16 July 2015
The people and the land
Scotland is beautiful. When people think of the land that makes up the northern third of the UK this is an understandable reaction. Beautiful craggy mountains, windswept glens and misty lochs –and emptiness, lots of emptiness.
But the beauty belies the tragedy behind that emptiness. Of families driven from their homes and generations leaving a nation behind in search of a better life, simply because they had no right to the land on which they called their home. Of swathes of Scotland being given over to sheep farming because it was more 'productive' than people and of an ownership system leading to the most concentrated pattern of land ownership in Europe, with less than 500 people owning half of Scotland's private land, a pattern that persists to this day. It is into this context that the Scottish Government has stepped into a historical, but very contemporary debate with the publication of its long awaited Land Reform Bill in June.
The Land Reform Bill aims to build on previous work undertaken by the Scottish Parliament to increase community ownership of land, place requirements on land owners to their communities, increase transparency and accountability of ownership, improve legal protections for tenant farmers and ultimately lead to a more dispersed land ownership pattern across Scotland. It is a long and detailed bill in a complicated area of law. But it is also a bill that will affect communities across Scotland and will be arguably the last major piece of legislation before the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016.
So as Christians why should we care about this? Does God care about land? These are questions that we hope to answer over the coming months as the Evangelical Alliance engages on this issue as it makes its way through the parliamentary process. As part of this process we are planning a conference with partners in the autumn that will explore an authentically Christian approach to land reform, but for now here are three quick reasons why we think it's important and principles that will underpin our approach to this debate.
We are called as people at the beginning of Genesis to steward God's resources. We don't own anything –God does –but we are called to manage what He has given us for His glory and the flourishing of the community. Scotland is blessed with incredible natural resources and any discussion about land reform need to have stewardship of resources at the heart.
Similarly the flourishing of communities will be essential to the conversation on land reform.God calls us to extend His kingdom and part of this involves bringing His values into how we order our society. Building strong communities –along with strong families –gives individuals and wider society an opportunity to flourish and provides a context for the Church to reach out with the gospel. We will support whatever land ownership structures best empower and enable communities to flourish.
Finally there is an inescapable justice issue in the conversation around land reform. That there are historical injustices in Scotland's land story is beyond doubt, but what is important now is dealing with issues of injustice or oppression that manifest themselves in the present day. In doing this we reject any approach that simply makes the debate into an 'us and them' issue, but rather we look for an approach that seeks justice for all, as God intends.
We hope you will join with us in engaging with this debate over the coming months, particularly if you are based in the Highlands and Islands. The Rural Affairs Committee have published a call for evidence, which closes on 14 August. Details can be found here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/90754.aspx We would encourage you to respond to this and as always if you need advice please get in touch with the Alliance Scotland Office.
The principles we base our engagement on in the land reform debate can be found in the environment chapter of What Kind of Nation? which can be found here: http://www.eauk.org/current-affairs/media/press-releases/upload/What-kind-of-nation-Manifesto-for-a-future-Scotland-Evangelical-Alliance.pdf