When the pandemic is over, will there be any great reform which stands as a memorial to the privations and loss of life that Scotland will have endured? Perhaps a sustained attack on the disadvantages inflicted by poverty which have been cruelly confirmed through the pandemic? I see no sign.

Maybe an act of penitence for the cuts to local councils over the past decade, out of all proportion to anything suffered by the Scottish Government itself? Little chance for it is easier to clap than to confess or compensate.

So let me be helpful and suggest one policy area entirely within the gift of devolved government where radical action would carry strong historical precedent. Let’s have a Land Settlement (Scotland) (2021) Act to offer thousands of Scottish families a better, healthier quality of life while re-peopling near-deserted swathes of our vast land.

The intellectual demands on the Scottish Government are fortuitously modest. Even the name of the Act already exists, with only the date to be changed from 1919. The wording of legislation would scarcely have to be altered because so much of what it enabled is still required – including the power of compulsory purchase over estates.

In the post-First World War period, 6000 new smallholdings were created in Scotland, in the teeth of landowning opposition and demands for compensation. That would be a modest target to emulate. In Denmark around the same time, the number of new rural holdings was 26,000 but let us walk before we dream of running.

What is the case for such an initiative by the present day Scottish Government to match what Tory and Liberal Ministers delivered through Westminster a century ago? There are no landless ex-servicemen threatening to raid farms or pull down the walls of great estates.

Indeed, there is minimal political challenge to the right of private landowners to act as masters of their great fiefdoms, and certainly no indication of interest in reform from the Scottish Government. So what’s the problem and why is it relevant to the pandemic?

The answer is that in many parts of rural Scotland, the Covid fall-out has inflated demand for rural housing of which there is a very limited stock. Prices are going through the roof making it even more difficult for people on low incomes, whether locals or aspirant incomers, to compete.

Once large numbers were required to work from home, it was likely that many of them would prefer to improve the view from their workplace window. For others, a holiday home bolt-hole became the dream that made lockdown tolerable.

That is all understandable and most of the ideas for controlling market forces are impractical. In large parts of the Highlands and Islands, the system of crofting tenure which formerly created some degree of protection from the market has been undermined to the point at which it is part of the problem more than the solution.

Anyway, this is not an exclusively Highlands and Islands issue. Just as the 1919 legislation covered the whole of Scotland and led to land settlement from Aberdeenshire down to Galloway and the Borders, so our 2021 Act must have relevance wherever demand exists or could be encouraged if only the option was available.

And why must we always look for a problem rather than welcome an opportunity? One thing Scotland is not short of is land. If the pandemic has demonstrated to many Scottish families the advantages of having their own space and access to the great outdoors, of living in the kind of place I am privileged to live in, then why should government not go out its way to facilitate their aspirations?

There is also the largely unacknowledged fact that many parts of rural Scotland are in continuing decline – partly because the forces I have described lead in turn to a downward spiral in public services required by diminishing numbers left in ageing communities. For the active young, an easier option is to move to larger settlements and so the spiral continues.

Reversing these trends need not be expensive but does require creativity, flexibility and co-ordination – none of which currently exist in rural policies. Not everyone wanting to raise a family in a more open environment is looking for social housing in a mini-estate, though there is not much of that being built either in places that really need it.

It used to be acknowledged that the Crofter Housing Grant and Loan Scheme was the most cost-efficient way of building houses in Scotland, with prospective occupants contributing their own labour. It is now greatly diminished but could be revived and applied to the whole of rural Scotland.

New smallholdings, crofts and allotments…. grants and loans to build houses or bring derelict ones back into use …. estates legally bound to release land to meet demand. There is so much that could be done under our Land Settlement (Scotland) (2021) Act if only the political gumption existed.

Instead, we have John Swinney – who seems to have been around for ever without leaving a mark on anything – telling us that independence is “essential” to Scotland recovering from the pandemic.

There speaks a single-issue obsessive without a single practical idea for the improvement of people’s lives in his political head. It will not, I fear, be Mr Swinney who instigates any great pandemic memorial reforms of which Scotland is currently capable but unwilling.

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