THIS year is a big year for those involved in rural land in Scotland.

The referendum in September is obviously important, although ongoing discussions on the shape of the CAP may have more impact in the immediate future. There are also three separate and quite distinct reviews under way on land reform. The independent Land Reform Review Group is due to report in April. The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee in Westminster is undertaking an inquiry into land reform and the agricultural holdings legislation is the subject of a ministerial-led review by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment, Richard Lochhead.

Many of the issues being considered in these reviews are not new. Indeed, they have a long history and have been the subject of fierce debate in the past. But it has been more than a decade since there was this degree of attention on the fundamentals of land tenure and land use. The focus is welcome as there is much yet to do to bring Scotland into the 20th century, never mind the 21st.

This debate matters because there is a finite extent of land. Is it right and fair that its division should still largely be the product of land grabs and feudal privilege dating back centuries? Are the tax reliefs and subsidy arrangements developed over the past century fit for purpose in an era where so many more demands are made on Scotland's land? Is it right that as few as 432 landowners own half of all the privately owned rural land? According to the recent BBC documentary, The Men Who Own Scotland, the answer to this question from those men appears to be "life is not fair -get over it".

But fairness is a key part of this debate. It is unfair that folk of modest means should have to pay so much for a basic plot of land to build a house. It is unfair that the land market is distorted by subsidies and tax reliefs. Across most countries in Europe, fairness has been central to land reform.

A good example is the proposal to give secure tenant farmers a right to buy. Such a right was granted to tenants across Europe decades and centuries ago. It is often forgotten too that in 1946 Anthony Eden told the Conservative party conference that "the tenant farmer should be assisted and encouraged to become an owner-occupier". Those were the days when the Tories truly believed in a property-owning democracy.

But it is the consequences of this European experience that might come as something as a surprise to those who would argue that granting a right to buy here would have disastrous consequences for the future of the tenanted sector. In Scotland, the extent of tenanted land has declined from 42% in 1982 to 24% in 2012. In Norway by contrast, in a land of owner-occupiers, tenanted land has increased in extent over the same period from 20% in 1979 to over 42% in 2010. Indeed, most countries in Europe have a higher proportion of tenanted land than Scotland. France has over three times as much (74%), Germany has 67%, Finland has 34% and Spain 27%.

The difference is that most of Scotland's secure tenants own no land. They rent the whole farm, including the family home. In France, Norway and Germany, by contrast, the vast majority of tenant farmers are also owner-occupiers. In other words landlord and tenants have equal status because they are both landowners.

Does this have lessons for Scotland? One of the features of the current tenancy system is that it is fiendishly complex and very costly to resolve disputes. The bold thing to do would be to provide tenants with a right to buy at the same time as phasing out the accompanying tenancy legislation and introducing complete freedom of contract. Such a move would, following European experience, lead to more land available for rent as well as greatly increasing the number of owner-occupiers. The alternative (to ring-fence tenanted land, for example) merely perpetuates an archaic system of complex tenure that is ideal for no-one.

Of course, then a related question needs to be addressed, namely the steady consolidation and enlargement of farm holdings. There are answers to that, too, from European experience but these must wait for another day.

Meanwhile, the lesson for these three reviews is clear: this is the year to be bold.

Andy Wightman is a writer and land rights campaigner. His books include Who Owns Scotland and The Poor Had No Lawyers.

Rog Wood will return next week.