In 2012, farmer Andrew Riddell mounted a legal challenge after being given notice to quit by millionaire landowner Alastair Salvesen. Shortly after losing the case, he collected one final harvest before he was due to be evicted from the farm his family had tended for more than 100 years, and killed himself.
As farmers leave the land in droves (Dec 2014 figures, left) over 20,000 people have now signed a petition on behalf of another Scottish tenant farmer, Andrew Stoddart and his family, who will be made homeless in under a fortnight.
Mr Stoddart believes he is being forced from the farm so the factor and owner can make a higher profit. Provost Ludociv Broun-Lindsay, a Conservative on East Lothian Council, was listed as the owner of the Colstoun Mains in the council’s register of interests and the factor, Sir Francis Ogilvie who succeeded his father as the 14th Baronet of Inverquharity, is managing the estate.
This threat follows a ten year saga in which Mr Stoddart’s right to have his rent reviewed in the Land Court (2003) was legally challenged by his landlord, but granted by a Court of Session ruling in 2010. A 20% reduction in rent was agreed but only ‘signed off’ in 2013.
In 1993, his bid for the ‘desolate wasteland’ farm and farmhouse — was accepted. A letter from Mr Stoddart (right) sets out in detail the costly improvements he made. During his 22-year period living on the estate, he built a grain store and drying system worth over half a million pounds, a new grain store with new grain handling system and neglect to drains, fences and hedges was rectified. Around 100 acres was drained with pipe and gravel backfill entirely at his expense. Grass and livestock have enhanced the soil fertility and the farm viability.
However, no compensation will necessarily be granted for this work, and limited tenant rights mean that Stoddart has few legal avenues available. He said “It’s bad enough to be put out of your farm but to lose that amount of money is shocking. Landlords shouldn’t be able to do this in this day and age. It’s the kind of thing that went on 100 years ago”.
He is reported to have kept his bargain to the letter, while the landlord inexplicably refused to let him into the farmhouse, despite receiving rent for it starting in 1993.
The factor, Sir Francis Ogilvie (left), is – according to Mr Stoddart – refusing to repay his share of the building and grain handling system and the rent paid for the farmhouse that the family never slept a night in: “He also claimed, on national TV, that I am leaving voluntarily, conveniently forgetting the Land Court order they obtained to evict me . . . and that an offer was made to settle all claims; yes that’s true, but there was a zero missing off the end!”
The editor of the Scottish Farmer demands that the Holyrood government takes up this issue and immediately intervenes in the scandal that will see Andrew Stoddart (and possibly numerous others) evicted from his tenanted farm through no fault of his own.
Professor Sayer: “The political power of the wealthy is a threat”
‘We cannot continue to provide the rich and super-rich with unearned income.
“Their political power is a threat to democracy, and their excessive consumption and dependence on never-ending growth are unsustainable.’
He has expanded on this statement in his book Why We Can’t Afford The Rich, which won the 2015 British Academy Peter Townsend prize.
Lesley Riddoch in the Scotsman records that the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003 – “defective” and rushed legislation – allowed any limited partnership tenant farmers facing early eviction to “upgrade” to secure tenant status. However, she reports that the night before it came into force, landowners caused factors to issue 300 eviction notices, battling through snowdrifts to deliver them before midnight. The act was later ruled unlawful, breaching the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Scottish Government has now published a draft Land Reform Bill which aims to establish a Scottish Land Commission alongside proposals to tackle Scotland’s archaic land system. But more substantial proposals – such as giving tenants the right to buy – were removed from the bill.
Lesley urges: “The Scottish Government’s lawyers and civil servants must get over their paralysing fear of re-entering the legal arena and work up plans for a restricted right to buy for tenant farmers of perhaps 100 acres – allowing them to buy the farmhouse, barn, sheds and other property they have probably improved or built themselves. This right could apply to just one farm to avoid exploitation and it must be at the heart of new legislation”.
Nicola Sturgeon spoke well on this subject (below) – will the government intervene?
Richard Lochhead, Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary, said: “My officials are working on this as a matter of urgency.”