THE usual reference sources say that this wrinkled portion of an island group amounts to 78,387 square kilometres, that three languages and several dialects are spoken within it, that close to 5.3 million people live upon it, and that 87% of them were born here.

Simple enough.

Of those five and a bit million people of Scotland, 82% live their lives on 6% of the land mass. You don't need an abacus to work out, therefore, that a sizeable quantity of the country is out of sight and, generally, out of mind.

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But that's our Scotland, isn't it? Sweeping vistas of moorland and mountain, lonely glens, romantic isles, inviolable uplands, dark lochs, deserted places where only the whaup's cry and the wind's sigh trouble the silence: that kind of thing. It is our country, but we do not, as a general rule, live there.

Old memories of Clearances, rural flight and industrial upheavals have trained Scots to find nothing very odd about this. Most of the people who live in the cities and the central belt have no relationship with the rest of the country. That's elsewhere. It is the concern - above all, the property - of someone else.

You know: Balmoral; tourism; farming; blood sports; some wee towns clinging to the coastal fringes where fishing used to happen. Most of the 82% who venture into their own country are no different from any other visitor. Some have a vague idea of how this came about. Some even know the quick fact deployed by the few who study the matter: fully half of the private land in all of ­Scotland has only 432 owners.

Is that because an enormous part of the country is of no worth, best left to people who will take care of it for us - who just happen to be ­aristocrats, or foreign and rich, or a worthy heritage body, or the brass plate concealing an investment enterprise? Or is it because such entities acquired the land by various means down the generations, value it highly, and intend to hold what is - says the law - theirs by right of ownership?

That would be traditional. It would be, in the world's view, the very nature - just dripping with lovely history - of Scotland. A few ­radical types might bang on now and then about people and land, about reform, ownership, the things that give a country a sense of itself. But what can you do? Most of Scotland, it seems, is none of Scotland's business.

This is the 21st century. Here, Unionists in the Edinburgh parliament are fond of insisting that a devolved government should content itself with using the powers it has. Those are more than sufficient, we're told, until someone thinks it prudent to chuck a few more northwards. In the meantime, a First Minister, especially an SNP First Minister, should forget her party's purpose and "get on with the job at hand".

Last week, launching her new administration's programme, Nicola Sturgeon took her opponents at their word. Realistically, she had no choice in the matter: for better or worse, governments govern. But with a dozen bills, various reviews and several commissions, Sturgeon could not have been accused of ­lacking ambition. Her programme is made in her image.

So something "fairer" than the council tax is to be found just as the SNP loses interest in a local income tax. So the rights of carers and access to higher education are to be advanced. So childcare provision is to be expanded, the NHS supported with "real terms" increases, and small businesses aided with a continuing rates "bonus".

There will be an education bill aimed squarely at the poorest and, as promised by Alex Salmond, another bill to sweep away ancient poll tax debts. Fatal accident inquiries will be reformed. There will be renewed attempts to deal with domestic abuse. With such powers as it has, the Scottish Government will promote the living wage and gender equality in executive positions.

Irrespective of the questionable bounties of the Smith Commission, if and when they are granted, ­Sturgeon has given a distinct ­character to her administration: glibly put, women, children, the poorest and most vulnerable first. No-one has thus far argued that this is contrary to the wishes of the Scottish majority.

Nevertheless, land reform was last week's surprise. Those who care most about the matter have been saying for some time that the SNP has failed utterly to live up to its rhetoric in this regard. If anything, Nationalist ministers have in the past seemed to take the big land­owners at their word and accepted the claim, dusty generations old, that any change is fraught with social and economic risk. Judging by near-hysterical Conservative reaction last week - for some loyalties never alter - Sturgeon has no patience with the ancient excuses.

If things happen as they could and should, Scotland will be altered permanently. Last year's report from the Land Reform Review Group will have had ­something to do with it. Campaigners such as Andy Wightman and Jim Hunter will have had a lot to do with it. But a reform of the dull laws of succession - inheritance, wills and the like - could break up the vast estates and return ­Scotland to its people faster than most of us ever thought possible. For once, no hyperbole is involved: it has the makings of a historic moment.

The land, Sturgeon said last week, should be "an asset that benefits the many, not the few". There will be ­consultation, as usual, but she means to give ministers the power to intervene when a landlord's behaviour or the sheer scale of a holding impedes sustainable development. She means to end non-domestic rates exemptions for hunting estates. She wants a Land Reform Commission. She intends that clear information on ownership be publicly available. The First Minister aims, finally, to see one million acres owned by communities by 2020.

The succession law reform remains the explosive idea. As things stand, the rights of close relatives extend only to ­moveable property, not heritable. A disgruntled family member can argue over cash in the bank, in other words, but not the deceased's decisions regarding the house or the ­acreage. By such means have the big estates held together for generations. Make all children equal, however, and the ­gigantic holdings begin to fall apart.

A handful of big land­owners will fight like hell to prevent reform. At minimum, nevertheless, their "traditional" privileges will be under scrutiny as never before. The 82% packed into 6% of Scotland will be invited to ask again how the country became the way it is, and why. History says justice had nothing at all to do with it.

Sturgeon has set out to reverse that sentence. Justice, for the new First minister, has everything to do with it. Bravery is easy in the early days of an administration, but she has made an impressive beginning.