March 22, 2017
Party conferences nowadays tend to be highly stage-managed. But they do occasionally go off script, as happened at the 2015 SNP conference when a motion from the floor calling for much more radical land reform won conference support. A similar thing seems to have happened at last weekend’s SNP conference in Aberdeen. This time the call was more specific – to bring forward proposals for taxing land values, thereby removing the primary driver of speculation. Land reformers believe the only way to return land values to realistic levels is through taxation. This could be a breakthrough moment.
In a historic step forward for the land reform movement in Scotland, the party’s spring conference unanimously backed calls for a tax on ownership to end the feudal ownership system that has endured in the country for centuries.
Graeme McCormick (Helensburgh SNP) brought the conference to its feet backing an amendment making support for land taxation explicit in the land reform motion today in Aberdeen [Saturday 18 March].
The amended motion said the government “must include exploring all fiscal options including ways of taxing the value of undeveloped land” in its gradual land reform programme.
The leap forward for tax and land reform campaigners comes just a fortnight till the Scottish Land Commission is formally established with a remit to push further research and action on the reform agenda.
The 2016 Land Reform Act, passed amid calls for more radical action, was described as a foundation for further actions on land reform – including on taxation.
Heather Anderson told the conference that land ownership “is no longer for the privileged few” and “now conditional” rather than absolute. She said that rich landowners must meet social responsibilities – “if you don’t the people of Scotland can take it back”, she warned.
Mary Mccaig added that a tax would bring down the extortionate cost of land purchases – swathes of which are deserted clearances country left derelict from forced depopulation and “stops land owners from hanging onto it for speculative purposes”.
Proposing the motion was former MSP Rob Gibson, who chaired the committee that scrutinised the new land reform legislation. Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham spoke for the motion, and focused on calls for development of derelict land.
However, the enthusiasm for land taxation came from members Graeme McCormick and Mary Mccaig. McCormick called on cabinet secretary for finance Derek Mackay to start research on a land tax.
The support for further action was the first land reform debate at SNP conference since members rebelled against the party’s leadership in October 2015 for not being bold enough in its land reform legislation. Tenant farming families continue to be evicted by landowners in Scotland, and various communities across the highlands and southern uplands continue to face challenges of dominant private estates.
Lesley Riddoch, who has campaigned with the Our Land group, welcomed the outcome: “Absolutely brilliant to see #SNP17 pass amendment requiring land taxation in land reform measures. SNP policy gets radical at last. Thanks delegates.”
Campaigners will now have a close eye on the work of the new commission.