Ten Years a Bestseller, Ten Years an Eye Opener

  31 Oct '20   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Today, half of Scotland’s rural land remains in the hands of just 432 owners. Some estimates claim that Scotland has the most unequal land ownership of any country in the western world.* – Positive News, 2020

Ten years ago this week, the first edition of a new book was published which challenged the notion of landownership in Scotland. It opened the eyes and stirred the emotions of those living with the reality; it revealed a real anger. That highly influential book remains in print, often updated, and always essential reading. It is The Poor had No Lawyers: Who Owns Scotland and How Did they Get it? by Andy Wightman and – as you can see from the statistics quoted above from, it is as relevant today as it was when it was first published.

Hailed as ‘utterly magnificent‘ by the Sunday Herald and as ‘brilliantly researched, extremely well written and shocking in its detail‘ by novelist John Burnside, it has rarely been out of the media during this ten year period. The Birlinn team is very proud to count Andy amongst our authors and to have had a hand in bringing this book to the public.

The first review appeared in the Herald newspaper ten years ago today, written by Harry Reid.

There is so much well-researched material that the reader finally puts the book down battered, angry and determined that something should be done about the multiplicity of scandals discussed so forensically by Wightman… His book provides some startling revisionist history… Wightman is a feisty, independent-minded seeker after truth. We need many more like him.’

Harry Reid, The Herald

Ten years later, in 2020, the media are still covering the book:

In 2010 his acclaimed book ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers: Who Owns Scotland And How They Got It’ was published by Birlinn. It charts how land was seized by the powerful throughout history, especially in the years after the Reformation. It documents how rights to common land and local assets were lost to the people through the decades, whether they be a hill, a moor, a village green, fisheries or grazing rights.

A more important book about Scottish land ownership has yet to be written.

David Ross, Press & Journal

An essential guide to who owns Scotland and why land reform has flowered there in recent years


One of the defining literary and scholarly works of modern Scotland… it demands to be read if you want to reach an understanding of why Scotland cannot be considered a fair society while prevailing patterns of land ownership persist in our most beautiful places

Kevin McKenna, Herald

Who owns Scotland? How did they get it? What happened to all the common land in Scotland? Has the Scottish Parliament made any difference? Can we get our common good land back? In this book, Andy Wightman updates the statistics of landownership in Scotland and explores how and why landowners got their hands on the millions of acres of land that were once held in common. He tells the untold story of how Scotland’s legal establishment and politicians managed to appropriate land through legal fixes. Have attempts to redistribute this power more equitably made any difference, and what are the full implications of the recent debt-fuelled housing bubble, the Smith Commission and the new Scottish Government’s proposals on land reform? For all those with an interest in urban and rural land in Scotland, this updated edition of The Poor Had No Lawyers provides a fascinating analysis of one the most important political questions in Scotland.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, read this book. It will open your eyes and make you very angry.

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