Warning that SNP land plan would put rural jobs at risk

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Rural job losses and lengthly court cases could be two of the unwanted outcomes of the Scottish Government’s land reform plans, according to countryside organisations and oppositions parties.

When he was First Minister, Alex Salmond launched the Land Reform Review Group with the aim of transforming Scotland from a nation owned by the few to a country owned by the many. And in her maiden speech as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon signalled not only her intention to stick with the land ownership shake-up, but to go further and scrap business rate exemptions for shooting and deerstalking estates.

A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association said: “The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association will be making a detailed submission to the consultation and will also be seeking a meeting with the First Minister due to our concerns for rural employment for working people and their families.

“We feel very strongly that creating a fairer or more socially just country does not mean taking away lifeline rural employment which is a very real danger if the drive to change ownership patterns turns into discouragement of inward investment.

“If present owners decide conditions in Scotland are no longer favourable, and take their investments elsewhere, the gamekeepers’ jobs go, the ghillie, the boatman, the tractor man, the forester, the various contractors, the estate staff and so on, not to mention the affect on businesses and the fabric of the community. That is not easy employment to replace in a rural area.

“Of course, we believe those who manage land should do so in the public interest and we believe the well-managed estates in Scotland will be able to quantify this very well.

“However, greater transparency has to work both ways and we hope public bodies and large land-owning charities tasked with similar public interest responsibilities are placed under the same scrutiny as private owners.”

Scottish Tories oppose the Scottish Government plans and Borders MSP John Lamont said: “It beggars belief that the SNP believe it is acceptable in modern Scotland to allow the government to force private landowners to sell just because they don’t like what they are doing with their own land. This Scottish Government needs to see landowners as part of the solution, not part of the problem, and must recognise the contribution estates make to rural economies and rural jobs in the Borders.

“The notion of a Central Belt-based land commission determining who was using their land ‘properly’ and who wasn’t is quite simply unacceptable. The inevitable consequence is that these matters would end up in the courts, where the Big Brother plans will be fiercely contested.”

But Ms Sturgeon said: “Scotland’s land must be an asset that benefits the many, not the few.”

David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, said they were working hard to back government aims for renewable energy, agriculture and housing, adding that sporting estates already make a key contribution to rural tourism, employment and the environment.