The SNP achieved “nothing” in the way of land reform during its first administration and has allowed itself to become too close to vested interests in the rural sector, according to a leading commentator on land issues.
Andy Wightman, an independent researcher and the author of Who Owns Scotland? and The Poor Had No Lawyers, told Holyrood that the third session of the Scottish Parliament was “very disappointing because [the Scottish Government] basically did nothing” to address long-standing power structures in Scottish land ownership.
Wightman, who advocates breaking up Scotland’s traditional patterns of land ownership to allow for greater accountability and public participation in land and planning decisions, said the SNP’s lack of action was mystifying because the party has been “historically very vocal on [the] question of land and ownership”.
He continued: “What’s happened is we’ve now got a culture where landowners feel very buoyed.
I can only explain their lack of action because of the fact that [First Minister Alex Salmond] is obviously a very astute tactician.
The two significant voices that have always been raised in opposition to independence by raising fears have been the business community… and the landowners as well.” While Wightman supports the SNP policy of devolving the Crown Estate to Scotland in order to secure greater accountability, he said the Scottish Parliament already holds “95 per cent” of the power needed to undertake significant reforms.
Wightman is also critical of the Scottish Government’s approach to policy-making on areas such as crofting, saying legislation is weakened by trying to reconcile completely divergent economic interests. He said on too many issues ministers have allowed industry groups too much input into policy debates, singling out Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead in particular.
“On many occasions he appears to be little more than almost a paid employee of the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland. Because he’s strongly advocating the farming interest. Now, the farming interest in terms of public policy, and in terms of public money, is a public policy issue, and we’ve had too many occasions where I think the public debate has been captured by elite interests.” He continued: “The majority of things they are talking about are very complicated; no one really understands crofting law, no one really understands the intricacies of agriculture support, no one really understands the intricacies of the Common Fisheries Policy, etc. So understandably, very few other people join in. I think it’s the role of government, of Parliament, to lay out the public agenda in all of this. But I think this government has got far, far too close to these producer interests.”