AN ex-MSP is due to set out his own ideas for a “comprehensive” land reform bill that goes “far further” than existing proposals in Scotland.

Andy Wightman has begun drafting his own version of a bill that he believes would democratise land governance, strengthening the role of both communities and local authorities in a bid to tackle a concentrated pattern of ownership he insists is “unprecedented” anywhere else in the world.

The former Green and latterly Independent MSP told the Sunday National the Scottish Government’s land reform plans and those of Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba do not get to the root of the problem of power being in the hands of far too few people.

In 2010, Wightman’s research concluded just 432 people own half the privately owned rural land in Scotland, a statistic he plans to update but insists will not have changed a huge amount.

He believes that to achieve the more diverse pattern of ownership seen in continental Europe, politicians must be more radical instead of implementing what he brands “bolt-on interventions” to the market.

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Wightman, who has written multiple books on land reform, said: “My fundamental critique of the Government’s bill is, perhaps tinkering around the edges is a little harsh, but that’s essentially what it’s doing.

“Let’s analyse the reason for the state of affairs that we have and try and deal with them. Instead of that, what we have tended to do is little bolt-on interventions to the market and try to correct things when land is sold, and that’s what this public interest test is going to be about.

“Half of Scotland hasn’t changed hands in over 100 years, so let’s at least make an attempt to get to the root of this problem and have more honesty in this debate.”

The Scottish Government has proposed a 3000-hectare trigger for public interest tests on land sales, while Villalba has suggested this should be cut to just 500 hectares.

But Wightman insisted that simply targeting large-scale ownership and having one hard threshold will not spark any real change in the way land is governed in Scotland.

“To have one hard threshold is quite a blunt instrument,” the ex-Lothian MSP said.

The National:

“If you’re concerned about how land is being governed and used in and around where most people live, then who cares about large-scale holdings? They’re mainly huge estates in the Highlands, let’s be honest.

“If you’re concerned about the environment, well there’s some really important environments that are held in small-scale ownership. That’s all before you consider questions of whether any limit be in isolation or in aggregate.

“The Government’s 3000-hectare limit just applies to one holding. I’ve found the biggest newcomers to land ownership in Scotland are people who don’t own 50,000 hectares in one piece.

“The Government bill is not rooted in a fundamental analysis of the problem. Too many of our approaches in the devolved era have been about trying to intervene in a dysfunctional system and market.

“We’ve never got to the root of the problem about private land ownership, which is anyone from anywhere can come and buy as much land as they are able.”

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Wightman added that allowing communities to buy land was not a solution and has been a “deflection of responsibility by the state”.

In an early draft of his own version of a bill – which will be published in full on his blog Land Matters in spring next year  – he has suggested a number of proposals including it being a requirement for landowners to be “ordinarily resident” on or close to the land they own.

People would be able to apply for an exemption to the Scottish Land Court but would need to fulfil certain criteria.

Wightman said: “This would constrain the market to those who are interested in living or working there. It also delivers greater accountability.”

He has also proposed abolishing the distinction between heritable and moveable property in relation to the law of succession. As things stand, children have no legal rights to inherit land, which Wightman insists distinguishes Scotland from virtually the whole of Europe.

Elsewhere, he has suggested extinguishing the Crown’s property rights to the foreshore of Scotland and transferring it to local authorities, with rights to the seabed also transferred to councils out to three miles.

Throughout his draft proposals, Wightman has repeatedly suggested giving more power to local authorities which he thinks would give communities not just the opportunity to own land but to have more of a say in land ownership.

He said: “If a community in Caithness wants to buy an old water tank that Scottish Water no longer needs, it’s [currently] ministers in Edinburgh who decide whether they get to do that. That’s stupid.

“In an ideal world, it would be councillors in a district council [that decide], but as it is it should be Highland Council.

“It gives communities more control over land. They don’t just get to own it – which many communities don’t want to do anyway – they get to have more of a say.”

With regards to land tax, which Wightman insists is far too light in Scotland, he has proposed the power to set the level of non-domestic rates should be returned to local government after being removed by the UK Government in a 1992 act.

Wightman’s plans would also require all land to be valued and entered on the valuation roll - with some rural land currently exempt from this – and reintroduce owners’ rates, making them liable for paying tax rather than occupiers.

Reforms to council tax and abolishing the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax are suggested, as well as making provisions for a new tax on emissions from land.

Wightman said: “I’m doing this to show there’s an alternative approach to this counterintuitive, bits-and-pieces approach this Government is taking and to make people think more about what it is we need to do.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.