Centenary of the Land Settlement Act 1919

this month December 2019 marks 100 years since the introduction of this Land Settlement Act the act aimed to resettle people across rural areas in Scotland following the first world war through the creation of small holdings and Crofts the acts made land available across Scotland and also resettled people back into communities which had been facing significant population decline in the previous years many see the act as a pivotal part of our land reform history in Scotland it’s also a timely reminder that land reform and the connection between land ownership and use and the wider efforts needed around rural renewal are not new things to mark the centenary the Scottish Land Commission is publishing a paper by Professor Jim hunter he’s here with me today the paper analyzes the impact that the Land Settlement Act had at the time and also the legacy we continue to see today in the pattern of land ownership in many areas of Scotland it also encourages us to think about what’s needed and what lessons we can learn in terms of addressing the current population crisis we’re seeing in small and fragile rural communities across Scotland so Jim can you tell me a little bit more about the legacy of the Land Settlement Act and the impact it had on the ground it had a pretty enormous impact had led to the creation of several thousand new crafts and small Holdings right across the country meanly in the first instance and the highlands but later in other parts of Scotland as well and it had two sort of origins if you like one long run and one relatively short run the shot on when having to do with the First World War and the long run one going back quite a long way into the 1880s and the agitation that the then was and the crafting areas of Scotland to really deal with the situation created by clearance and people were looking for security of tenure and all of that and that was followed by legislation the crofters Act of 1886 so all of that was from our crafting point of view a huge step forward it made further clearance and eviction impossible but what didn’t happen then was something else that croft is very much wanted to happen they they wanted to get back quite a lot of the land that had been cleared and emptied of people in the earlier part of the 19th century and so from that point of view a the what the the legislation that came along in the 1880s didn’t really do the job and and that led to a lot more agitation which was to culminate in the passing of the wine Settlement Act and in many ways it’s seen as being very radical today could you explain a bit more about about the radical elements to that and what was what was the reason that enabled the politicians to be more ambitious than than they had previously been able to do the act was very radical it was radical at the time and seen as such and it would be seen in some ways perhaps as even more radical today there was already in existence as a result of attempts to promote what was called land settlement you know what we might call repopulation or repealing a there had been set up in 1911 1912 an organization called the Board of Agriculture for Scotland and the board had various powers to create small holdings but in in the first instance and the first two or three years after it was created a it didn’t get very far it didn’t have much funding it was understaffed and it ran into all sorts of legal complexity about compensation to land owners whose land was effectively being used to create these small Holdings and then came the First World War and the war started in August 1914 and for the first two years or so of the war despite the fact that Britain needed and literally millions of soldiers a the the government relied solely on volunteers it wasn’t until 1916 there was conscription and from the high ones per head of population so to speak the rate of volunteering was extremely high exceptionally Hyde and this also sort of created a momentum that these men when they came back assuming they didn’t come back we’d get a land and recruiting on recruiting platforms government ministers and others promised that they would get land and so that that created a new sort of impetus to do something more far-reaching than had been done before it also meant that when asked before the First World War all of this was surrounded by quite a lot of political contention the government of the time and the government from about 1906 through to

the beginning of the war was all the middle government and government in London in the UK and it was committed to a degree of land reform but the opposition the conservative and unionist party at that point tended to be rather opposed to it but the war had the effect of getting the two sides together so to speak and the coalition government that was established in 1916 headed by David Lloyd George was a liberal and conservative government and it continued after the war and won an overwhelming victory in the 1918 general election that was held just a few weeks after the armistice that ended the war and in the promises that were being made politically at that point there was huge emphasis on what Lloyd George called Holmes fit for Heroes and they some of these you know in retrospect a lot of that rhetoric wasn’t really acted on but something that was acted on was the notion that not just homes were needed for Heroes and places like the high ones but land and so the Act was was the powers of the Board of Agriculture were hugely beefed up and got much more money and it got very far-reaching powers – acquired by compulsion if necessary land from landowners whether or not they wanted to sell it and in some ways even more radical it had the power to impose on