The findings of the Scottish Land Commission’s research into land ownership in rural parts of the country has revealed that 70% percent of Scotland’s countryside lies in the hands of just over 1,100 owners. While not necessarily a revelation, this report has once again put pressure on the Scottish government to act on the nefarious control of monopolies over swathes of land – many on the basis of archaic, historical ties to 17th century Scottish feudalism – and brought to the forefront the unethical power of private property in serving the interests of the ruling class.
By Thomas Dunbar, Glasgow Marxists
The establishment of the SLC in 2017, as part of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, came in response to mounting criticisms of successive Holyrood governments over a lack of transparency regarding land ownership in Scotland – the Scottish land registry barely covering 33% of the country. While the commission’s report does note the ‘unhealthy’ and, ultimately, damaging nature of Scotland’s current level of land inequity on surrounding communities, the recommendations made to resolve this issue underline the incremental nature of bourgeois reformism in tackling this inevitable factor of capitalism.
The report concerns itself with the unethical hoarding of huge private estates owned by a rogue’s gallery of everything from anachronistic relics (the Earl of Buccleuch has a sizeable historical estate, seized after the Reformation), to Danish clothing billionaires and the Church of England’s investment fund. These estates have been known to exercise an ‘unhealthy’ degree of influence and power in the local area, with much of the land in question functioning as a dormant surplus in the hands of the wealthy used for grouse-chases and other preposterous anachronisms of Scotland’s moribund aristocracy. Worse still are reports of belligerent preservation of these monopolies through local government lobbying and evictions of tenant farmers, some of whom have served on land for hundreds of years.
And yet, there is a prevailing agenda throughout this report which naturally fails to acknowledge the role of the so-called free-market in consolidating these land monopolies. The commission calls for ‘public interest tests’ on potential land transactions which would yield ‘excessive power’ and investigations into abuses of such power. It suggests for mandatory management plans that involve the local community and advocates, in some cases, the opportunity for community buyouts. These recommendations do, to some extent, represent a positive step towards breaking up the concentration of land in the hands of monopolies. However, the lack of commitment towards bringing this land back under the control of the people ultimately shows a capitulation to the ‘free market’. Calling for a gradual increase in the number of small, privately owned estates in order to diversify the economic complexion does not tackle the problem at the heart of monopoly or ensure that land is used in the interest of the public.
As Marxists we see monopoly as an inevitable consequence of the free-market and, as such, changing the constituent parts of that monopoly by allowing subsidiaries to masquerade as competition, does nothing to ensure land is used ‘in the public interest’. This can only be assured when the public itself owns the land on which they work and live. While it is encouraging to see the issue of land reform back in the public consciousness in Scotland, the concessions made to the private landlords made by this report, and by bourgeois democracy, does not intend to put this land back in the hands of the worker.