10 Nov 2015

The farmer who has become a focal point for Scottish land reform

By way of an update, let us revisit the case of Andrew Stoddart. Many will remember him, standing in the rolling wheat fields of East Lothian, in the film we made a few weeks back about Scottish land reform – or perhaps the lack of it.

A massively built man, reduced to tears as we filmed him, who says he has “sweated blood” working and improving the soil of his 900-acre rented farm south of Edinburgh.

He faced eviction with his family on 28 November. Two other farm workers would also go. In all seven children would be turfed out of their homes.

Since our report was transmitted it has created some impact. Most gratifyingly of all Andrew himself messaged me on Twitter to say: “Thankyou – it has changed everything.”

Matters came more generally to a head at the SNP conference in Aberdeen this year. As ever a slick, disciplined affair with barely a murmur of dissent between the party faithful and the executive on the stage – bar one issue.

Yup: land reform. The problem for the SNP, as we reported, is that Nicola Sturgeon promised Scotland something “radical” on this and, in the judgement of many in her own party, she has signally failed to deliver.

Which is why, in part, Andrew Stoddart has become something of a focal point for all this. When he broke down as he was asked about the effect all this is having on his young family, the reality of unsafe leases to farmers in Scotland was painful and direct.

Since our report a petition of around 19,000 signatures has been signed in his support and the Scottish government appears to be getting directly involved now.

Today they told Channel 4 News: “Given the urgency of this situation the Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead, personally intervened and has spoken to both Mr Stoddart and the Colstoun Trust, which owns the farm, to support and urge a mediated resolution.”

And according to the Scottish government, mediation is not the only possible solution on the table: “Options under consideration include extending the current lease at Colstoun Mains Farm, the possibility of finding alternative farmland for Mr Stoddart and facilitating renewed negotiations around his compensation for the improvements he has made to the farm.”

This afternoon, the landowner has released a statement indicating that Andrew and his family can stay beyond their eviction date, but for how long we don’t know.

All in all rather a lot has changed since we met on a blustery October day on his farm, so watch this space.

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