Recently, a new breed of owner has emerged alongside attempts by the Scottish government to modernise the rules but I would argue that the reforms have not gone far enough and that the concentration of land in so few hands is still leading to abuse of power. So who owns what in Scotland? A Scottish government project which aims to map who owns every part of the country by 2024 was launched five years ago but has so far only managed to register about a third of the country’s total land mass. The government believes 57% of rural land is in private hands (includes Duke’s estates etc), with about 12.5% owned by public bodies, 3% under community ownership and about 2.5% is owned by charities. The 25 remainder is thought to be owned by smaller estates and farms which are not recorded in those figures. The Green MSP and land reform campaigner Andy Wightman reckons that half of the country’s rural land is owned by only 432 landowners. This is a problem, according to a report by the Scottish Land Commission, because having so much land in so few hands can lead to abuse of power.
Let me show an example; private estates often remain in the hands of the same families for generations. Grouse shooting, deer stalking and other country sports are said to be worth £350m to the country’s economy – but the money goes to these estates. The most prominent of the big landowners is the Duke of Buccleuch, who still owns about 200,000 acres, much of it in the south of Scotland. BUT, the Duke was recently overtaken as the biggest private landowner by the billionaire Danish tycoon Anders Holch Povlsen, who now owns about 220,000 acres spread across 12 estates in Sutherland and the Grampian mountains. The money doesnee stop there, oh no – billionaire ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has snapped up about 63,000 acres of Scotland’s countryside, and plans to build a plush new nine-bedroom lodge at Inverinate in Wester Ross. But the biggest landowner is…the government agencies and other public bodies who manage huge areas of land on behalf of the nation. By far the biggest of these is Forestry and Land Scotland, it manages more than a million acres of public forest that is said to generate about £395m for the economy every year, largely through timber and tourism. The National Trust for Scotland owns about 180,000 acres of land alongside the 130 properties it manages, and the MoD also still owns large swathes of countryside – such as the 25,000 acres of moorland at Cape Wrath in the north west of Scotland – which is primarily used for military training exercises. Scotland’s 32 local councils own about 81,000 acres between them, while conservation charity the John Muir Trust owns 60,000 acres, including the Ben Nevis Estate and RSPB Scotland owns 125,858 acres of land for its’ network of reserves across the country. Then we have the Saxons, Church of England bought about 32,000 acres of Scottish forestry in 2014 as part of a massive expansion of its investment portfolio. RoS data suggests property in Scotland worth £2.9bn is owned by offshore companies. Owning Scottish property through offshore companies is not illegal, but it does mean the landowners duck out of paying the likes of inheritance duties and capital gains tax – which are used to fund public services such as the NHS.
Among the most high profile of community buy outs have been on the Isle of Eigg and on the South Uist Estate, which includes the islands of Benbecula and Eriskay, who saw 3,500 islanders join forces to raise the £4.5m it took to buy the estate’s 93,000 acres and 850 crofts from absentee landlords in 2006. Since then, residents have built three huge wind turbines – named Wendy, Fanny and Blowy – which have helped to boost the economy of the islands. The latest available figures show there are now 562,230 acres in community ownership across the country – including a Cold War surveillance station on the Isle of Lewis and a former church in Edinburgh.
Now we get nasty and dirty … The Crown Estate – is a collection of lands and holdings in the United Kingdom belonging to the British monarch as a corporation sole, making it the “sovereign’s public estate”, which is neither government property nor part of the monarch’s private estate. As a result of this arrangement, the sovereign is not involved with the management or administration of the estate, and exercises only very limited control of its affairs. The revenues from these hereditary possessions have been placed by the monarch at the disposition of Her Majesty’s Government in exchange for relief from the responsibility to fund the Civil Government. These revenues thus proceed directly to Her Majesty’s Treasury, for the benefit of the British nation (but does the German queen keep it or pass it on the the common public?) The Crown Estate is formally accountable to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, where it is legally mandated to make an annual report to the sovereign, a copy of which is forwarded to the House of Commons. The Crown Estate is one of the largest property managers in the United Kingdom, administering property worth £14.1 billion, with urban properties valued at £9.1 billion representing the majority of the estate by value. These include a large number of properties in central London, but the estate also controls 1,960,000 acres of agricultural land and forest and more than half of the UK’s foreshore, and retains various other traditional holdings and rights, including Ascot Racecourse and Windsor Great Park, in 1760, George III surrendered the Estate’s revenues to the Treasury, thus relieving him of the responsibility of paying for the costs of the civil service, defence costs, the national debt, and his own personal debts. In return, he received an annual grant known as the Civil List.
