On Saturday (January 29), members of the Scottish Young Communist League performed a mass trespass action on the Ardnamurchan estate in the West Highlands. This estate is privately owned by businessman and landlord Donald Houston who owns 17,867 acres of land.
The action was taken in solidarity with Ramblers Scotland, a charity representing hillwalkers and advocating for equal access to the Scottish countryside, who are involved in a legal dispute with Houston and facing legal costs of up to £82,000.
Houston is attempting to shut off part of his estate making it exempt from Scotland’s Right to Roam legislation. If Houston wins this case, it will set the precedent for further cases involving Scottish landlords and will completely undermine the Right to Roam Act (2003), one of the most radical policies enacted by the Scottish Parliament since its birth.
During the action, members from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Lanarkshire walked along part of the Ardnamurchan estate before an educational from Daniel Roantree on the historic Kinder Scout Trespass and Scotland’s desperate need for land reform.
This action was not just out of solidarity with Ramblers Scotland but also to highlight the feudal-like land ownership structures that exist in modern-day Scotland. In 2019 it was estimated that fewer than 500 people own around half of Scotland’s privately owned land.
Landlords range from figures like David Cameron’s father in-law to “his excellency” Mahdi Mohammed Al Tajir from the United Arab Emirates, owner of the Blackford estate, home of Highland Spring mineral water, who has been accused of abandoning farms on the slopes of the Ochil hills. This is a shocking indictment of Sturgeon’s SNP government which has subordinated itself to private property and big capital and as usual has put Scotland’s working classes in their back mirror.
This type of action is not anything new for the YCL. On April 24 1932 members of the YCL undertook the Kinder Scout mass trespass in the Peak District. This action was to highlight the fact that walkers in England and Wales were denied access to areas of open country. It is estimated that between 400-600 people attended with five being arrested.
The Kinder Scout trespass has been hailed as one of the most successful acts of civil disobedience in British history with it arguably leading to the passage of the National Parks legislation in 1949. Our own history only further highlights that, like anything owned and controlled by the capitalist class, the use of land must be fought for by workers. As Britain’s masses, we work in your cities, and we will walk our land.
Louie Gibson, is campaigns officer for the Scottish Young Communist League