Glen Discovery in GlenLyon
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The land question - the root of all social evils

Front page of pamphlet

By Joseph MacLeod

Organising Secretary

Inverness Burghs and County Liberal Associations


The Highland News Office





Liberal Organizer



THE iniquitous Land Laws which exist not only retard the social progress of the Highlands of Scotland, but also affect the well-being of great masses of the people throughout the whole British Empire.

The first thing I would notice in connection with the land question - and one that ought never to be lost sight of in all our investigations on the subject - is, that land, from being limited in quantity, is different and distinct from anything else we find necessary to our existence. Not only so, but from the very constitution of our nature, in being deprived of our freedom in the land, we are thereby, in a great measure, also deprived of all the other essential rights which Nature intended us to enjoy spontaneously without money and without price -:- such as air, water, light, exercise, &c.

All comforts and conveniences in connection with food, raiment, and sheltèr depend on our own exertions yet these cannot be exercised except with the consent of those who claim possession of the land.

Even in countries where food is most abundant, and the population sparse, some exertion is required to satisfy the most primitive and simple demands of Nature, much more so when once the comforts of civilisation come to be appreciated. Nevertheless, it ought surely to be a source of congratulation to us all that we seldom have to complain of people refusing to work for their living, even, it must be confessed, with very inadequate encouragement, though we often hear great indignation expressed that people who are able and willing to work cannot find employment. Why ? Because landlordism has taken possession of and monopolised more of the land than they themselves are able to cultivate, and thereby prevent others willing to do it from having access.

Let us or any other person sèriously consider for a moment and see if he could discover or invent a system by which the inhabitants of a country could more effectually be reduced to a state of slavery and bondage than by seizing the land and dedicating it to sporting purposes, and I am certain he would fail.

If the people were slaves, their masters' pecuniary interests would be involved in at least their bodily health, but the landlords of Scotland seem rather to be anxious for the annihilation of the people.

This is shown at the present moment by their eager desire to establish easy means for immigration to South Africa, which can be seen is not so much the deep interest in the well-being and betterment of the immigrant as his use to influence and bind together in affectionate brotherhood a brave people among whom the capitalist has created so much mistrust and discord.

This is no new theory on the part of landlords. They have always shown a desire to have people compulsorily shipped off to distant lands, there to cultivate waste and solitary regions, instead of giving them encouragement and liberty to settle at home and improve the numberless tracts of superior land that lie neglected in a natural and unimproved state in many parts of the country with which every patriotic feeling is associated, and which is as dear to many of us as life itself.

Immigration because there is not sufficient subsistence at home sounds rather a strange doctrine to be inculcated in a country like ours, where there is such a wide sea teeming with fish, and also plenty of land if the people only got liberty to take possession of it.

The town citizen is not so often counselled to seek fresh fields and pastures new, although there are thousands who must pick up a very precarious living. No ! it is only in the Highlands, where the people have the imprudence to disturb the game, that they are advised to leave their country for their country's good.

The question of Reform of the Land Laws has made greater progress in recent years than any other political question. Twenty-five years ago it was seldom referred to in election addresses, but now no candidate for Parliamentary honours can shirk it. If he tries to do so, he is sure to lay himself open to strict and lengthened heckling.

It might not be out of place for me to say here, that the Highland crofter has done more than any other class to bring the subject of the unjust Land Laws into the prominent position it occupies to-day. the instalment of justice - the earnest of victory - they have won in the Crofters Act encourages them to persevere in a work of beneficence which will add greater lustre to the Celtic name than all their prowess in war.

I am safe in saying, that in the very near future the test question will be the reform of the existing Land Laws. The land is the great inheritance of the nation, and the just and equitable management of that inheritance for behoof of the whole community is the first duty of Government. It is a duty that has been almost wholly neglected, and millions of people are without lot or portion in that inheritance for which their fathers fought and bled and died, while certain individuals styling themselves land lords have obtained exclusive possession and absolute control of the national inheritance.

