Whose land? #OurLand

Whose land? #OurLand

By: Liz Murray
Date: 14 August 2016

red_grouseAugust 12, the ‘Glorious Twelfth’, is the start of the grouse shooting season, a pastime enjoyed, by and large, by the wealthy and influential and an icon of the entitlement and privilege which have driven patterns of land ownership in much of Scotland for centuries.

This year’s Our Land festival in Scotland also started on August 12 and couldn’t be more different.

With twenty events in communities across Scotland, the Our Land festival is upping the ante on land reform and calling for more action from politicians to increase transparency and accountability in land ownership, and for measures to make land more available, affordable and productive.

Scotland’s land ownership is notoriously unequal, having been described by Professor James Hunter, former chair of Highlands and Islands Enterprise as: “the most concentrated, most inequitable, most unreformed and most undemocratic land ownership system in the entire developed world.”

Despite some good progress with the land reform legislation earlier this year, there is still much work to be done.  And that’s what the OurLand festival is highlighting.

We’ve added our voice to this by publishing research that exposes some of the super-rich, global capitalists who have bought into the outdated and undemocratic land ownership system here in Scotland with vast tracts of land. We’ve also unearthed some unsavoury connections between those land owners and scandals of worker exploitation, human rights abuses and disregard for the environment around the world.

For example, businessman Anders Povlsen, who owns several estates totalling 150,00 acres in Sutherland and Invernesshire, and is Scotland’s second largest private landowner after the Duke of Buccleuch, is linked Asos, one of the largest online clothing retailers. Povlsen’s £4 billion fortune comes from Bestseller, a clothing company he inherited from his parents and which has a 27 percent stake in Asos.  Asos is notorious for poor working conditions and has been described as a “modern sweatshop” in Britain.  Staff have reportedly been forced to urinate in water fountains due to lack of toilet breaks and the GMB union has held demonstrations outside their plants over poor working conditions.

This is just one of seven case studies of landowners across Scotland. Our other case studies also show those who have been involved in unregulated fracking, land grabs and privatization of national parks in Africa, large scale trade union busting and job cuts in Mexico and  Brazil, abuse of workers’ rights here in the UK or human rights abuses around the world.

All the time this pattern of land ownership continues in Scotland it perpetuates the undemocratic system and hinders reform. The Scottish government must go further on land reform and fundamentally change Scotland’s absurdly outdated feudal system of land ownership which includes super-rich land barons like these. It’s clear that the public and local communities want to see a different system that is transparent, accessible and productive, and where land is in the hands of the many not the few.  That’s what the Our Land festival is all about.  Our research adds to that urgent call for Scottish politicians to be braver and to go further on land reform.

Download the full details of our seven case studies.