Reality check needed – yes this is the year 2021 – we are nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st Century and yet vast areas of Scotland continue to be bought up by absentee landowners and increasing numbers of citizens are relying on charitable foodbanks to feed themselves and their families.
It’s hard not to believe that we have somehow been catapulted back in time.
Neither of the two issues in the headline: the ‘Green Lairds’ and cuts to financial support for hard working families has anything to do with the Covid pandemic. Nor does it have anything to do with Brexit. But they are both all to do with Human Rights and Living in a society where Equality matters.
Let’s take the appalling cuts to the financial support that so many hard working families and individuals in this country rely upon.
The UK Tory Government, is cutting £20 a week from Universal Credit payments. Let’s be clear this a move supported by the Tories in Scotland. So if you have a Tory MP or MSP, or councillor, representing you, they have agreed to push 60,000 Scots into poverty. That includes 20,000 children.
Across the UK the decision to cut £20 a week supporting people when they most need it will cause serious hardship to 6 million.
The UK Parliament has power over Universal Credit payments, all the Scottish Government can do is try and mitigate these slashing cuts. On Tuesday 28th of September a debate was held in the Scottish Parliament on the issue of cutting Universal Credit Payments. The Scottish Parliament voted in favour of this motion:
That the Parliament agrees, along with opposition parties in the UK Parliament, that the UK Government’s planned reduction to universal credit should be reversed; recognises the cross-party efforts of opposition parties in the UK Parliament and the social security committees of each of the four nations’ parliaments and assembly in this aim; notes Scottish Government analysis that the reduction of universal credit could reduce welfare expenditure in Scotland by £461 million a year by 2023-24 and push 60,000 people, including 20,000 children, into poverty; agrees that the inadequacy of the payment is just one of many issues with universal credit, alongside the two-child cap and the abhorrent so-called “rape clause”, the five week wait for a first payment, the benefit sanctions regime and the so-called “bedroom tax”; believes that this reflects the UK Government’s uncompassionate approach to welfare, which has been challenged by opposition parties across the UK, and acknowledges Scotland’s human rights based approach to social security.
The vote was 88 for the motion and 28 against – the 28 against were all Tory MSPs.
Closer to home this cut to Universal Credit will slash into the incomes of 843 families in Orkney, removing £1,000 from their support. The Tory MSPs who voted to do this and who were elected to represent Orkney as part of the Highlands and Islands Regional seat are: Jamie Halcro Johnston, Donald Cameron, Edward Mountain and Douglas Ross.
Commenting after the Scottish Parliament debate, Emma Roddick, SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands said:
“The Scottish Parliament overwhelmingly spoke and demanded the Tory UK Government halts their plans to scrap the uplift to Universal Credit. Sadly, we also witnessed every single Tory MSP failing to stand up to their Westminster bosses in opposing the £20 a week cut – the biggest welfare cut since the 1930s.
“I was proud to stand up for the 843 Orkney households and send a strong message to the Tories at Westminster that we reject its plans to rip more than £1,000 a year out of the hands of the most vulnerable at a time when they need it most.
“I am quite frankly shocked, but not surprised, that the Scottish Tory MSPs not only voted to back the Universal Credit cut which will condemn thousands of families to poverty, but actively defended it – the Nasty Party is well and truly back.
“History will remember them for this. Scottish Tory MSPs are letting down thousands of families and children by supporting this callous cut, propping up their Tory chums in the UK government who are imposing these policies on the people of Scotland.
“This demonstrates once again how the people of Scotland cannot afford to continue to suffer under Westminster control. We need to have the option of choosing a different path in a referendum that can give us the full powers of independence where we can build a fairer Scotland.”
Working families will also be hit hard by the rise in National Insurance contributions from 6 April 2022 to 5 April 2023. National Insurance is a tax that proportionately affects lower and middle earners far greater than those in the higher wage brackets. This rise introduced by the UK Tory Government is ‘to be spent on the NHS and social care in the UK.‘ You will recall that leaving the EU was going to be saving the UK so much money that £350million every week would be saved and spent on the NHS.
