Scotland has one of the highest concentrations of land ownership in Europe

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 is an Act of the Scottish Parliament which continues the process of land reform in Scotland following the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. Established under the Land reform Act is the Scottish Land Commission (SLC), which came into being on 1 April 2017. A study into who owns Scotland's land and the impact that has on the people who live there is to be carried out by the SLC. Scotland has one of the highest concentrations of land ownership in Europe. It has now been estimated that fewer than 500 people own half of all privately-owned land in Scotland.

Some of this concentration of ownership relates to the dark period of Scottish history known as the Highland Clearances, which were enforced after the defeat of the Jacobite Risings (1648-1746). The British government were determined to act against those clans who supported the Risings with increased repression after the 1746 defeat of Scottish forces at the Battle of Culloden. The Act of Proscription was an Act of the British Parliament which came into effect in Scotland on 1 August 1746 in an attempt to crush the Scottish Clan system and Gaelic culture. 

Over the years that followed common lands and the long standing tenant rights of the people were taken away. Those tenants seen to be surplus to requirements were ‘cleared’ off the estates from about 1780. The clearances were not confined to the Highlands although those experienced there were particularly brutal. These traumatic events devastated Gaelic culture and clan society, driving people from the land their families had called home for centuries. In what is known as the 'Year of the Sheep' the first mass emigration took place in 1792. Scots forced to leave their land ended up travelling to live in America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The Clearances were continuing nearly 70 years later at the time of the potato famine in 1846. 

The concentration of land ownership in Scotland has long been seen as detrimental to Scottish society. It is expected that the SLC will make recommendations to ministers within 18 months and this could lead to much needed significant changes in land law.


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