Interesting things going on in Scotland. [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Interesting things going on in Scotland.

02-24-2003, 11:02 AM
From this weekends New York Times.

Land Reforms in Scotland Give Big Estates the Jitters

February 23, 2003

DORNACH, Scotland, Feb. 20 - Swaddled in the solitude of
the Scottish Highlands, Skibo Castle, once the home of the
steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie and now a storybook resort for
the privileged, is a place infused with an aura of
tranquillity and comfort.

The rich and famous travel here to the northern reaches of
Scotland to golf, ride, roam about the grounds and attend
candlelight dinners. Madonna married Guy Ritchie at the
castle two years ago, in full Scottish regalia. Members of
Skibo's members-only Carnegie Club enjoy a "unique and
private refuge from the hectic world," its Web site boasts.

But last month the Scottish Parliament, a four-year-old
institution based in Edinburgh, overwhelmingly passed a
land reform bill that fundamentally changes property rights
in Scotland and could greatly expand the public's access
even to private estates like Skibo Castle.

The new law would give crofters - small-scale tenant
farmers who have lived in the Highlands for generations -
the right to collectively purchase sections of the estates
they live on, whether or not the landowner wants to sell.
The law also allows anyone in Scotland the right to roam
just about anywhere they please, granting landowners only
limited power to eject someone from their property.

The provisions, expected to be signed into law by the queen
later this year, have set off a fury among Scotland's rich
estate owners, who have labeled it a brand of Marxism and
likened it to the seizures of white-owned land by President
Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

"The only countries in the world left with this kind of
thing are North Korea and Cuba," said Peter de Savary, the
flamboyant entrepreneur who turned Skibo Castle from a
private home into the Carnegie Club in 1995. "The Scottish
legislation is ill-conceived, has not been thought out and
is particularly inane. There is nothing to commend it at

Landowners fear their land may be sold out from under them
or, in the case of sporting and leisure clubs, the members
worry about losing privacy. They also argue that the bill
may ultimately hurt local economies by cutting into

Supporters of the bill, which passed by a vote of 101 to 19
with only 2 abstentions, shrug off the criticism, saying
change was overdue in Scotland, where half of private land
is in the hands of just 343 landowners and only half of
Scotland's land has gone on the market in the past century.

"The reason we are doing this now is because we haven't
done it in 200 years," said Andy Wightman, author of "Who
Owns Scotland."

Mr. de Savary said he was most distressed over the "right
to roam" section of the bill, which would make it next to
impossible to bar someone from his land. "I'm not sure they
can't walk all over the golf course and get hit on the head
by a ball and be killed," he said. "And the owner of the
golf course will be liable."

Other landowners, most of whom vigorously lobbied against
the bill, are particularly aghast over the provision that
gives crofting communities the right to buy an estate's
common grazing grounds, including its fishing rights,
regardless of the landowner's desire to sell. If the
majority of crofters in a community decide they want to
buy, the property's value is determined by an independent
assessor and may be bought using lottery money that goes
into a government fund.

"This is about the haves and have-nots," said Gordon
Robertson, who manages Balnagown, the Easter Ross estate of
Mohamed al-Fayed, owner of Harrods department store. "The
decision appears to be political, looking at the past, and
it lacks a basic understanding of how rural Scotland

Several landowners, through the Scottish Landowners'
Federation, hope to challenge the law before the European
Court of Human Rights. They say the bill is scaring off
potential investors, who would not want to risk money on
estates that could be bought out from under them.

"It's a revenge job for something carried out 150 years ago
and more," said John Mackenzie, whose family has owned
50,000 acres on the Isle of Skye for more than five

To many people, though, the bill is viewed as a belated
effort to address a deep imbalance in property ownership in
Scotland and a chance to remedy the wrongs committed by
powerful landowners 200 years ago, during the Highland
Clearances. At the time, crofters were pushed off the land
and their huts were burned to enlarge estate holdings and,
often, to make way for sheep. Many left for the United
States, Canada and Australia. The crofters living in
Scotland today can trace their lineages back to those who
were pushed on to the margins of the big estates.

The British government ignored the issue for decades,
partly in deference to the House of Lords, which is stocked
with wealthy landowning aristocrats. But when the Scottish
Parliament was created four years ago, it seized on the

"This is the first major challenge to the institutional
power that landowners have enjoyed in the political
process," Mr. Wightman said.

In the Highlands, where the bill most resonates, fewer than
100 landowners - aristocrats, celebrities, foreign
investors, sheiks and offshore companies - own more than
half the land. Some are absentee landlords. Others, though,
run the estates at a loss and invest millions to maintain
the grounds, run lodges and keep rivers pristine, all of
which helps local economies.

Many lawmakers and crofters argue that landowners are
panicking unnecessarily. The most contentious provision in
the bill - the crofting communities' right to buy - affects
only 7 percent of all Scottish land, and many crofters have
no intention of taking advantage of the offer. Those who do
want to buy must surmount a number of hurdles, including
holding a local referendum and withstanding a legal appeal.

"In one sense, it is revolutionary," said Jim Wallace,
deputy first minister of the Scottish Parliament who helped
steer the bill through the legislature. "It's a simpler way
of giving crofting communities the right to buy land. But
the heavens aren't going to fall in."

In some cases, the buying and selling of land will be done
amicably, as is currently happening with the Dundonnell
Estate of the lyricist Sir Tim Rice, who is negotiating the
sale of part of his 33,000 acres of Wester Ross land to a
group of crofters.

Several other crofting communities, though, are moving
ahead with plans to confront their landlords and assert
their right to buy. Hugh Mac- Lellan, 42, a crofter who has
occupied the same land his family was squeezed into some
200 years ago, is already setting plans in motion to
purchase 2,300 acres of the Durness Estate, which is owned
by Vibal SE, a corporation licensed in Liechtenstein. Mr.
MacLellan, an oyster farmer and owner of a bed and
breakfast in northwest Sutherland, hopes to revitalize the
village of Laid, which he says has languished through

The owners, he said, want to hold on to the property for
its mineral rights. He hopes to buy it and turn parts into
a heritage trail, maybe set up a shellfish processing plant
or a wind farm to produce electricity.

"The landlord has had it for 20 years and done nothing with
it," Mr. MacLellan said. "As far as I know, the owners have
never been here. We hope, if we take it over, we can create

Willie Gunn
02-24-2003, 01:40 PM
Do not start me on the Land Reform Act which was recently passed by the crowd of halfwits that pass as the Scottish parliment. This is the crowd who have already tried to ban the fox hunting but made such a mess of wording the bill that more foxes are killed now than ever before. The majority of the members of the parliment come from the central belt and would struggle to tell the difference between a fox and a salmon.

The article misses some of the important points, most of the money required to buy the land/fishing whatever will be public money from the Lottery and secondly the crofters can cherry pick the estates, so the estates which usually struggle to breakeven anyway will loose the parts of the estate that make money eg the fishing, the shooting. This will leave the big house as a huge white elephant. The gilles and water balliffs will end up being made redundant, the salmon will be expoited till extinct.

I must stop now as my blood pressure has gone through the roof.


02-24-2003, 02:17 PM
I saw that article and did not have the courage to send it to Malcolm. Sounded very contraversial knowing the hundreds of years of land ownership laws in effect in Scotland. After reading Malcolm's response I now know it is contraversial .

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