’s best fertile land is any sentence which includes the words heritage and community.

To a blue Tory and a red Tory, the Highlands are worthless territory from the point their mobile phone fails to pick up a signal.

The alert among readers will recognise a defence of greed and power exactly that offered as reason for Scotland remaining under England’s patronage and rule – we are too poor and inexpert to look after our own country;  an opinion little changed from the days we were called savages.

Riding high

At the moment the SNP is riding high at Holyrood and in strength at Westminster. The thought that we should play safe at this time in our history is hard to stomach. Let our Parliament’s work for our heritage be bold, radical. Let it inspire the electorate, fire their enthusiasm ; better courageous and forceful than cautious and timid. By confident self-esteem we give ourselves room to compromise if practicalities demand it, but if we begin small we give ourselves an uphill battle to make progress.

Two things are missing in the Reform bill. One are plans to re-establish villages with viable industries incorporated to keep them flourishing. No amount of negative wails of soggy boggy ground  should deter ambition. We have the technology to overcome almost all obstacles. If the Israelis can create vast vegetable farms out of rocks and dry sand we can re-establish communities with specific agricultural economies. After all, until the 19th century most of us lived north of Perth, only a small percentage lived in the city. We were an agrarian society.

Americans have specialised towns making one-of-kind machinery, or furniture, or food. You can not get more specialised than ‘Buellton – Home of Split Pea Soup’ – (the billboard makes me laugh too.) Give it a visit just off interstate 5. One-industry towns set in far-flung places create jobs and attract tourists, and produce exports.

Repopulate Scotland

We need economic growth! We can stimulate employment.

On the subject of employment, I am enormously impressed by the national parks of America, founded, it has to be reminded, by a Scotsman, John Muir. (How often do we have to leave our own country to invent abroad because we do not have the political structures here to  serve us?) Among many, Yosemite, a huge volcano crater, and the giant slash in the earth that is the Grand Canyon, are the most famous. Those two alone are responsible for generating infinite income from tourism and countless television documentaries.

I have never visited Yosemite but I have visited the Grand Canyon, and the giant redwood forests north of San Francisco. It comes as a surprise to be reminded feudal Scotland has only two national parks, the Cairngorms, and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

The Welsh, derided as Englishmen with a leek in their buttonhole, have designated almost a quarter of their land as protected places of natural beauty. Snowdon, (meaning snow hill) their biggest mountain, was bought by the people of Wales and a $1 million donation from actor Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Only two national parks in Scotland. How did we allow that to happen? Why does the Land Reform Bill not include the proposal for areas designated as national parks the province of the people? We could protect indigenous flora and fauna simultaneously.

What we have now are massive estates owned by the few, policed by a gamekeeper with a large dog and a shotgun pointing at you, him shouting, “Ge’ aff the chook’s grund!”

 (For a detailed history of Scotland’s land ownership read the informative ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers’ by Andy Wightman.)

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23 Responses to Land Grabbers and Losers

  1. donald says:

    There is nothing I can add here except thank you GB for bringing this issue up. Sorry to hear about you walking in to a Beam . I did the same too recently . Nearly poked my eye out with the distal end of a bar clamp.
    Imagine how beautiful Scotland could be again once we drag all those parasites off the land and give it back to its rightful owners. Those Bloody Hamiltons , Douglas Hamiltons , Astors etc . Traitors to their kith and Kin. Inbred swine.
    Good luck with the build .

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    “Inbred swine. 🙂

  3. mealer says:

    I enjoyed reading that. I’m pleased enough with the Scottish Governments start.
    I’m all for repopulation but by its nature it will have to be a very long term ongoing project and it must not be at the expense of our most deprived urban areas. A pragmatic approach will lead to the best future.

  4. Bamstick says:

    I’m really interested in this Land Reform Bill too.

    Along with it the Scottish Government should look at how OUR history is taught in Scottish schools. We get taught too much about The Romans, English history and the Wars to the detriment of our heritage.

    I have been studying what happened during the Highland Clearances as my own family were cleared from the Fortingall area after the ’45 uprising. Same old story: many many families living on small crofts with small industry and villages and communities turned over to one land owner who moved them off to make way for sheep. Or even worse for their own privacy.

    Hardly a trace of these settlements are left save the burial grounds.

    We need to ensure that the land is returned to the people.

  5. Grouse Beater says:

    We need to ensure that the land is returned to the people.”
    Seconded. 🙂

  6. I would love to see life and habitation return to these places. Common Weal’s ‘Atlas of Productivity’, although a very stylised piece of work, hints tentatively at what could be possible. Anyway, one-industry villages in rural Scotland sound great to me. I’d jump at the opportunity to be part of one.
    Thanks again for a fascinating piece, GB – you’re turning into our very own Yaris Varoufakis! 😄

  7. orri says:

    First on the list of any land reform bill should be a clarification that no one owns land.

    What they own is the right to use a part of the land as they see fit. Even then that’s not entirely true as local councils and the government at various levels can impose restrictions on that usage. So first and foremost, no one owns the land of Scotland other than the people of Scotland. Crown Estate is simply held in trust for us by our present Head of State.

  8. adam591 says:

    This repopulation of the land could go hand in hand with the realisation of Scotland’s vast potential for small scale Hydro-Electric.

