Buried deep in the First Minister’s Programme for Government last week was a commitment to land reform legislation. “It is clear,” declared Mr Yousaf as if sharing a revelatory truth, “that too much of our land is in the hands of too few”.

The sub-text might have read: “Scotland continues to have the most inequitable distribution of land ownership in Europe and after 16 years in government, our great nationalist movement has not lifted a finger to do anything about it”.

Instead, Mr Yousaf continued: “Our land reform bill will make land ownership more transparent and will give communities more opportunities to own their land. We will step up to the challenge and seek to be bold and radical.”

What will this mean? The “bold and radical” canvas could scarcely be blanker so it might help to start colouring it in. The starting point should be to recognise that this is not a fringe issue which only concerns those with an ideological dislike of the status quo, and how it came about.

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It affects huge policy areas which could make Scotland a lot more democratic while offering significant numbers a greatly improved quality of life, to which many Scots aspire. Instead, great swathes of our country operate as private fiefdoms, largely immune to public policy, virtually untaxed and unaccountable for any social good.

This has left vast areas of Scotland with pitifully few people. The fewer the people, the more unsustainable the services, and so the cycle goes on. There is, for example, no obligation on estates to release land for housing - something land reform legislation could instantly address if the will exists.

In any society, land reform is highly political. The reason governments steer clear is not that it is marginal but because it is so fundamental that it involves taking on powerful vested interests, whose historic motto is “what we have, we hold”. Easier to pretend it doesn’t really matter and live with the irony that Scotland’s land reform legislation in the early 1920s was more radical than anything since.

In 1997, the Labour government initiated a programme which carried over into Holyrood and delivered tangible outcomes: abolition of the feudal system, support for community buy-outs, particularly in crofting areas, affirmation of the right to roam. I have always acknowledged this was the low-hanging fruit which then required an ongoing process, growing “bolder and more radical” as it progressed. Instead, it went away for 16 years.

Community ownership never expanded much outside the crofting fringes. Today, barely three per cent of Scotland’s land is community-owned, mostly in the islands. The Scottish Land Fund evolved largely into an “assets” fund, supporting acquisition of pubs, lighthouses and the like for community benefit. That is perfectly worthy but has nothing to do with land reform which was, I can testify, the Fund’s original purpose.

That is not the fault of the Fund. I am sure it would be delighted to support more buy-outs but willing buyers need willing sellers and that is where the system collapses. Even in the odd case where the Land Fund supported substantial acquisition in recent years, the costs are ludicrous - notably £4.5 million for the island of Ulva. Whatever the merits of that purchase, it is clear not much of Scotland would be acquired on that price scale, even if anyone wanted to sell.

Meanwhile, the land market has headed in exactly the other direction. The main factor has arisen under the guise of net zero and the privatisation of “natural capital”, backed with an astonishing £250 million of Scottish Government money. Essentially, landowners engage in tree-planting and “peatland restoration” in return for carbon credits which they can sell to businesses which carry on polluting.

Maybe it’s because I live on an island composed mainly of peat that I regard this as a racket of the first order which will do precious little for the environment but will certainly enrich landowners who can be relied on to sup from any new trough of public largesse. If any Scottish Government minister can explain why encouraging this market is a good use of very scarce resources, against other priorities, I would be pleased to hear from them.

Even the Scottish Land Commission, a quango set up to advise on these matters in 2017, sees the problem: “High land values risk acting against the Scottish Government’s ambition to diversify the pattern of land ownership,” it observes boldly. “Given Scotland’s starting point of a highly concentrated pattern of land ownership and a relatively unregulated land market, there is a significant risk that emerging natural capital value will urther concentrate ownership and benefits arising from land.”.

Well of course it will, and the stable door is already wide open. In other words, while talking about “bold and radical” land reform, the Scottish Government has unleashed an additional force pulling in exactly the opposite direction. I do wonder whose advice it is listening to? If one quango (the Scottish Land Commission) is telling it is “acting against” its own stated objectives, why is another quango (NatureScot) driving this policy with wads of public money?

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A leading expert on Scottish peatland, Dr James Fenton, wrote recently: “Scotland is the world centre of temperate blanket peat, but conservationists appear contradictory when arguing for ‘peatland restoration’ even though this is against one of the pillars of nature conservation, i.e. allowing natural processes to operate – erosion is a natural process.” So who has even decided that “peatland restoration” is a good idea, far less one which should enrich landowners?

The scandal of Scottish landlordism has built up over centuries so nobody expects it to be blown away in a single Act of the Scottish Parliament. The subject is complex and every move towards genuine change will be skilfully resisted. However, the least we are entitled to expect is that while paying lip service to reform, they should stop entrenching the status quo even more deeply.

Brian Wilson is a former Labour Party politician. He was MP for Cunninghame North from 1987 until 2005 and served as a Minister of State from 1997 to 2003.