landowners without the sale of the land mechanism whereby they had to create on the land small holdings even if left to their own devices have done that so so very far-reaching and and the sort of thing that I think today would be would be found rather difficult to bring about so two circumstances the long-run one going back way back into the 19th century the desire to get back land that was cleared and the more immediate wonder the change in emphasis the feeling of an obligation owed to returning soldiers that something had to be done for them and in hye-won context in particular that was give them the land that they’d been demanding for generations and and in the paper that we’re publishing together you talked quite specifically about some of the the communities you know the families and the communities who were able to access land following the act particularly for example the North Tower estate what’s now known as the the community of point along on in the sky could you talk a bit more detail about but how that happened and what it meant for those families who were given that land to be able to to be able to you know build better homes and be able to grow crops and sustain themselves in a way they hadn’t been able to previously well I think that’s a kind of interesting example it’s a particularly dramatic one in some ways and they that area that whole area had been cleared there had been people living there if you went back to the early 19th century but but they were all kicked out as it were in the early 19th century and so the area was completely depopulated it had been a very large scale sheep farm which of course is why these evictions and quinces happen to create sheep farming in the first place the the Board of Agriculture just after the war in 1920 bought in excess of 60,000 acres from the MacLeod estate the quality of McCoy Road in denve again and that included the Portland area it had previously been the North Tower sheep farm and the board then a created something like 68 Crofts on that land of the what had been a dabble and way back and I was going to be arable and again and the the rest of the sheep farm was cubben grazing if you like of these crafters and what’s particularly striking about that about that instance is that the vast bulk of the people who were settled there came from habits or Lewis mainly from Hatter’s and these were places where there was huge demand for small Holdings and particularly from the east side of Harris where people again it was a result of Koreans earlier people be moved from the much more productive Atlantic coast of the island and dumped and what I called the base of habits a very rocky area if you go there you kind of think there’s more rock than grass or anything else and so these people got the chance to to move in 1923 to North Talisker and they came and one of the remarkable things about this from a modern perspective I think is how rapidly it was done you know we talked today about perhaps the depopulation of some like there I wonder father of mul for instance and the time scale tends to be in years of not decades and in the case of North Dallas get in a matter of weeks in 1923 the population of the area

went from 0 to around 400 and these families were settled initially I’m in timber Hut’s fairly substantial wooden huts that the Board of Agriculture had bought from the Army at the end of the war and but they were also given assistance you know generous financial assistance to Brahma to provide permanent homes and so on and so they were and the the Crofts they got were substantial crafts by you know 20 acres or more which is quite big by crafting standards and so from their perspective because many of them most well all of them wouldn’t have had mind of their own in the islands where they came from how isn’t Lewis and now they had these crafts the land was relatively good they had a huge extent of common grazing and the big sheep flock that they managed collectively as a so-called club stock farm and a so from their point of view it was a remarkable change for the for the better and I think it’s still remembered as such when I was writing this paper for the the one Commission I went there again I’ve known the area for quite some time and there’s a man there and Danny McClaren whom I knew when I worked for the Kraft is you need way back and Danny is parents came from haleh’s and settled there in 1923 he went to school there in the 1930s he’s in his 80s now but still very much involved in the community and speaking with him about what it was like way back then and about what his parents and their contemporaries felt about it it’s very very evident that this was from their perspective a an enormous kind of liberation if you like it was it was a huge thing and and what it did also when you go there today it’s it’s very very striking you know I also went to have a look at Elmo was doing this just a week or two before I went to porn along and I was still largely empty it was cleared and people were kicked out of there as well and then you go to port along and it’s a people landscape there are lots of houses and there’s lots of activity and the contrast is very very striking and I think to the casual visitor if you would go to port along you’d think well these are communities have just evolved here over centuries but they haven’t they’re you know 100 years old and they’re entirely a result of the Act the Lyon Settlement Act of 1990 so so as a historian would you say that that act really had quite a transformative effect in the pattern of land ownership that we’re seeing particularly in the highlands in areas and in terms of the legacy that we can still see today on the ground yeah the the act did have a really