Topic: The boundaries of land reform: The Scottish model applied to a US context
In 2016 the Scottish Parliament passed the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. The legislation is remarkable on a number of grounds: It strengthens community rights to buy to land; creates a new public body – the Scottish Land Commission – committed to ‘radical’ reform of land governance; and enables a wave of land reform (i.e. changes in ownership of land) that is both legal and peaceful. Perhaps most of all, the legislation is remarkable for offering a restructuring of the current balance between property rights and ‘other’ rights. – It does so by embedding the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN ICESCR), and for setting economic, social and cultural rights as a priority consideration guiding the governance of land.
This paper explains the key legal and discourse manoeuvres of Scottish model, then contrasts the Scottish approach to the dominant approach of land access programs in the US context of California, where an energized constituency of new entrants and their allies attempt to resolve the challenge of a volatile and inflated land market. By comparing the features of Scotland’s Land Reform to land access interventions in California, we will demonstrate the centrality of the human rights framing on which land struggles are based. – California’s land access initiatives fail to challenge the core of private property relations, instead aiming to innovatively work around what is seen as an unchanging and unchangeable reality of capitalist hegemony.
By examining the striking difference in land access models between these two frameworks, we can begin to imagine what work would need to occur to replicate the Scottish model elsewhere, especially in places with a seemingly unshakeable faith in private property relations. It is hoped that the discussion will spark insights and debate into the potentialities and possibilities of land reform processes across many contexts. More generally, the discussion raises questions about the defining role and in some instances nascent ‘hierarchy’ of the right to property in constitutional frameworks.