It is not, as Scottish landowner David Johnstone said, for someone else to dictate to you what should happen to your property. How can you run a modern democracy where the right to own property, your house, your shop, your business is respected, and others aren’t?
David Johnstone and his ancestors before him have owned land in Dumfries and Galloway, 25 miles north of the English border, since the late 13th century. The family supported Robert the Bruce’s cause in the war against the English.
The estate is 15,000 acres, employs 12 people, has 20 tenant farmers, and spends £600,000 a year on local contractors, and supports the local community. There is a mixture of sheep, beef, and dairy farming, combined with forestry, wind power and hydroelectric schemes.
The future of this and other Scottish estates are now at the mercy of the land reforms which Nicola Sturgeon and her SNP ministers are determined to drive through the Scottish parliament. Local communities will be able buy out landowners, ‘to benefit the community and deliver “sustainable development” to the land’.
If the community cannot afford to pay for the land themselves, a third party can subsidise them. And who decides if all these conditions are satisfied? The Scottish ministers.
At the SNP conference last October, party members refused to endorse the bill because they wanted to put a cap on the amount of land an individual can hold. There is also a clause stating that tenants can sell their tenancies to another tenant, putting the farm beyond reach of the owner for ever, unless the landlord steps in to pay a premium.
Scottish landowners are understandably unwilling to make any comparisons with Robert Mugabe’s land confiscations from white farmers in Zimbabwe. They understandably do not wish to appear to be seen as victims of this back handed land grab by Miss Sturgeon and the SNP, and are unwilling to raise their heads above the parapets, as they fear reprisals if they speak out in favour of land rights.
As one landowner said: “There is a genuine and profound belief, felt viscerally by hard core nationalists that we are all bastards who got our land unfairly.” To the laird-bashers, it makes little difference that our family are native Scots who bought their land legitimately in the 17th century.
Most farming and sporting Scottish estates barely cover their costs, many run at a loss, but they are managed well, bring employments, and tourism into the community, thus supporting the local and national economy. Keepers and stalkers are employed, game dealers, feed merchants and support services all benefit from their connections to these estates. People coming to stalk, fish and shoot stay in local hotels and support local businesses in many ways.
This potential land grab is indeed not dissimilar to what Robert Mugabe did to Zimbabwe, once the ‘bread basket of Africa’. He drove the white farmers off the land, which is the most fertile farmland on the continent. Over 2,900 white farmers had their land seized and given to Mugabe’s black cronies. Today over half the people are on the brink of starvations, and the land which once produced crops to feed the nation, and export along with tobacco, is now an unproductive dust bowl.
Mugabe does not care that his people are hungry and the country destitute, and I wonder if Miss Sturgeon will care in years to come when her land reforms result in local businesses closing down, unemployment rife, and valuable tourism bringing significant income to the regions dries up.
This is the politics of envy, it is destructive and corrosive.