transformative effect it really hugely from place to place in but particularly in some parts of the islands like some parts of Skye we’ve been talking about it Razi which was repopulated at much the same time a and even more strikingly I think in the outer Isles and in the UST’s and Lewis and Harris large areas today that you know you would think hand just being the way they are I said we’re in terms of population for long enough where we peopled repopulated and I remember watching a television documentary about the Iowans a year or two ago and they somebody travelling up the west side of us turned into the west side of Hatteras and going on about the timeless nature of these communities and I was thinking all the time well they’re not timeless there are far more recent creations and so here all Street Princess Street at Edinburgh they’ve these streets have been there a heck of a lot longer than these communities have been so so yes it had and had a really pretty major impact and and not just in the high ones because say well the initial impetus tended to be in the highlands partly because the act that was passed obviously at this time of year in 1919 but that was over a year after the war and a lot of young men had come home with promises of land ringing in their in their ears and they just took the land they got fed up of waiting and occupied the land illegally of course and so the the initial impetus was to deal with this and kind of deal with this unrest and what was called land raiding and they particularly liked a story of a group of young land Raiders in North Uist and they’d occupied a huge tract of farmland and these were young men you know early 20s if that just back from 2 3 4 years of war and of course the the sheriff court orders were issued to instruct them to remove themselves from the land which they ignored entirely and one of them went when asked him why this was he said in effect he

would spend four years facing the Germans and we don’t give a damn for the sheriff so away so that there was real strong feeling and and government to his credit and the Board of Agriculture as a government agency we’re looking to deal with this I mean some of these people were jailed and so on but a nevertheless they got ultimately what what they wanted but then and later time say you know as the 1920s went on it into the 1930s the Board of Agriculture was very active in creating small holdings in other parts of Scotland in the Eastern Highlands and the mark Isle in Caithness and places like that but also in Dumfries on the southwest and then increasingly in the 1930s setting up small holdings ten acres or so in the on the margins of cities I mean it’s very striking that you know in this month December 2019 we are celebrating 100 years since the Act was passed but we’re also seeing similar challenges in some of Scotland’s remote rural areas in terms of population decline what what do you think are some of the most important lessons that we can learn from from the act in terms of its its relevance still today and and and what we can do in narrow to address the the current population problems we’re seeing well I think I think there are things to be learned from it I think the the commitment the political commitment to making it happen he was very very strong at that time and from all science politically this this was not a nearly of policy that at that point was subject to I want a political division but also I think beyond that it’s just this year priority that it got and and it would be my feeling that yes there’s an emerging need that’s recognised politically to deal with population issues particularly in farther afield parts of the country but it doesn’t have anything like the impetus now that it did a hundred years ago there are aspects of what was done technically I think that can be learned from it was and perhaps this isn’t something that would want to be replicated today it was a very very top-down there was pressure obviously from the from the folk on the guarantee make it happen by way of land raids and so on but once the Board of Agriculture moved into an area like north towers get off whatever it might be it was them who decided entirely where the craft should be who should get the crafts all of that and I think today you know the tendency and land reform that occurring community ownership over the last 20-30 years has been that they these sorts of decisions should be taken by people themselves on the ground so I think that would be something that ideal way today would be done differently what I think would be really really helpful however is if without wishing to replicate precisely what was done in the past if there was an agency that had the sort of powers that the Board of Agriculture had at that time not just to do with the land and the sense of creating crafts and small farms and so on but a with providing housing because the the absolute key issue in terms of rural populations today is the lack of affordable housing and it’s quite extraordinary how generous the assistance was to people to provide themselves with their own homes so I feel myself it’s just a personal opinion that if if one was able to create how would you know what you would call the population action areas or something and that some agency had the powers or similar powers to those that the world of agriculture had then you could see these things perhaps being tackled far more speedily and effectively I mean certainly one of the ideas that the rank Commission has been looking at since we started a couple of years ago is the concept of Public Interest led development where a development for for land for housing for other types of investment and infrastructure needs are various different stakeholders including local community and community organizations yeah that whole wave II I think needs exploiting and and you know we’re over the last few decades I guess we’ve moved away from that thinking but if you think not just of something about the Board of Agriculture but the new town corporations that were set up just after the Second World War and you know urban community it’s like Livingston unwinder office or whatever were not exactly magicked into existence but a through agencies like that all sorts of things could be done land could be acquired housing can be provided all sorts of facilities can be provided and I think yes if there were some possibility of moving in that direction and and getting if you like the best aspects of what happened in the past with perhaps the best aspects of what’s

