By Mark McNaught
The recent revelations in the Independent on the lack of cooperation between aristocratic landowners and the Scottish government over land reform reveal not only the scandalously excessive influence of feudalism within the UK, but also the need for Scotland upon independence to clearly assess who owns what, levy fair taxes on all, and create a transparency of ownership and patrimony which reflects Scotland’s newly found democratic status.
Perhaps it is understandable that the feudal aristocracy would be unhappy with a more equitable distribution of land. As this Guardian article makes clear, many pay no taxes on their land, and receive taxpayer subsidies depending on how much land they own. There are wealthy people, aristocrats, magnates, and sheiks who own most of the private land in the UK, and the proportion is particularly high in Scotland.
The ludicrously named National Farmers Union, more accurately named the International Landowning Oligarchs Union, has successfully maintained these subsidies, with barely a whimper from the press.
One of the great challenges for Scotland upon independence is to get a clear accounting of exactly who owns what land, buildings, and other assets. One hopes Whitehall has kept accurate records which will be forthcoming during independence negotiations. However, in this era when we are only beginning to get our heads around what a corrupt oligarchy the Westminster government has become, it would not be surprising to find that the records are utterly opaque, except for the subsidy part.
Once the titles to land and assets in Scotland are compiled and made completely transparent, the Scottish government can simply take possession of any unclaimed land and set up a fair taxation system, as well as assure that farm subsidies go to actual farmers who can put the money to good use helping to feed the population.
As a written Scottish constitution abolishes aristocratic privilege in state affairs, landowners will lose their hereditary tax breaks and subsidies, and will have to pull their own weight like everyone else. If they have the means to pay taxes to maintain their property, fine, but they must live a lifestyle commensurate with their actual income, not have their leisure subsidized by the taxpayer.
Once private property has been classified and appropriately taxed, there is also the question of public ownership. Given all that has been privatised since Thatcher, untangling the web of ownership of what is public property and what seemed like public property will be complex.
For example, it was revealed that the BBC Scotland Pacific Quay building is owned by opaque financial entities, which collect high rent from license fee payers. What else has been secretly privatised to enrich shady investors?
Once some clarity is established as to how much Scots actually own of their patrimony, a systemic review of privatisation in Scotland should be carried out to determine what, if any benefit UK privatisation has conferred on citizens.
The disastrous privatisation of the British Railways in the 1990’s amply demonstrates that there are those public services which no short-term investor will make a profit on, and that the state is the only entity capable of running it in the public interest, and make sufficient investment in the infrastructure to make it efficient and safe.
There may be privatised service companies which work very well in the public interest, but they need to sorted from those which are clearly profiteers, in which case that function reverts to the purview of the state.
Effective regulatory structures must be formed to protect the Scottish environment, especially from disastrously toxic forms of energy extraction like fracking. Environmental liability laws must be adopted and enforced to protect Scotland’s natural beauty and survivability well into the future.
Once water sources are permanently poisoned with fracking fluid, people and other animals who drink it get sick and die. Perhaps Westminster is so corrupted by petroleum lobbies, there may be no hope that swaths of England can avoid mass poisoning, but the Scottish government should block Dart Energy from fracking with the police if necessary now, and constitutionally ban it upon independence.
Scots should never again have to helplessly watch as vast swaths of their patrimony are sold, privatised, and destroyed by a government they didn’t vote for to increase ‘shareholder value’ for some hedge fund. A written constitution could stipulate that any privatisation be approved by popular referendum, rather than secretly sold off to profiteers.
Private multinationals who finance and control the UK national parties have been looting Britain for decades, and it must come to an end in an independent Scotland.