Land and Community
Land Reform Bill Consultation – Langholm, 20 July 2022
Our first consultation meeting on the next Land Reform Bill is in Langholm, in Dumfries and Galloway – the ‘Muckle Toon’. It’s in the Buccleuch Centre. As lively an arts venue as you will find anywhere, it’s a superb facility, with a large airy auditorium, a café (looks like the business), and a bar.
Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham are down to play there in September – that would be worth the (long) drive from Edinburgh, I think to myself. Phil did a couple of wonderful tv programmes a while ago on the world history of bagpipes.
It’s a fair old drive to Langholm. By sheer force of will I drive past favourite haunts – the Old Melrose Tea room, the Harestanes Visitor Centre, and Denholm Antiques and Interiors – without stopping.
Past Hawick and my familiarity with the A7 peters out. It’s hot but cloudy. The outlandish heat of the day before – which broke temperature records across the UK – is in retreat.
On arriving I’m given a warm welcome by Centre staff Michele, and Glen who’s in charge of the tech. Before long we’re joined by my colleagues, who busy themselves with the rollerbanners, the laptop, and reassuring ground control that so far, so good.
I’m very happy to see Lorne Macleod of the Scottish Land Commission – he’s facilitating the event. The last time we met was in Ulva, in midsummer 2018. So much water under the bridge since then.
Soon Ministers arrive – our own Minister for Environment and Land Reform, Mairi McAllan, and Minister for Green Skills, the Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater. And suddenly people are piling in and the venue is filling up.
It’s no small matter, putting on a series of public consultation events – venues to book, ministerial diaries to co-ordinate, briefings to compile, facilitators and guest speakers to line up, advertising to arrange. I haven’t carried out a risk assessment of the fate-tempting traps here – but it seems to have been managed down to the last detail.
All goes smoothly – both Ministers speak passionately, and at the end of their presentations, there is polite (but to my ear genuinely appreciative) applause.
Then it’s my turn to give a presentation. I had entertained happy thoughts of emulating Chris Whitty with his “next slide please”. In Real Life (= irl) I forget completely to say the magic words, but luckily, my colleague is on it, and times the changes perfectly.
The last presentation is from Jenny Barlow, Estate Manager of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve. She’s great, and ends with a video showing what they’re all about. We’re all blown away by it – a series of snippet interviews with the Muckle Toon Joggers, a local cabinet maker, the Common Riders, dark skies enthusiasts, primary school children. You can read more, and help them reach their funding target for their buy-out here: www.langholminitiative.org.uk
Before I know it we’re on to questions.
And this is what makes these kind of things worth doing – a chance to hear what people think, and to think again at what your well-laid plans look like in the light of public scrutiny. Actual democratic accountability happening – “irl’. As a civil servant, unlike ministers, you can feel somewhat insulated from the public at the best of times – and of course over the last two years none of us have got out much.
The questions are informed and challenging, from a range of perspectives. Community benefit from windfarms and commercial forestry, food security, whether we’ve set the right scale threshold, whether it should apply to single holdings or aggregate holdings, what the public interest is when it comes to land ownership and management. It’s a thoughtful and engaging evening, ably chaired by Lorne.
The final question is whether what we’re putting forward can bring about better land management and help stop the (almost) annual flooding of nearby Newcastleton that seems to be happening these days. This and all points made are carefully noted – we’ll look at whether this one that can be addressed within the Land Rights and Responsibilities protocols.
With that, Lorne thanks all who need to be thanked, and draws the evening to a close.
You’ll find the consultation here: www.gov.scot/land-reform-consultation