THE phrases land reform and land justice are bandied around without any meaningful consideration of what the issues are and, more importantly, how interconnected they all are. If there were proper consideration, then a holistic approach would be the outcome.

“We don’t so much inherit the Scottish environment from our forefathers, as borrow it from our children.” This was the opening phrase of the SNP’s Environmental Policy Review, presented at the Perth conference in September 1990. The policy, which was ahead of its time, would still be seen as a document built around the sustainability ethos of the Brundtland Commission and with a greater understanding of our relationship with the environment than we have today.

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Labour’s call for land reform, like so many of their electioneering stances, is built on a shallowness of thought and understanding. Policies of reform have to be built on an understanding of what the issues are, as opposed to the problems. Goal-oriented as opposed to problem-solving. The former requires a greater understanding of the interconnected nature of the components and a clear understanding of the driving force behind the reform.

Community is a behavioural concept and not a demographic one. It is a sense of belonging and a willingness to participate as opposed to the number of people within a given area. Every individual wants control over their lives and predictability of resources above the level of survivor. An Annual Ground Rent (AGR), based on the collection of conferred community advantage and not on the sweat and toil of the individual to improve their life, would ultimately bring about a change in landownership.

More rural land would be available as the large estates, having to pay for every square metre, might find life difficult and have to sell. Business would thrive as the application of AGR would see the removal of other forms of taxation, excepting those with a desired social outcome such as a tax on alcohol and tobacco etc. Tories in a conundrum; there are more Tory business owners than large landowners. Residency would be a requirement for all property holdings. A universal basic income of, say, £200 per week for all adults would lift folk above the level of survivor, giving them the platform to build their own lives and happiness.

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However, we live in the environment, and we cannot keep inching forward reducing the space for wildlife. They need a homeland as well, they need a wildland that is free from the anthropogenic footprints that bring with them a commercial creep, and this has to be sizeable. A third of the country put over to wildland which is not piecemeal but contiguous, allowing for movement of wildlife and gene flow.

The rural, cultural landscape would then be developed as a platform for people to build quality lives, with rural development which enhances the environmental platform to increase life and business opportunities. The biotic footprints in the form of rewilding to increase the productivity of the platform can move from here to the urban areas, where the greening of our towns carries so many benefits for folk who live there. Trees, properly positioned, can increase air flow, reduce temperature, noise and traffic pollution and are beneficial for our general sense of wellbeing. This of course would require vision beyond a parliamentary term, this would truly require generational patience.

Whilst climate change is undoubtedly a major planetary problem, the rush to to plant trees as a carbon fix serves to highlight the shallowness of our bandwagon thinking. There were always more reasons than carbon fixing to plant trees that were just never listened to. If Scotland were to become carbon-neutral it would make no difference to the carbon budget of the world but it would demonstrate what is possible. We have a fundamental problem with our primary relationship with the environment, and with our relationship to poverty, and this will require a change in thinking.

Scotland will never change the world, but it can change the way in which the world changes itself.

Derek Pretswell