Current Scottish land reform and reclaiming the Commons: building Community Resilience
INDIGO international symposium,
January 20th 2016
KU Leuven, Leuven, Campus Arenberg
Mike Danson Heriot-Watt University and Kathryn A Burnett University of the West of Scotland
Land and community ownership and management of assets are fundamental to economies and societies throughout northern Europe, and especially to those on the periphery and margins of the continent (Danson and de Souza, 2012). In a move to reduce the contrasts with the Nordic countries, recent changes in land ownership in Scotland have created spaces within which local people can nurture and develop the collective capabilities which will help their communities to sustain and grow. Achieving such fundamental change locally necessarily has involved coming together and acting as a defined community, with governance structures recognised by the State under dedicated land reform legislation. As elsewhere, the specific type and nature of economic and social development depends on the particularities of each community buy-out but all of the cases in Scotland are based on community ownership of the commons, confirming that the ‘commons’ are critical to understanding the processes and outcomes of people taking over their most basic of assets in these remote geographies – land and property. Further, all have demonstrated enterprise, innovation, initiative and planning to realise repopulation, improved housing, employment and business growth, and regeneration of the natural flora and fauna (Burnett and Danson, 2014).
This paper offers an historical and contemporary perspective of land ownership in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland as both a reason for marginality and as a constraint on development. Theoretical perspectives underpinning the analysis are introduced and applied to recognise the origins of cooperative and community activities within these communities as being grounded approaches to meeting the ‘tragedy of the commons’ (Hardin, 1968) in harsh and difficult environments. It is argued that, alongside historical legacies and social norms, the long-established particular local institutional arrangements to address the peculiar physical, social and political contexts have created the foundations for subsequent community buy-outs of privately and state owned land and property. The forms and nature of these developments are assessed within the rules and property rights literature, as articulated in particular by Ostrom (2008) and Schlager and Ostrom (1992), to analyse the processes at work which have created opportunities for collective economic development within these communities. This is followed by an outline of the fundamental changes that have been taking place in land ownership, and the developments contingent on this, in remote and difficult to access areas of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Current moves to introduce more widespread land reform legislation and community empowerment are considered, with a particular focus on where the transfer of public assets and responsibilities is involved.
The discussion addresses the challenges faced by isolated communities and community volunteers in meeting expectations of different stakeholders and local members of the community, in delivering ambitious aspirations and plans, and in sustaining energies and consensus. The paper complements the other contributions on “Ploughing up the Landed Commons”: by considering the lived experiences of small fragile communities on the periphery which are differentiated by their geography, histories and assets (broadly defined to include natural and human heritage), before concluding with suggestions for policy recommendations and ideas for further research.
Burnett, K. and Danson, M. (2014) ‘Entrepreneurship and enterprise on islands’, in Exploring Rural Enterprise: New Perspectives on Research, Policy & Practice (Contemporary Issues in Entrepreneurship Research, Volume 4) Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.151 – 174, eds C Henry and G McElwee.
Danson, M. and de Souza, P. (eds.) (2012) Regional Development in Northern Europe: Peripherality, Marginality and Border Issues, Abingdon: Routledge.
Danson, M., Callaghan, G. and Whittam, G. ‘Economic and enterprise development in community buy-outs’, in Peripherality, Marginality and Border Issues in Northern Europe, eds M Danson and P de Souza, Abingdon: Routledge.
Hardin, G. (1968) ‘The tragedy of the Commons’, Science, 162(3859): 1243–8.
Ostrom, E. (2008) Governing the Commons. The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schlager, E. and Ostrom, E. (1992) ‘Property-rights regimes and natural resources: a conceptual analysis’, Land Economics 68(3): 249–62.