Book Reviews: The Poor had no Lawyers: Who owns Scotland (and how they got it)


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Keywords: Land law, land reform, Scotland, community right to buy, land ownership, feudal system

Environmental law is a fascinating subject. It is an area with which this reviewer would not claim any particular expertise, which is a strange claim to make at the outset of a review in an environmental law journal. Imagine, then, the audacity of writing a book of 32 chapters on land ownership in Scotland, yet making an open apology in the introduction for any shortcomings in the analysis contained in the subsequent text. That is exactly what Andy Wightman does in the first chapter of his book. Then why, pray tell, should anyone take the time to read it? The more pertinent question for this review, perhaps, is what interest may it have to readers interested in environmental regulation?

This reviewer's already admitted environmental law diffidence is dispelled when the entirely more comfortable terrain of property law is encountered. Against that backdrop, it is submitted with some confidence that the system and pattern of land ownership in Scotland has had a huge impact on the rural environment of Scotland. Scots property law, with its civilian tradition, has long afforded Scotland's landowners wide margins of appreciation to use, enjoy and abuse their properties by whatever means, subject to certain controls such as the law of nuisance. Insofar as environmental controls relate to land, they tend to bolt on to this strong model of ownership, leaving the core untouched. An understanding of land law and policy is therefore crucial to an understanding of Scotland's environment.1

Why read the book at all? There is a recurring discussion easily found in the blogosphere on the relative merits of journalists and bloggers. Journalists, it is argued, are well trained, carefully source materials, subject writings to peer review and must meet certain standards set by watchdogs. Bloggers may do some of these, but they rarely do all four. They bring instantaneity and provide a forum for airing controversial issues. Bloggers may not always hit the right notes, but they sometimes hit a nerve. And when a nerve is hit, the person doing the hitting matters not.

To bring this analogy into the legal sphere, lawyers are journalists, equipped with a qualification and the blessing of a professional body to fortify any thoughts. Wightman is a blogger.2 He is a blogger with a track record. This is not the former foresters first book on land ownership in Scotland. Before this latest offering, his key text was Who Owns Scotland (1996), with other writings including the provocatively named Scotland: Land and Power (1999). He gave evidence to the Justice 2 Committee of the Scottish Parliament prior to the enactment of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, and the maiden publication of this reviewer would have been a little balder without reference to his empirical work.

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