Crown land in Scotland – in 1830 King William IV revoked the income from the Crown estates in Scotland. The hereditary land revenues of the Crown in Scotland, formerly under the management of the Barons of the Exchequer, were transferred to the Commissioners of Woods, Forests, Land Revenues, Works and Buildings and their successors under the Crown Lands (Scotland) Acts of 1832, 1833 and 1835. These holdings including Glenlivet Estate, the largest area of land managed by the Crown Estate in Scotland, purchased in 1937, Applegirth, Fochabers and Whitehill estates, purchased in 1963, 1937 and 1969 respectively. After winning the 2011 Scottish election, the Scottish National Party (SNP) called for the devolution of the Crown Estate income to Scotland. In response to this demand, the Scotland Office (London based and run) decided against dividing up the Crown Estates. These plans have been criticised by the SNP. The Scottish government has taken control of a portfolio of assets totalling £272 million ($339.6 million) after a devolved Scottish Crown Estate was established, including the rights to develop marine energy projects in the country. A new public body, called Crown Estate Scotland (CES), will oversee seabed areas hosting offshore wind, wave and tidal projects, and some continental shelf activities.
Whisky on Crown Estates; The Glenlivet Distillery… a small production distilling legalised in 1823, local farmer George Smith set up a distillery on his farm near Minmore. Today the quality of “The Glenlivet” has developed a worldwide reputation. The question is, does the distillery lease land and pay the estate (Queen)? AND Tomintoul Distillery built in the mid 1960s, produces three million litres of alcohol each year. The family business has been making single malt whisky in the Speyside Glenlivet region for four generations. Same question.
HISTORY FACTS. Battle of Glenlivet. On 3rd October 1594, Catholic Earls of Huntly and Errol, commanding a force of only 1500 horsemen, defeated the much larger Protestant royalist army led by the Earl of Argyll (the Campbell). Records suggest Argyll’s force consisted of around 6,000 -10,000 infantrymen. Huntly’s victory was partly due to his possession of six small artillery pieces, but the treachery of John Grant (local Speyside clan) of Gartenberg, an ally of Argyll, must also have been a significant factor. John Grant struck a secret deal with Huntly, and led the Grant forces away from the battle. It was a dramatic event with deep and complex roots, and the battle represented a victory of artillery and horse over regular infantry.
Tomintoul – Developed in the late 18th Century, the village was built by the 4th Duke of Gordon who established the new planned settlement with its regimented grid-like layout on this “bleak and barren moor”. Its’ layout hasn’t changed much since. The Duke’s demand for a good Public House in the centre of the town no doubt helped to secure its popularity. Situated at 234m above sea level, Tomintoul is renowned as the highest village in the Highlands.
The Campbells; the black sheep clan of the Scottish Western Highlands. After the decline of Paganism, most Celtic Highlanders embraced Catholicism and some later even followed their chieftains into the Episcopalian faith. The reviled Campbells joined the dour Protestant Presbyterians (Lowland Scots). To other clans, that was one of their first big mistakes. The hated Campbells are best known for the massacre at Glencoe at the ancestral lands of Clan MacDonald. In the early hours of February 13, 1692, 36 MacDonalds were slaughtered — including women and young children — after they had welcomed the Campbells into their homes. At Glencoe (and in other nearby Highland villages) to this day, there are signs in restaurants, inns, pubs and shops that state: “We Don’t Serve Campbells.” And they aren’t referring to the Campbell’s soup. Like all Highland clan and family names, Campbell was anglicized. The Gaelic spelling of their name, “Cambeul,” translates cleanly as “twisted mouth,” such as the common “Mac” translates as “son.” The Campbells acquired their lands mainly through guile, but also through legal process, largely by siding with the English, against their own countrymen. They were not the only clan to do this, but they were the worst.
So there we have it, Scotland is still owned by other than the people who live here. Photo by Ian Horne our pal, who owns as much of Scotland as Paul does! But see you, what is in our hearts and souls cannot be stolen.