It is fully admitted by politicians of all parties, that the present condition of the Land Laws is unsatisfactory, and that the grossest injustice and the most pernicious abuses are occasioned and fostered by the laws as at present existing and administered. The Land Laws invest a few individuals in every parish with the power to retard progress and discourage improvements of land and houses, preventing the settling of local industries, reducing the rural population, impeding the prosperity, and undermining the health of our nation.

While always boasting that Britons never shall be slaves we have permitted the landlords to filch our liberties and inherent rights from us. What then is our boasted freedom but liberty to do but just what the landlords allow us. What else could be expected while they are allowed to frame the laws which cause so much injustice and terrible suffering as is to be witnessed in every town and locality?

"By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy bread." This is the law of God, and is the law we have ignored. This is why poverty exists among us to such an alarming extent, bringing with it the misery and squalor and the vice and crime that are its natural and inevitable results.

We believe that the world was created by God, and that it is by His will and His providence that mankind exists in the world. He created man with certain physical wants, upon the satisfaction of which the maintenance of life depends. He gave man the right and power to satisfy these wants by his own exertions. That is to say, he gave man the right and the power to labour, and put upon him the necessity to labour. He also gave him the material upon which to exert his labour. This material is land. Land is the source, and labour is the producer of all wealth. The two last statements are axioms of political economy. The land yields us the raw material which we by our labour, fashion into whatever form of wealth we desire. These two factors - land and labour - are absolutely necessary to the production of wealth. Labour is the active and land is the passive factor in this combination. Nature yields only to labour. Now, labour cannot have free access to land so long as land is held as the private property of individuals, for if it be permitted to an individual to hold as his private property the storehouse of nature, he can exclude labour altogether from access to the raw material for producing wealth. Even although he does not exclude labour altogether from access to this raw material, he can extract from those who use it part of the wealth which they produce, leaving only to the producer just as much as will yield a bare subsistence - in a multitude of cases very much less. It is, therefore, our bounden duty to secure free access to the land for the purpose of producing wealth, to leave no stone unturned until we abolish, root and branch, the institution of private property in land.

There is no question which bulks more largely in common thought and common speech today than the question of the right of all men to an equal share in the bounties of nature - the land. It is now realised and recognised as the root of the social question. Our present system, under which the land is made the private property of individuals, and under which the many must pay toll to another before they are allowed to produce for themselves, is a direct and flagrant denial of the most primary natural rights, and the best endeavours of those who call themselves Social Reformers should be directed towards securing the abolition of this primary social wrong.

You will readily admit that the true right of ownership springs from labour. It is the right of labour that enables a man to say of anything - "This is mine. I made it."

This right attaches to things that are the result of labour, and derives its validity from the Law of God. No man made the land, therefore no man can have any exclusive rights to it. This is the essential difference between property in land and property in things that are the result of labour, a difference which is quite recognisable, and which has always been recognised both by economic writers and in the laws and institutions of both savage and civilised communities.

The earliest system of land tenure in this and most other countries was a system of co-operative farming carried on by communities. This was followed by the system of each family cultivating special portions for themselves, the pastures and waste land being held in common.

When William I. conquered England he introduced the Feudal System. Under this system, the nobles were simply tenants of the Crown, not owners of the land. They were required to render military service and to furnish a certain number of men-at-arms.

This system was found clumsy, and a money payment was substituted. During the war of the "Roses" the old nobility were nearly extinguished, and there arose a new order who looked upon the land as a commercial commodity and the people who occupied it as mere rent­producing machinery.

The manufacture of woollen cloth was at that time coming into prominence, and the landlords began rack-renting and evicting the people in order to rear sheep. Then was turned the arable land into pasture and the enclosure of common lands, as well as the consolidation of farms, whereby the people were eaten up as bread to satisfy the greedy desires of a few who waste profusely as they do gather unconscionably and bring to their posterity that woe which is pronounced against those who add house to house and lay field to field.

But, in conclusion, this institution has grown up among us, and all we can do now is to demonstrate that it is an injustice, and do our very best to educate public opinion in regard to such bad laws in order to have them totally abolished. If they be evil - and no right-thinking man will deny that they are - then let us not hesitate, but lay the axe to the root and cut down the poisonous growth.

[End of Text]

With thanks to the National Library of Scotland ref QP1.78.856