Rich private landowners have come under heavy fire after a series of intemperate outbursts aimed at blocking Scottish Government plans to tackle huge inequalities in wealth by radically reforming land law.
Large sporting estates have blasted the proposed changes as "ideological", "emotive" and likely to stir up "hate tactics based upon jealousy". They have drawn comparisons with Zimbabwe, and said they "resent" interference from urban-dwellers "with little experience of the countryside" and "distorted views".
One landowner pronounced it "inconceivable" that private land should be required to deliver a public benefit, while another did not believe that land ownership "has to be in the public interest." The government's policy would only be acceptable if it deleted the idea of "building a fairer society in Scotland", according to a major group of landowners.
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Scottish ministers are proposing a major package of land reforms, including new powers for ministers to intervene, ending a tax break for sporting estates, and making ownership more transparent. Although about 70 per cent of the 1,269 responses to a recent public consultation were in favour, there were up to 50 private landowners who strongly objected.
Ministers have promised to publish a land reform bill in the next few weeks, but there is little sign that they are going to cave in to landowner pressure. In recent speeches, the land reform minister, Dr Aileen McLeod, has stressed the need to reduce the unequal distribution of wealth.
"We live in a very unequal society," she said. "Access to ownership and use of land is not evenly spread across society and there's good evidence that this inequality does not serve us well."
McLeod pointed out that in 2010-12 the richest ten per cent of households owned 44 per cent of all Scotland's wealth. "In my view, it doesn't reflect the kind of society we want to work towards," she said.
Land reform was one of the ways of combating the injustice, she argued. "I see the Scottish Government's approach to land reform as one mechanism among others for tackling the causes and consequences of inequality that blights our society and limits our potential as a country."
Jim Hunter, the distinguished land expert and Emeritus Professor of History at the University of the Highlands and Islands, urged ministers to resist the landowning lobby. "Will the government hold its nerve? I certainly hope so," he said.
"Land reform, because it involves the transfer of power and influence from one group to another - in this case from large-scale landowners to local communities - is seldom, if ever, a consensual process," he argued.
"And landowners, though not so influential as they were in the days when they could block reforms in a landowner-dominated House of Lords, remain a powerful grouping which some ministers may hesitate to tangle with."
Hunter pointed out that half of Scotland's private land belonged to just 432 owners. "The SNP government's clear commitment to land reform is coming under fire from landowners who have been used to governments that, far from posing any threat to them, shower them with tax concessions and subsidies," he added.
In their responses to the government consultation, landowners lambasted the land reform proposals. "Scotland must not become the equivalent of Zimbabwe, where the goal was to more equitably distribute land," said Glenprosen estate in Angus.
"Please avoid trampling over existing owners property rights as this will result in long term legal issues," the estate warned. "You may open up private individuals to hate tactics based upon jealousy or differing political views."
Ardverikie estate in Kinlochlaggan accused ministers of adopting a "nanny state" policy. "Country people resist metropolitan interference and resent excessive regulation. They are very much more independent than those in urban communities," it claimed.
"The majority of the Scottish population being based in the central belt in urban communities with little experience of the countryside other than through leisure activities form distorted views of the countryside and rural land ownership."
Edward Humphrey, from Dinnet and Kinord estate in Aberdeenshire, thought it was "inconceivable that the government is suggesting that all private land should be required to deliver a public benefit." This was echoed by Dunecht estate, also in Aberdeenshire, which did not believe "that ownership and use of land has to be in the public interest."
Strathbran estate in Ross and Cromarty went further. "Public sector bodies have historically been the poorest managers of land providing the least public benefit," it said. "They should be closed down."
Viscount Astor, stepfather of the Prime Minister's wife, Samantha Cameron, and owner of the Tarbert estate on the island of Jura, even warned of a "Mugabe-style land grab". He said: "Is it because we don't sound Scottish? We should not all have to sound like Rob Roy."
But landowners were criticised by the leading SNP backbencher, Joan McAlpine MSP, for ploughing money into lobbying and donating to the Conservative Party. "I am absolutely confident that despite this, we will have a piece of progressive legislation at the end of the day that results in a much fairer system of land ownership in Scotland," she said.
Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners, suggested in its submission that one of the government's guiding principles would only be acceptable "subject to the deletion of the words 'building a fairer society in Scotland'". The problem was that fairness was "an abstract concept" that was open to interpretation, it said.
The organisation's chief executive, Douglas McAdam insisted it would be "absurd" to suggest that this meant that landowners were not interested in a fair society. "We said that 'building a fairer society in Scotland' was too vague," he said.
He denied that landowners had mounted a sustained campaign to undermine government proposals. "This view shows a complete lack of understanding of landowners' participation in the land reform review process over the last two years," he argued.
"We are working to deliver a huge range of Scottish Government policies and proposals, and whilst we do have concerns regarding certain land reform proposals, which we will continue to voice, that is very different thing to the accusation of undermining them."