Current Scottish land reform and reclaiming the Commons: building community resilience

Michael Danson*, Kathryn A. Burnett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


Scotland has been addressing the highest European concentrations
of land ownership through land reform legislation, encouraging communities
to buy out the lairds. Collective efforts to take ownership of the commons are
explored through application of theories on governance, regional development
and institutions. Experiences of Inner and Outer Hebridean islanders under
private and then community ownership, paying special attention to the case of
the Isle of Eigg, are considered. Their collective tenacity, flexibility and
confidence in securing a community future despite continuing challenges to
remote small island living are offered as keystone examples from Scotland of
small island enterprise, social development and collective community actions.

The structure of the article is as follows: first a brief current context is provided of Scotland’s land ownership, with reference to how conditions in Scotland’s highlands and islands region created the foundations for a national government facilitation of community buyouts of privately and state-owned land and property. The case is presented that Scotland demonstrates an example of transformative opportunity where fundamental changes are taking place in land ownership, land reform legislation and community empowerment. Secondly, with Scotland in mind, a review of literature positions the landed commons terrain in terms of models, governance and policy developments, not least in relation to the rules and property rights literature as articulated in particular by Ostrom (2008) and Schlager and Ostrom (1992). Thirdly, community building and resilience is explored with reference to the public ‘national’ and ‘local’ narratives and debates. Examples of socio-cultural commentaries and accounts, with particular focus on where the transfer of public assets and responsibilities is involved, is highlighted as illustrative of Scotland’s ‘buyout’ community building narratives and a broader Scottish remote rural community resilience. The potential for community building, transformation and change is then illustrated with a focus on Scotland’s islands, most especially with reference to an illustrative case example of the island of Eigg, in Scotland’s Hebrides. Finally, some concluding comments, with suggestions for policy recommendations and ideas for transferring the learning to other contexts, are offered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-297
Number of pages18
JournalProgress in Development Studies
Issue number3
Early online date15 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • land reform
  • Gaelic Culture
  • Commons
  • resilience
  • community
  • buy out
  • Scotland
  • land identity
  • media representation
  • transformation
  • narratives
  • islands


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