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and the

Roger Sandilands

In his Biographical Notes on William Ogilvie, DC MacDonald describes the agitation in Scotland for land reform in its broad sense since the publication of Ogilvie’s work. He discusses the nineteenth century schisms within the church over its relations with landed interests; Robert Burns's championing of an extension of the franchise beyond that same class; and the powerful appeal of the American economist and social reformer, Henry George, who campaigned throughout Britain and Ireland for the Single Tax on land values.

        In the early years of the twentieth century Scottish followers of Henry George played a prominent role in the events that led to the constitutional crisis of 1909-10. In 1906 an influential delegation of 118 municipal bodies in Scotland persuaded the new Liberal Government to go forward with the valuation and local taxation of land values. The Land Values (Scotland) Bill was passed overwhelmingly in the House of Commons, but in 1907 and 1908 the bill was rejected or seriously mutilated in the House of Lords. When in 1909 the Lords also rejected Lloyd George’s Finance Bill, which embodied provisions for the valuation of the land of the whole country, the government moved to repeal the Lords’ right to interfere with Money Bills.

        In 1931 Philip Snowden, the Labour Chancellor, presented proposals for the taxation of land values in his Finance Bill, but this measure was repealed following the fall of the Labour Government and pressure from the Conservatives in Ramsay MacDonald’s Coalition Government.

        Various attempts to tackle the land problem in the years since 1945, such as “betterment levies” and “development land charges” were misconceived, partly because they failed to distinguish the value of land from the value of improvements (buildings, etc). This has also been the case with the domestic and business rating systems. Reforms such as the poll tax were rightly derided and scrapped. Agitation for reform in Scotland and elsewhere has recently sharpened the focus once more on to the land itself, in both rural and urban areas, as being the free gift of nature and our common birthright. It is increasingly accepted that this birthright can only be returned to the people via the fiscal reforms proposed by visionaries such as William Ogilvie and Henry George.

“The Earth being the birthright of all mankind, its rental is the natural property of the people. . . . Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds”.

Thomas Paine Rights of Man

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