Yesterday’s report from the Scottish Land Commission is a very significant intervention in the land reform debate. 

In a nuanced, precise and methodical manner, The Commission provides a compelling case for tackling head on the concentrated pattern of power that is at the heart of the land question in Scotland.

For decades, land reformers have argued that the concentrated pattern of private landownership in Scotland is not only inequitable but damaging to economic prospects. 

The report makes clear that this is indeed the case and that this is a question of economic, political and social power.

Read more: Concentrated land ownership causing 'significant' damage to Scotland, report finds

The derivation, distribution and exercise of power is the central problem that underlies all others. Abuses of power are only possible because such power exists in the first place and because the land market is so open to anyone from anywhere in the world. 

Quite literally, the market is unregulated and, as the Commission notes, the evidence demonstrates a pattern of market and social power associated with landownership that is consistent with characteristics of monopoly power in other economic sectors. Indeed, if land was subject to the powers of the Competitions and Markets Authority, there would be a clear case for intervention.

The report notes that market and social power can damage the public interest, that detrimental impacts on communities are a product of a concentration of power and that Scotland would benefit from a far more diverse pattern of power over land. Importantly, this is not simply a question of private landownership but also public.

Scottish Ministers are themselves by far the largest landowner in Scotland and there is a strong case for decentralising some of this power to local councils, communities and individuals.

Land reform to date has tinkered at the margins for too long. There is nothing in this report that comes as a surprise to land reformers but it is refreshing to read advice from a government agency that tackles this question head on and recommends new powers of intervention as well as reform in the way that land is taxed. 

If Scottish Ministers approve these recommendations then we could be on the brink of resolving the central problem of Scottish landownership, namely the centuries-long persistence of hegemonic landed power.

I am not holding my breath, however. Scottish Ministers have had opportunities to act – on inheritance law and on land taxation and have avoided both. If this report is to be the tipping point that it could be, Government needs to be far clearer about its intentions and timescales.

Above all we need to move beyond debates about community ownership, important thought that is. The reason many communities find themselves having to contemplate the prospect of landownership is solely because of the failings of the current system that is open to abuse and speculative financial gain by external interests.

Admittedly, such reforms take time and the path ahead is strewn with legal and political challenges. Today in Parliament, we will be debating the topic and I will be inviting Parliament to agree with the findings of the Commission. Such agreement would provide a clear expression of the will of the people of Scotland to turn the clock on centuries of landed power and make land an asset for the many and not the few.

  • Andy Wightman is a Green MSP