Then we have the hike in costs to heat the home that will have serious implications for the health and wellbeing of many Scots, especially those in hard to heat homes and those living in fuel poverty. It’s one of the most bizarre problems we have in Orkney and the north of Scotland, in that we produce a surfeit of power (mostly by wind driven renewables), and yet pay the highest prices for our electricity from the National Grid.
Many Orcadians will have to make an appalling choice as we go into winter – the choice between eating and heating. This is a major public health issue. “One parent described the family as living in one room” : Shocking Report on Housing & Heating in Orkney
The madness of living in a resource rich nation with a highly skilled and community compassionate population where increasing levels of poverty result in the only growth sector being one of food banks.
Then there’s the other issue – The Green Lairds and landownership in Scotland.
“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 owns the land – and I’m not referring to farmers producing food – but the large areas across Scotland owned by individuals, Ministry of Defence, RSPB and consortiums – affects everything from accessing the environment for our own personal enjoyment to building homes.
Green Lairds are the latest blight to descend upon us. Writing in his blog in March this year, Calum Macleod states:
Anybody who thinks this is much ado about nothing clearly hasn’t been paying enough attention to the rapidly evolving market in Scottish rural estates; a market described with masterful understatement in a recent article in The Scottish Farmer as “rarefied”. The article notes that only 23 rural estates changed hands in 2020. Worryingly, for anyone interested in land ownership transparency (which is most of the Scottish public, according to recent Scottish Government research) around half of these estates were sold privately without surfacing onto the open market. The same article notes that the total value of Scottish estates sold last year increased by 43% to £100 million.
The Green Lairds, buying up Scotland, planting trees (or whatever) to claim they are addressing climate change – taking good farming land often out of production, came under the spotlight of parliamentarians in Holyrood on Thursday 30th of September.
In a debate brought before the parliament by Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Rhoda Grant, she said:
” Scotland is highly unusual in having almost no land market regulation, which makes it the prime destination for capital looking for an easy, safe and rewarding purchase.”
Rhoda Grant gave examples of these new Green Lairds:
- BrewDog, seeking to offset its carbon emissions, promote its green credentials and win new investors by purchasing thousands of acres of land in the Highlands.
- Standard Life Investments Property Income Trust who have just bought thousands of acres in the Cairngorms national park.
- Gresham House, promoting a £300 million private investment that has Scottish forestry firmly in its sights.
Rhoda Grant continued by pointing out that purchasing land in Scotland with the ‘offset carbon emissions’ tag means that these Green Lairds are able to apply for Scottish Government subsidies and other financial benefits.
“Standard Life has made clear that the cost of the tree planting on the land that it was happy to buy for £7.5 million will be “met through grant funding”.
Speaking after the debate Rhoda Grant said:
“It is vital that these businesses tackle their carbon emissions but not at the expense of the Scottish people. Buying land to simply off-set their bad behaviour elsewhere is not acceptable.
“Scotland has had an unregulated land market for decades but sadly, we are now seeing a new type of exploitation. We are seeing the commodification and financialisation of the climate emergency which is stimulating private land grabbing.
“For example, these multi-million-pound businesses can take money from the public purse through grant funding to plant trees and build corporate reputation. Some purchasers are also likely to hedge against future carbon tax liabilities too. It’s a win win situation for them yet it disadvantages local communities from buying land that they know and tackling the carbon emergency locally.
And she urged the Scottish Government to make bold moves to increase land regulations and to encourage community ownership.
“This will create a more just and fairer Scotland and it will protect our country from this and future exploitation.”
The Scottish Land Commission, which met (virtually) in Orkney on Wednesday 29th of September, to hear the views of islanders, is holding its 3rd annual conference from 4th – 6th of October. Amongst the topics discussed over the 3 days will be the Green Lairds. Wherever you live in Scotland this is a vital issue and if you can please attend or follow the conference proceedings.
Large financial interests speculating by buying up thousands of acres in Scotland. Increasing levels of poverty for working families, the elderly and our most vulnerable citizens. The exploitation of our land and people, still ongoing in 21st century Scotland .
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt