Scottish Land Commission in big board changes

Michael Russell

The Scottish Government has announced the appointment of a new chair and two new members to the board of the Scottish Land Commission.

Michael Russell will join the Land Commission as its new chair, succeeding the outgoing Andrew Thin, while Craig Mackenzie of the University of Edinburgh Business School and Deb Roberts of the James Hutton Institute have been appointed as commissioners.

Mackenzie and Roberts succeed outgoing commissioners Megan MacInnes and David Adams.

The Scottish Land Commission is a public body established in 2017 by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 and wholly funded by the Scottish Government to advise Scottish Ministers on an ongoing programme of land reform and on changes to law, policy, and practice.

Its board of commissioners sets the strategic direction of the organisation and is supported by a team of staff based in Inverness.

In addition, the Commission provides leadership “for change in culture and practice, conducting a programme of engagement, producing guidance and supporting good practice in land ownership, management and use.”

Incoming chair Russell served as a Scottish Government Minister and Member of the Scottish Parliament at various times between 1999 and 2021.

He most recently worked as SNP president and was Environment Minister from 2007 to 2009.

Russell said: “I am honoured and excited to be appointed as chair of the Scottish Land Commission after an independently scrutinised competitive recruitment process.

“Land is a vital resource for every citizen of our country and how we share it, care for it, and use it is a key issue at the heart of Scotland’s continuing story.

“I am strongly committed to a process of land reform which ensures that all communities benefit from this national asset and that it contributes to our sustainable well-being as a vital part of the process of building a fair and equitable Scotland.”

Russell was a member of the Scottish Parliament Committee which scrutinised the Land Reform Bill in 2015, and an MSP for the South of Scotland Region for two terms before being elected in 2011 to serve the constituency of Argyll and Bute.

Russell retired from representational politics in 2021 but remained SNP President until 2023.

He added: “The first chair and commissioners, appointed as a result of the 2016 Act, have done a superb job and created a huge resource in terms of research and positive practice and helped to develop a strong staffing base with an enviable reputation for openness and fair dealing.

“Andrew Thin has led the organisation with dedication and enthusiasm and I am very aware of the legacy to which I and the new commissioners will have to live up as they learn from those still in office.”

Craig Mackenzie is a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh Business School with over 20 years of experience in investment management, combining financial and sustainable investment roles.

“Over his career, Craig has shaped good practice standards on corporate environmental and social responsibility, serving on advisory boards for the Global Reporting Initiative,” said the Commission.

“As an academic, he founded the Centre for Business and Climate Change (now BCCaS) at the University of Edinburgh and helped launch carbon management and climate finance MSc programs.

“Craig has a PhD in behavioural finance and has published on sustainability and corporate responsibility.”

Mackenzie said: “I am excited to join the Scottish Land Commission as a commissioner and look forward to using my financial and standards-setting experience to contribute to more sustainable and equitable land use and development.

“Scotland’s landscapes hold immense potential, and I am eager to play a role in helping to achieve it.”

Deb Roberts is Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Science at the James Hutton Institute.

“Deb trained as an agricultural economist and, before moving into her current position, her research focussed on understanding how agricultural and environmental policies affect economic development and social well-being in rural areas,” said the Commission.

“She holds an Honorary Chair in Real Estate at the University of Aberdeen.”

Roberts said: “It is a huge honour and privilege to be joining the Scottish Land Commission as a commissioner and to have the opportunity to build on the progress made by my predecessors.

“The importance of land for Scotland’s economy, environment and society has never been clearer and we are at a critical stage in the Land Reform process.

“I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues in shaping Scotland’s land policies for the benefit of all.”

Scottish Land Commission CEO Hamish Trench said: “We’re delighted to be welcoming such a breadth of experience to our board.

“Of course, it does mean that we have to say goodbye to Andrew, Megan and David – who have been incredibly valuable to the Commission during their time here and made significant leadership contributions over the last seven years.

“It marks another key milestone for our work as a Commission though, and we’re looking forward to the fresh thinking and knowledge the new board members will bring in shaping land reform.”

The appointments will be for five years and will run from February 1, 2024, to February 31, 2029.

The appointments are regulated by the Ethical Standards Commissioner.

Russell’s appointment is part-time and attracts a remuneration of £279.52 per day for a time commitment of 48 days per financial year.

The appointments of Roberts and MacKenzie are part-time and attract a remuneration of £224.48 per day for a time commitment of 24 days per financial year.