THE Address Collective has learned the hard way that Scots might thole the occasional unflattering stereotype – like “We love Parsimony”– but there is a limit. And with “We love the Highland Clearances” the Irish hotel group quickly found it.

Happily, the neon sign’s been taken off their website after a public outcry led by this paper. And there’ll be a rethink before random slogans from the provocative art installation by Professor Ross Sinclair are used for real, when their first Glasgow hotel opens later this year. Maybe a wee conversation with the Prof himself wouldn’t go amiss.

Why the backlash?

Indeed, why have 150 thousand people signed the Protect Loch Tay petition to halt the development of a gated community at Taymouth Castle near the tiny Perthshire village of Kenmore by American developers?

READ MORE: Only TWO communities try (and fail) to take land into public ownership in five years

Put bluntly, Scots are ashamed and angry that our country is still the wild west when it comes to the arbitrary purchase, use and disposal of land – and people. That’s why the Clearances are not in the least funny – the tawdry business of living in a place that’s bought and sold over your head, is still common.

You don’t have to be Highland-born or Borders-bred to rail still against the cruelty of the 19th century Clearances. And you don’t need to know a line of history to recognise its imprint on Scotland today, where uniquely in Europe, virtually no tax is paid on vast acreages, children lack the right to inherit land in the same equal way they inherit property which means big feudal estates remain big feudal estates generally inherited by each successive eldest son, even though feudalism was abolished as one of the first acts of the Scottish Parliament (200 years after most of mainland Europe).

As a result, one big man (invariably) calls the shots over “sporting” estates the size of small countries. If he doesn’t want people, there are none. If he likes shooting small birds, there are desert-like grouse moors. And if he merely wants “his” land to appreciate without doing anything – he can, thanks to extra demand for Scottish land to plant trees and offset carbon.

Brilliant, gutsy community buyouts mean 3% of Scotland is now owned by local people – though much of that land is in crofting tenure, already strongly protected from the whims of all landowners. The sorry truth is that 50% plus is still owned by wealthy individuals, shadowy offshore trusts and pension firms. And the resulting land scarcity means sky-high prices for the few houses that exist and inevitably become second homes. That in turn means young folk are unable to live locally and tourism businesses are reduced to opening for just a couple of days a week, even in peak season, because of a lack of staff – helped along by Brexit.

Two sets of land reform bills since the Scottish Parliament reconvened haven’t changed this catastrophic reality – and though another bill is on its way, it will be another missed opportunity unless the central problem is grasped. Land must be taxed.

Is the Scottish public ready for that? I’d say we are – and if our politicians are not it’ll be another nail in the coffin for rural Scotland (and another obstacle to urban development) and it’ll damage the case for independence.


There is already heavy demand for Scottish land fae sooth and beyond. Every laudable government target on reforestation and wind energy bumps up prices. Every episode of Outlander’s mystical stone circle and Harry Potter’s (ie: The Glenfinnan) viaduct attracts yet more wealthy folk looking for an epic bolthole – an escapist urge heightened by the pandemic. Every comparison with the tight rules on land purchase in neighbouring states proves the point – buy land in Scotland and you can do what you like.

But when Scotland becomes independent, you can add in the tens of thousands of folk – many of them progressive Londoners – who will cash in their chips, head north to a new state whose views chime strongly with their own and deploy their housing wealth to buy a new, better life.

READ MORE: Majority of Scots support introduction of carbon land tax on large estates

Don’t get me wrong. An influx of go-ahead folk, ex-pat Scots and new Scots will not just be welcome but essential when an independent state is created. But the present land and housing injustice, tholed for generations, will be heightened not resolved when independence causes demand for land and housing to sky rocket – unless the present weird land ownership situation is tackled – now.

Nordic states, which mostly became independent in the last hundred years, all had roughly equal land tenure, and ultra-local councils before they took the final plunge and voted by whopping majorities of 80-95% for national independence.

Over the years of making films, doing PhD research and hearing speakers from these countries, I’ve become convinced that modelling independence in their own lives – through widespread land ownership and powerful, truly local councils made it easier for Norwegians, Finns, Icelanders and Estonians to take the final step of controlling their own countries.

They were already taking control, modelling local independence, tasting the benefits and becoming familiar with the combined capacity of their ain folk every waking day.

Sadly, the opposite is true in Scotland which has the smallest number of landowners in the developed world and thus the largest number of people cautiously looking over their shoulders before acting. We also have – no coincidence – the largest most remote councils and the smallest councillor cohort in Europe.

All of which means next to no-one (bar those feisty buyout communities and trade unionists) have any direct experience of hands-on control or genuine democracy.

Do Scots have the capacity to run our country? Of course we do but doubts rage because the reality, the practice of self-governance, the motor memory of genuine participation in democracy just isn’t there. And the longer this goes on the larger the gap between our hopes for this country and our lived experience.

That’s one of the main messages in Thrive – The Freedom to Flourish. Scots have doubts about indy because we’ve missed the useful practice of local ownership and control. Our land, for many, is unfamiliar, which means there’s a tendency to undervalue the vast economic potential of our homeland, with its unequalled renewable energy resources, usefully cool climate, peat-covered islands, climate-saving blanket bogs and beautiful glens.

Our independent North Sea neighbours sing from the rooftops about the splendour of their lands while we still favour battle and monarchy-obsessed polemics.

Read these short excerpts from their anthems. Read and weep.

Norwegian national anthem

Yes, we love with fond devotion

This our land that looms

Rugged, storm-scarred o’er the ocean

With her thousand homes.

Swedish national anthem

Thou ancient, thou freeborn, thou mountainous North,

In beauty and peace our hearts beguiling,

I greet thee, thou loveliest land on the earth,

Thy sun, thy skies, thy verdant meadows smiling …

Oh, I would live and I would die in Sweden.

You don’t need God Save the King and Flower of Scotland written up to know the difference.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf to 'seriously consider' major change to land reform bill

We fail to praise the power and beauty of our land for one big reason – by and large, it has never been ours.

That limits connection, pride, security and confidence and places a subliminal brake on the demand for complete control.

We can change this.

After all, if our political class lacks the courage to tackle landed interests now, how will it find and instil in others the courage to back independence?

More in Thrive, the Freedom to Flourish.