available now in terms of much more genuine local involvement more local democracy if you like hey I think that would be that would be a really really good to see that because I think in the past a these matters were handled very very centrally and yes huge huge things were achieved and much mooned was done but I think in today’s circumstances we’d want and more off the power so to speak totally signed in the locality so it’s oh yeah absolutely and bearing that in mind then looking back in order to look look to the future what should we not do what can be less what lesson can be learned from the way in which the act was introduced and implemented on the ground where there were problems and where there were things which where maybe support wasn’t given in the right direction that we should learn from in terms of thinking about what to what to do now that there was you know real ill feeling around a lot of this in the first instance and when we look back it seems remarkable what was accomplished but at the time from the perspective of people on the ground not nearly enough was being done fast enough and I we don’t face the same set of pressures today obviously but but I do think we need to see we need to be absolutely certain well as certain as anyone can ever be as to what exactly is needed in different localities I think also not necessarily to impose identical solutions everywhere which tended to be the situation at that time and to think you know what would be most appropriate in particular localities and even something as basic in terms of land should be at that time the huge emphasis was on creating more small Holdings and Crofts and so on now there may well be demand for that today as well so that could be an element in it but I think a much more fundamentally today it’s the housing side of it and indeed other types of infrastructure the the Board of Agriculture not didn’t just provide housing or help to provide housing it provided access roads and all of that and today yes something similar would need to be done but also beyond that and perhaps even more fundamental and I think that’s one perhaps important lesson from what was done in the past that the focus was entirely on the land use aspect of this and it didn’t extend into how do we develop the economies of these localities and so even though it was a huge success in getting people back and getting housing and smoke holdings back into these localities that had been emptied its longer-run impact was less favorable than it might have been because there was no emphasis on doing anything beyond that so often in places where this happened that would then begin to be again by the way 20s 30s and into the period after the Second World War more depopulation and it’s interesting on the west side of habits for instance which was we settled in this period though it tended to be into the early 1930s rather than the 20s but all the Crofts that were created then that was a huge step forward in an area that had been emptied of people 100 years before but in more recent times that area became very badly affected by a renewed depopulation just because of lack of Don Croft housing and a new economic activity and that’s why in that locality the community decided 10 or so years ago to take the place over themselves so the established community ownership and points of the ownership of the state that had been there since the thirties and they’ve achieved pretty remarkable success in terms of housing provision and repopulation and so on so I think there’s a lesson there that you need to think about these things that’s widely as possible so thank you very much for being here with me today Jim it was fascinating to hear about the Land Settlement Act the impact it had in Scotland as well as the impact it continues to have in terms of its legacy around land ownership patterns particularly in the crafting communities I feel that we could have sat here and discussed the implications for many more hours it seems particularly pertinent 100 years after the introduction of this act in terms of some of the challenges we’re facing today not just in terms of what needs to be done to address the population decline in some of our sparsely populated rural areas but also the bigger challenges around how to ensure that our land is used in the most productive way it can be that we managed to achieve inclusive growth and also the way in which Scotland responds to some of the more global dilemmas we’re facing such as the climate emergency so it’s it’s great to discuss this with you for those of you interested in reading more about this our paper will be available on the Scottish Land Commission websites and hard copies are also available from the Scottish lion Commission so thank

you again Jim we hope that this is a stimulus for a discussion about how we can all what we can all do to address these issues over the coming months thank you