The Future of Land Reform in Scotland

The Future of Land Reform in Scotland
By Andy Wightman




In order to ensure that the framework of land rights (that is to say the legal, political and fiscal rules that govern land relations) continues to meet the needs of society both now and in the future, it is useful to be clear about the principles that underpin such a framework.


In 2014 the LRRG recommended that The Review Group supports the Scottish Government’s aim of "a fairer, or wider and more equitable, distribution of land in Scotland…with greater diversity of land ownership". The Group believes that this requires an integrated approach to developing measures which help deliver this ambition. The Group recommends that the Government should develop a National Land Policy for Scotland, taking full account of international experience and best practice.


In response to this recommendation, the Scottish Government has drafted “Land Rights in a 21st Century Scotland” comprising a vision and seven principles


Land Rights in a 21st Century Scotland


The relationship between the people living in Scotland and the land of Scotland is of fundamental importance. The land of Scotland is a finite resource and the land rights that govern how the land is owned and used have a crucial influence on the wellbeing, economic success, environmental sustainability and social justice of the country. This statement proposes a vision and set of principles to guide the development of public policy on the nature and character of land rights in Scotland.




For a strong relationship between the people of Scotland and the land of Scotland, where ownership and use of the land delivers greater public benefits through a democratically accountable and transparent system of land rights that promotes fairness and social justice, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity.




1. The ownership and use of land in Scotland should be in the public interest and contribute to the collective benefit of the people of Scotland.


2. There should be clear and detailed information that is publicly available on land in Scotland.


3. The framework of land rights and associated public policies governing the ownership and use of land, should contribute to building a fairer society in Scotland and promoting environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and social justice.


4. The ownership of land in Scotland should reflect a mix of different types of public and private ownership in an increasingly diverse and widely dispersed pattern, which properly reflects national and local aspirations and needs. 


5. That a growing number of local communities in Scotland should be given the opportunity to own buildings and land which contribute to their communityʼs wellbeing and future development.


6. The holders of land rights in Scotland should exercise these rights in ways that recognise their responsibilities to meet high standards of land ownership and use.


7. There should be wide public engagement in decisions relating to the development and implementation of land rights in Scotland, to ensure that wider public interest is protected.


The Scottish Government will take into account in all its policies the vision and principles set out in this document.


This is a welcome development but such a statement of principles is not of itself a policy and thus not a full response to the recommendation of the LRRG. In evidence to the LRRG, Robin McLaren, a global expert in land administration observed that, There is no single source of land policy or National Land Policy – rather, the policies on land in Scotland are located in numerous sources such as national development policies, land use strategies, laws and regulations and even as the result of administrative practices. Also, there are numerous policies across the government directorates and agencies that touch on land, such as policies on housing, education, natural heritage, economic development, etc. This patchwork of land policies makes it problematic for these land policies to collectively align and effectively support the vision for Scotland and ensure that land effectively supports Scotland’s future needs.


“Land Rights in a 21st Century Scotland” is thus merely the first stage in developing a National Land Policy. In the absence of such a policy, however, “Land Rights in a 21st Century Scotland” provides a valuable series of high-level principles to guide policy making in relation to land. In particular, it highlights the significance of land rights within a wider human rights framework.


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