Government duty to meet people’s right to food acknowledged by Minister Aileen McLeod

Iain MacKinnon reports from the annual conference of Community Land Scotland.

“It is very encouraging to hear the concept of human rights and the realisation of human rights embedded at the heart of a ministerial speech on land reform.”

This was how Community Land Scotland’s (CLS) policy officer, Peter Peacock, responded to the speech made by Aileen McLeod, Scottish Government Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, to the CLS annual conference, held in Inverness from the 21st and 22nd of May.

On Friday morning Dr McLeod told the conference that to a significant degree “countries are defined by their land”. She added that the Government’s upcoming bill on land reform would need to reflect human rights and the public interest. In particular she emphasised the importance of the United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights signed by the Scottish Government.

International law, she said, “places a duty on Ministers to use a maximum of its available resources” in order to meet peoples’ “rights to housing, food and employment”. In this context Government would need to consider how land reform “sits with a programme of democratic renewal and empowering communities”.

On the previous morning Peter Peacock had outlined the wide-range of political activities in which CLS are involved, affirming that CLS were putting human rights and the public interest at the centre of their advocacy efforts. CLS’ selective interventions in the Community Empowerment Bill and the Land Reform Review process – emphasising, for instance, the need to focus on ensuring the right remit and structure for a proposed new Scottish Land Commission – demonstrated their clear and effective strategy for political advocacy.

The new Scotland seems prepared to lead the way in establishing a human rights based approach to political decision-making.

The UN Covenant does not provide a direct right to land. However, there is a direct right to food and of this right the former UN special rapporteur on food, Olivier de Schutter, has commented:

“This should be understood as encouraging agrarian reform that leads to more equitable distribution of land for the benefit of smallholders, both because of the inverse relationship between farm size and productivity and because small-scale farming (and more closely linking the farmer to the land) may lead to a more responsible use of the soil.”

Sounds like an argument for new crofts to me…

Iain MacKinnon belongs to the Isle of Skye and is a researcher into the Governance of Land and Natural Resources at the Centre for Agroecology at Coventry University. The thoughts in this article represent his own views and not those of the Centre for Agroecology.