Please send me SCA's fortnightly briefing:

March 3, 2010

Burden of the ballot box

Any community that has tried to use the Land Reform Act to register interest in buying land will be all too familiar with the amount effort involved – in particular in organising the community ballot to demonstrate sufficient local support for the idea.  Getting 50% support may not seem much to ask when the community has a very small population.  It’s been a different story for the organisers of Scotland’s largest ever ballot on the island of Bute

David Borland, The Buteman

RESIDENTS of Bute have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed purchase of 1,700 acres of land at the north end of the island.

In the largest community land ballot ever held in Scotland, 2,557 people voted in favour of the Bute Community Land Company’s plan to buy the Rhubodach forest for £1.4 million.

A total of 2,739 votes were cast in the postal ballot, in which 177 people voted against the proposal.

The turnout was 52.5 per cent – more than the legal threshold under the Land Reform Act (Scotland) of 2003, which requires 50 per cent of the electorate to take part in the ballot.

The landslide nature of the ‘yes’ vote had become clear long before returning officer Deirdre Forsyth announced the details of the result – and when she did there was a brief moment of silence before loud cheers broke out around the room.

John McGhee, the chairman of the Bute Community Land Company, paid tribute to those who had worked on the buy-out proposal, and at the vote itself.

“What you have all done is help to achieve a historic moment,” he said after the result was announced.

“This is the day when the people of Bute took charge of their destiny. This is the first step in the regeneration of this island, and it is going to make a huge difference.

“There are a number of people who were against this, but they are members of the community, and they are entitled to their say too – and I, and others, will be listening to them, to see what their views are.

“We need to be inclusive about this, and not triumphalist.”

The results of the vote, along with a feasibility study into the BCLC plan, will be officially presented to Scottish ministers next week.