Reclaiming Our Land By Rob Gibson

Book Review By Fiona Grahame

There are very few countries in the world like Scotland where so much land is owned and controlled by so few. In his book Reclaiming Our Land, Rob Gibson takes us on a journey to the point we are at now with the passing of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill 2016.

Rob Gibson was an SNP MSP from 2003 to 2016. During his time in the Scottish Parliament, firstly as MSP for the Highlands and Islands Region and then in 2011 for the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross Constituency, he was able to promote his lifelong passion for land reform.

Reclaiming Our Land is both a very personal account of the slow progress being made in Scotland on land reform but also a meticulously documented one. As such this book is an important research source for students and educators on this issue.

The first part of the book charts Rob Gibson’s personal political growth and his involvement then in campaigns both on land issues and commemorating those in the past who campaigned so vigorously for them. At the start there is a useful timeline ‘Recalling our land history’.

The book includes useful references and quotes as well as images of Rob Gibson (sometimes very youthful) at a variety of campaigning events.

Working within the constraints of a devolved parliament will never produce the radical results needed to address the issue of land ownership which continues to stifle how the very land and seas of Scotland are developed for the benefit of all.

Today it’s estimated around half of its private rural land is owned by just under 500 individuals, while the Panama Papers revealed that as much as 750,000 acres of this may be owned by companies registered in offshore tax havens.

Prospect Who Really Owns Scotland

In, The Rousay Clearances- Exodus From The Egypt Of The North, Martin Laird and I charted what happened to the Rousay tenanted farmers when they were removed from properties they had worked successfully for generations. Scotland, Slavery & Land: ‘Follow the Money’ shone light on the role the vast reparations paid out to ex slave owners paved the way for the buying up of large tracts of land in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands. The people were then cleared from this land, very often forcibly, either having to emigrate or move to overcrowded slums in cities like Glasgow.

The Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999 and didn’t really do very much in its first session under a Labour/Liberal Democrat Coalition. That first administration limited itself and it wasn’t until the SNP came into government (firstly as a minority one) that we see a significant increase in the Bills the Scottish Parliament was passing.

That first session did however produce The 2003 land Reform Act

The 2003 Land Reform Act introduced a public right of responsible access to land, a Community Right to Buy rural land when it was put on the market, and a Crofting Community Right to Buy regardless of whether it was for sale.

SB 15-49 Land Reform (Scotland) Bill

It wasn’t until 2012 that the Scottish Government established the Land Reform Review Group,LRRG.

And so, slow progress to get to the 2016 Land Reform (Scotland) Act.

In the vote, Holyrood, overwhelmingly passed the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill 102 votes to 14. This passage provoked favourable comments from many commentators and campaigners. This was welcome reading to the MSPs and ministers closely involved. Of course, the Tories and landowning interests decried these radical measures.

Rob Gibson Reclaiming Our Land

In his evidence to The Napier Commission in 1883, James Leonard, crofter and mason of Digro, Rousay said:

‘Although I may have to leave the land, I am prepared to speak the truth, and will not be cowed by landlordism. I consider as Burns says – ‘a man’s a man for a’ that.

‘We are only telling the truth, and you are here to receive evidence of the truth; and because we do that we will be evicted from our places and holdings. Certainly there is much need for a change of the law, and security of tenure.’

James Leonard was evicted but what this principled and courageous man said then is just as true today.

Rob Gibson’s final paragraph in Reclaiming Our Land:

I believe that we are closer to reclaiming our land than ever before. Political will based on a wide consensus for change is now in play.

Robe Gibson October 2020

Reclaiming Our Land was first published in 2020 by Rob Gibson in association with Highland Heritage Educational Trust (HHET)

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