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 The following article first appeared in the editorial section of the Autumn 1999 edition of Land and Liberty. It raises interesting issues as to whether Jim Wallace, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister is leading a democratic revolution on land reform or a quixotic escapade that will end in disappointment.

From the same publication comes the linked article "The Law of Whose Land?" by Fred Harrison and Peter Gibb.

The Land Project: A Democratic Revolution or Quixotic Escapade

Contents:

bulletScotland Deserves Better
bulletPrivatising the Nation’s Flow of Rent
bulletRe-embedding the Principles Underpinning Social Law on Land and Taxation
bulletDispossessed People are Traditionally Betrayed by Politicians
bulletThe Role of Civil Society in Auditing the Administration and Parliament’s Performance
bulletFurther Information on Land Value Taxation
bullet

Scotland Deserves Better

Labour governments made three attempts to solve the land problem in post-war Britain. Each exercise ended in failure.

The people of Scotland deserve better. They should not now be treated to yet more quixotic escapades. Can the Liberal Democrat leader Jim Wallace lead the first bloodless coup in democratic politics?

Although Scotland’s politicians may not realise it, a revolution is in the making: the first of its kind with a real chance of success. If it happens, the impact will be felt throughout Britain. And politics in Westminster would never be the same again.

Privatising the Nation’s Flow of Rent

The Mother of Parliaments was created by English aristocrats. They had one aim, and they were racing against the pace of social evolution. They had to detach the social obligations from the feudal rent they were receiving. They were employees of the state, and rent was pay for the job. But as their duties were transferred to professionals - standing army, civil servants, circuit judges - they saw the writing on the wall.

So posing as champions of free Englishmen, they challenged the rights of kings. Their objective: control of the public purse. Their purpose: privatise the nation’s flow of rent, downgrade the land tax and shift the financial burden onto wages.

Aristocratic control continued into the era of democracy. Westminster was allowed to do anything it liked, but one subject was off-limits. Parliament could not revert public finance back to the principles of justice and efficiency. Returning publicly-created revenue - rent - to the public was taboo. Liberal and Labour governments discovered that frontal attacks on the rent of land was useless. Rent was ring-fenced.

Margaret Thatcher’s scrapping of rates (the local property tax) was the logical culmination of this fiscal history.

Re-embedding the Principles Underpinning Social Law on Land and Taxation

Scotland can now unwind this disgraceful history. Her new Parliament’s first task is to nourish native common-sense wisdom. Politicians need to realise that land and taxation are two sides of the same public coin. That understanding will not come easily.

For example, what would policy-makers think of this statement: Revenue collected by most conventional taxes is actually at the expense of the rent of land and natural resources. Economists of the Scottish Enlightenment formulated the scientific principles that underpin that social law. But at first, few people will find the statement intelligible: even fewer will comprehend its significance for governance.

Without that realisation, the aspirations aroused by the devolution of power will be frustrated. Which is why the Liberal Democrat member for The Orkneys carries an onerous burden. Mr Wallace is Scotland’s Deputy First Minister and Minister for Justice. He is responsible for the reform of the law of the land in every sense of the phrase. It is his business to connect the land of Scotland to the material and spiritual welfare of the people.

Dispossessed People are Traditionally Betrayed by Politicians

Not all politicians were or are self-serving pretenders. But by privatising our culture - the invisible outcome of the privatisation of the resources used to nourish community life - the nobility was able to fashion the mind-sets of their servants. As landowners, they controlled the junction boxes in the flow of power that wrapped the nation. Through education they shaped ideology, to safeguard their private interests even as they pretended to discharge duties in the public interest. It could not be otherwise.

So Mr Wallace will have to search his soul.

Can he and his colleagues who are promoting land reform educate fellow Members of Parliament in the virtues of rent-based public finance, which (as Winston Churchill emphasised in his Edinburgh speech in 1910) would deliver material prosperity for everyone.

Can he, as a lawyer, abandon the crude notion of property that was tortured into shape to suit English landowners and their Scottish vassals, in favour of matrix of rights and responsibilities that unites citizens in a healthy contract with nature ?

The Role of Civil Society in Auditing the Administration and Parliament’s Performance

Other Nations will monitor the Scottish experience to see if it fulfils the promise of a new politics of consensus and inclusion.

Mr Wallace invites judgement on his record. After the government published its Land Reform Action Plan in August 1999, he said: Judge us on how we deliver. With over 30 points for action, this plan demonstrates the scale of our commitment to overhauling land ownership in Scotland and delivering real changes.

The government will evaluate the policy of re-socialising publicly-created rent and privatising people’s earned income. Its approach is cautious:

A comprehensive economic evaluation of the possible impact of moving to land value taxation basis. A specification will be developed for evaluating the implications; and Ministers will consider whether this research would represent good value for money. Proposals by end of 2001

Quote from: Scotland’s Land Reform Action Plan

But the real question is: Can Scotland afford not to reform public finance?

bulletBritain’s GDP in 1993 was 430bn below full productive capacity - because of the damage inflicted by conventional taxes.
bulletScotland’s pro-rata losses, today, are about 40bn.

This is the record against which the people will judge their parliament. There must be an audit by civil society organisations of the government’s record, starting with the impact of fiscal policy on the health and wealth of the nation. Promoting a public dialogue on the need for this audit is a paramount task of the civic institutions that established and support the Land Reform Convention. A key function and purpose of the Land Reform Convention must be to act as watchdog and guide dog over the Parliament

For Further Information on Land Value Taxation

Land Reform Scotland is a membership organisation established to inform, debate and lobby on new ways to establish balanced relationships between the individual, the community and the environment on core issues of the political economy like income distribution, property rights and land value taxation. It can be contacted at: Land Reform Scotland, The Chalmer, Mill of Towie, Cullen, By Buckie, Banffshire, Scotland, UK. (tel/fax: 01542 841 842)

Land & Liberty is the quarterly magazine of the Henry George Foundation of Great Britain. Inspired by the American social reformer and land value taxation campaigner, Henry George, it has chronicled world events for over 100 years. Land & Liberty’s feature writers pay special attention to problems with public finance. Taxation is the bridge between the public sector and private life. When these two spheres act in harmony, they deliver social justice and sustainable management of nature’s resources. It can be contacted at: Land & Liberty, 427 London Fruit Exchange, Brushfield Street, London, E1 6EL, England, UK. (tel: 0171 377 8885 or e-mail: HGF_IGU@compuserve.com)

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