THE favoured line of David Mundell and his chums recently has been: “Use the powers you have”. This is often accompanied by: "The Vow was delivered!" and: "Get on with running the country!" It’s facile and childish – and sets the tone for a non-debate, in which the SNP can just point out the weakness of the Scotland Bill and blame everything on Westminster (or the European Union, take your pick).

This means there’s little chance for a more grown-up debate about what is and isn’t possible in Scotland right now. Yes, without the power to change macro-economic policy and reverse austerity, there’s not a huge amount you can do that isn’t plugging holes in the wall. But there are some things Holyrood can do. One of the worst symptoms – and causes – of inequality is our pattern of land ownership; in few other countries is so much land held by so few. Happily, it is within the power of the Scottish Government to start tackling this. A wave of reform under Labour gave crofting communities the right to buy their land, but more is needed.

Post-referendum, the SNP made a big deal of their commitment to land reform. A far-reaching, bold set of proposals were produced by the Land Reform Review Group. Then came the public consultation, and the draft bill in June. But somewhere along the way, something strange happened:the more "radical" (or arguably just "effective") measures disappeared.

Why was this? The consultation responses make interesting reading. Of the 1,269 responses the vast majority came from individuals. The remainder were from organisations. Some, such as Common Weal were in favour of reform, the rest were landowner organisations such as estates, lobby group Scottish Land & Estates and "professional and private sector" groups. They objected vociferously to many of the proposals. And it seems they were listened to.

The proposal to restrict ownership to entities formed in an EU state – in order to tackle the 750,000 acres of Scotland owned in tax havens – was supported by 82 per cent of individual respondents, but only a third of the landowner/private sector group agreed. Those opposed cited "potential loss of inward investment" and "discouragement of a free market" in their arguments against it – not only a very right-wing approach, but also an economically illiterate one.

And yet it seems to have worked – the proposal was not included in the draft legislation. The Scottish Government defended this U-turn with a shrug, by saying the EU isn’t necessarily that great at detecting who really owns what. This is pretty ludicrous, particularly as a recent EU directive specifically addresses transparency of ownership. It seems Scottish land will remain a plaything for the elite; something to be traded like a yacht or a Rolex; something to reap profits from via a shell company in the Bahamas.

A proposal to cap the amount of any land an individual or company can own didn’t make it into the consultation, let alone the bill. Tenant farmers’ right to buy, well-established in Europe, is not there either. As for the plans empowering ministers to intervene in "unsustainable" land management cases, these have appeared with so many caveats and such vague terminology that it’s hard to imagine how any community would make use of them. Again, landowners, agents and lawyers were strongly opposed. Dalhousie Estate responded to the question of problematic land management by asking: “Is this a real problem?” Others talked of the “nanny state” and “scaring off investors”.

EVEN the seemingly uncontroversial establishment of a land commission is met with objections over costs and bureaucracy. Frequent mention is made of ECHR compliance compliance with European human rights law, suggesting certain measures “would face legal challenges”. The most coherent threats come from powerful law firms such as Brodies and Pinsent Masons – names that crop up frequently in the recent report by lobbying monitor Spinwatch which documents the corporate interests which hold sway at Holyrood.

Months of hysterical hyperbole and quiet threats from lairds and conservatives over these measures seems to have made the Scottish Government shamefully timid. Immensely wealthy men are making their voices heard while those most disadvantaged by the land ownership pattern are, as ever, passed over.

This media spin coming from landed interests is relentless – butHowever, the lobbying should worry us more. Cabinet minister Fergus Ewing has had a cosy relationship with the biggest landowner of them allin the UK, the Duke of Buccleuch, and recently appeared in a photoshoot with tweed-clad gents, claiming that the large estates are not well understood.

We should all be angry about what has happened with this bill. A chance to really start to address the stark inequalities of this country is being blocked by vested interests and a government in thrall to them.

The only mention of all this at the SNP’s conference is a pat-on-the-back motion – it’s not good enough. As SMAUG (SNP Members Against Unconventional Gas) showed, the SNP is lucky enough to have thousands of committed members who will keep their party on the right path. Let’s see it happen with the vital issue of land.

Jen Stout is a campaigner for land reform and has created a petition to demand a stronger bill

Join Lesley Riddoch, Andy Wightman, and Robin McAlpine as they discuss the importance of land in modern Scotland at From Linwood To Lewis: Why Land In Scotland Matters, St Marks Church, Rosemount Viaduct, Aberdeen, 6.30pm to 8pm. Tickets here