Mike Russell MSP: Scottish Parliament should consider tackling high cost of land

SNP land reform campaigner says debate on taxation needed over speculation 

THE NEXT WAVE of land reform should involve consideration of land values, including proposals for land taxation, according to SNP MSP and reform campaigner Mike Russell.

The SNP grandee said the issue needed to be addressed due to the difficulties in accessing land experienced by a majority of Scots.

Speaking today [Tuesday 31 May] at a Scotsman newspaper discussion on land reform, Russell said: “We do now need to consider very seriously indeed the question of land value.”

“The endless speculation on land and the endless, rising value of land is creating problems of its own and is making land inaccessible to the vast majority of people in the country,” he added. 

Russell, who was one of the most influential voices during the passing of the recent Land Reform Act 2016, gave some suggestions for the next steps in the legislative land reform agenda. Rural housing, planning, and land values were all areas that required more effort during the next parliament, according to Russell.

He also expressed hope that cross-party agreement could be reached to go further on land reform.

Specifically, Russell said he was “particularly interested in the issue of the Land Settlement Act of 1919” as proposed by Andy Wightman, new MSP and land reform spokesperson for the Scottish Greens.

“It’s still possible for a landowner to say ’No’ in every conceivable circumstance, and that is part of the problem,” Russell said, calling for a more “equalised” relationship between private owners and wider communities. 

A land reform tax has the potential to speed up a process of land redistribution, where 50 per cent of private land is owned by a tiny group of 432 interests in Scotland. Scotland has one of the most concentrated systems of land ownership in the developed world. 

What is land reform?

The Greens have pledged to focus on ownership, housing, tax and state subsidies with their group of six MSPs in parliament. 

The proposal of a land value tax, which Russell expressed interest in, would represent a substantial shift in fiscal policy. 

The Scottish Greens have proposed a gradual shift to a land value tax from the current council tax system, arguing that it would confront sky-high housing prices and deal with speculation in the property economy. The SNP manifesto proposed to alter the existing council tax system. The cross-party commission on local tax reform supported further research on land taxes.

Wightman, who was also at the conference, welcomed Russell’s statement.

“I think one of the key problems with land is the fact that it is too expensive,” Wightman told CommonSpace. “Prices are driven up due to scarcity of planning consent, due to the way that tax incentives work, and due to the kind of speculative activity that drives a lot of land purchases in agriculture and the housing market, where housing is far too expensive.

“At the root of all of that there is a question of land values, and the parliament has - since 1999 - had control over that, because we’ve had control over all taxes for local government expenditure. That’s why in this parliament looking at the way we do property and land tax is going to be absolutely critical part of our work.”

Russell also mention the dangers of speculation - where profiteers buy up assets (including land banking) to make money, which has been criticised for reducing vital social provisions. 

Picture: CommonSpace

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