Who owns Scotland? The people who most commonly ask this question believe that the land has been wrested from ordinary Scots by evil lairds and rich foreigners (by which they chiefly mean the English). Now the Scottish government is bringing out a report on how to correct this alleged injustice. It may recommend extending community ‘right to buy’ powers and allowing tenants to buy their holdings even if the owners do not want to sell.  This would have the unintended effect of ending all new tenancies.

But the SNP’s misunderstanding of the situation is even more radical than that. It believes that big Scottish landowners are rich because they own the land. For a long time now, it has been the other way round. They own the land because they are rich. Once they own it, they tend to become a lot poorer. Then they sell it to new rich people with money to burn, and so on. Hardly any Highland land makes money.

Without philanthropists, megalomaniacs and serious sportsmen pouring cash in to maintain these difficult places, their communities, and so the environment, would suffer. You can see this happening already in the islands where crofters’ rights have been exercised. One great independence leader who played this issue politically was Robert Mugabe, dividing the spoils among his followers and ruining the land in the process. Will the next be Alex Salmond?


GoveThis is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator’s Notes in this week’s magazine. Click here to read for free with a trial of The Spectator app for iPad and iPhone. You can also subscribe with a free trial on the Kindle Fire.

Tags: Alex Salmond, Robert Mugabe, Scotland