  9. Grouse Beater says:

    Quite! Our natural assets are almost limitless for wealth creation.
    (At almost 2,000 words I felt the essay long enough.) 🙂

  10. Pingback: Land Grabbers and Losers | pictishbeastie

  11. hektorsmum says:

    Have read most but not yet all so forgive me if I err now.
    One thing many parts of the world have managed and I have yet to hear any of them condemned for it. Land should belong to Scotland, foreigners should not be allowed to own the land, they can rent it if they can from the state but not own it. For instance my Brother and Sister in Law own a house in Thailand, actually my Sister in Law owns the house, my Brother in Law cannot. I see the same situation the world over, but every wealthy Tom, Dick or Harriet can own a huge chunk of Scotland.
    Time to stop it.

  12. hektorsmum says:

    Exactly, so agree with you.

  13. Richard says:

    I remember The Hanging Gale when it was aired over here. Very powerful stuff and it’s a great shame we can’t get similar treatment of our own history.

  14. Grouse Beater says:

    Our broadcasters are deficient in all departments: BBC won’t do anything controversial – can you imagine ‘The Boys From the Black Stuff‘ aired today? – and STV are entirely commercially driven.

  15. donald says:

    Exactly Adam . Non grid power empowers the people. Non central bank local currencies , free from tax too . No tax on barter , no property tax without voluntary consent and approval for use of said funds . People need to understand they are the local government , not their representatives. When the economy implodes completely ,which it will , if I were living in Scotland , I would damn well Squat on the nearest illegally enclosed parcel of land , build a river rock cottage by the water and make it happen.
    The right to live is non negotiable . The highlands are crying out to be loved again.

  16. donald says:

    ‘Ownership’ is claimed by the Lairds in perpetuity by virtue of their ability to provide heirs to the estate . Its an entailed trust in practice . The trouble starts when people give away their right to live on the land in Harmony with it , in return for ‘protection’ .You’ve got the Royal mafia, the church Mafia, the govt mafia . All competing for the biggest slice of our pie. Before the puritans came to America the concept of title did not exist . The natives saw them selves as part of the land , not ‘owners’. That’s the way it should be.
    All titles come from claiming possession of land and the power /leverage that control gives them. Remove titles and you remove their ability to govern you . Any official title should be non hereditary , fixed term and revocable. Inherited wealth is claiming immortality and thus godhead. That’s what divine right to rule is . Its a crock but that’s how the queen avoids tax , putting her ‘trust’ and its assets in the future so it cant be taxed in the present. Cynical Bitch. All the blue Bloods and parasites use this excuse.

    Strangely they consider us unfit to ‘trust’ ,so we don’t get the benefit. The duke of Edinburgh’s interest in the WWF is self interest. They are using preservation of wildlife laws as a land grab, AGAIN. The same people who own the wildlife destroying corps !
    The queen is a major share holder in many of the biggest corporate land raping mineral resource miners such as Anaconda in the US.

    “Oh its not mine , Im holding it in trust for future generations”. Yeah right , your future generations you greedy bastards.

    Legal Definition of ‘Human’ .The hue of man ,being a simulacrum , a monster , and therefore not legally entitled to be considered a living being and therefore having no rights to inherit. Only ever allow your self to be called a man or woman, NEVER a ‘hue of man’.
    Human rights are a fiction. Humans have no rights.
    They use the same trick to disinherit the native Australians of title by calling them ‘Aboriginals’ . Meaning of Aboriginal ? Not originally from here !

    The elite claim ownership of the future and past so they can own and control us in the present . That’s why the judge sits above you in Court , not the same level. You are being judged from on high by a ‘God’. Religion is NOT about love. Its about absolute control of your body and soul.

  17. donald says:

    Marriage is a legal contract/business partnership. By sharing your assets and titles you can claim dual citizenship. It always boils down to blood . Spill your blood on foreign
    soil ?, oh that’s a claim of right ! That’s why they start wars you see ?
    Stick a flag pole on the moon . Stick one on the beach . Its all about waving rags and poles around to get your feet on solid ground .
    Ownership can never be proved or made absolute because we all die . The elite try to get around that inconvenience by inbreeding and remaining ‘pure’ enough to claim immortality. Its sheer delusion of course , but they actually believe their own lies so they can justify incest. ‘Please Mummy ,can I have some more ?’.
    In the end of course they inbreed to the point where their pure lines are so corrupted that they die out. Mother nature disapproves of such madness and with good reason.

  18. hektorsmum says:

    Not in Thailand, only my sister in law can own property and therefore the land. My Brother in Law will never be allowed to own this property, I am not sure about my niece, she is a British Subject so maybe not eithe, though maybe they have dual citizenship.
    I would prefer that nobody own land here, rent yes, but own no. I own my house but I cannot drill for oil or minerals under it, that is still in the hands of those who took it from us, the lards.

  19. fionamgrahame says:

    There is also no limit in the Land Reform Bill on how much land any person, organisation public or private, can own e.g. The Ministry of Defence. Apparently limiting the amount of land anyone or any organisation could own was rejected by RACCE.

  20. Grouse Beater says:

    Welcome, Fiona.
    I’m keeping my eye on the Land Reform Bill. I hope it’s given real teeth more than then wind-up chattering falsies it has now.

  21. fionamgrahame says:

    A lot of scaremongering in the islands about it – breaking up farms which commentators are confusing (deliberately?) with inheritance, land grabbing, that kind of nonsense

  22. Grouse Beater says:

    Yes, you can guarantee those who benefit most from the ownership of land that avoids tax and attracts grants will squeal with psychosomatic pain at the thought of their wealth and influence having limits.

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