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May 30, 2023

The Black Black Carbon

The furore surrounding privatised water companies simultaneously discharging copious amounts of raw sewage into rivers and huge bonuses into their CEO’s bank accounts, will have those who were responsible for keeping Scottish Water in public ownership wondering how they managed it. As we are currently witnessing with the monetising of Scotland’s landscape, natural capital and carbon sequestration, the markets rarely let an opportunity pass them by. Community Land Scotland commissioned writer and academic Alastair McIntosh to do some digging. His final report – The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Carbon – is a long, but very worthwhile read.

Alastair McIntosh

Executive summary

Full Paper

Foreword by Ailsa Raeburn, Chair of Community Land Scotland 

Alastair McIntosh has been a leader in the debate on land reform and community ownership, and not just in Scotland, for many decades. His catalysing of the Eigg buyout and Harris quarry campaigns brought huge dividends for those communities who have since gone on to be international bywords for community sustainability, resilience and innovation. Community Land Scotland and our community members are in his debt not only for the manner in which he articulated the change that was possible but for the tireless support he continues to give to local people looking for a different, more empowered and accountable future. 

The genesis of this Paper came about following discussions at the Scottish Universities Insight Institute Conference in March this year and was inspired by Alastair’s open discussions with one of the new so called ‘Green Lairds’ – Highland Rewilding. It was to both Alastair’s and the Highland Rewilding lead, Jeremy Leggett’s credit that these discussions were played out in public. It gave us all the chance to think about some of the issues emerging from the huge rush to carbon and rewilding in the Scottish land market. And the effects this could have in the short and long term on local people and communities.

 It was originally intended just to be a short piece but what soon became clear were the many strands of Scottish public policy impacted by the changes – from community empowerment and wealthbuilding, to rewilding, to the Just Transition to Net Zero and attracting private finance. A much longer researched and evidenced piece has developed, which ranges across all of these issues and asks some extremely important questions about what land is for; who makes the decisions and who benefits; where does and should offsetting sit in our transition to Net Zero and how far should society ‘commoditise’ nature. Are there assets that should belong to everyone in Scotland, not just those rich or powerful enough to have the millions to spend to control them? How much agency do communities living in areas affected by these land ownership changes have over decisions that affect their everyday lives? 

When we seem stuck in the cost of living and energy permacrises and are facing huge challenges around climate change and biodiversity, it is very tempting to focus on the short term. What Alastair does so well in this Paper, is to force us to think about the long term, the future of the generations that follow us and what sort of Scotland, rural Scotland in particular, we want to leave behind. Apart from our people, Scotland’s land is its most important asset. We need to be very careful that the short term ‘carbonanza’ – the rush to monetise Scotland’s precious assets – doesn’t leave its people behind. I hope Alastair’s paper encourages you to think about some of these questions too. 

26 May 2023