Twa Wrangs D'Nae Mak A Richt


A few centuries back, untitled farmers in Scotland were given the boot in the notorious Highland Clearances. Estate owners enlarged their properties by pushing tenant farmers to the margins of their estates or shipping them overseas. Now the new Scottish parliament intends to make up for that injustice with another one—by forcing landlords to sell portions of their estates to "crofters," or tenants.

Considering that the current big landlords include Mohammed Fayed and lyricist Tim Rice, the only real problem here may be that they won't actually be shipped off to penal colonies, but this Land Reform Bill seems to follow in a sad history of large-scale efforts at land reform. It's not really a DeSoto-style project to grant title of land to individual owners. Crofting "communities" would have to vote to make the land purchases, the value of the land would be established by an independent assessor, and the purchase can be paid for with public money. It's almost inevitable that this will boil down to expropriation, with a token compensation made to the landlord. This is a complex issue: Is there a minimum size for the estates to which this law applies? How do you get status as a "crofter" and become eligible for reparations? If you started buying land in Scotland today, and eventually amassed a large estate, could you then have portions of your property bought up by tenants? The big question, which has an echo in the debate on slavery reparations in the U.S., is what role the government can take in divvying up a private fortune that was built through government crime. (An interesting wise-use footnote: Many of the largest estates are run at a loss by environmentally conscientious landlords.)

If you are untroubled by these questions, and just want to get in on the Highlands land grab, dig the great landowners search engine from the Who Owns Scotland project.