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Whose land is it?

I came across this in a Guardian discussion group just now, written by someone with the pseudonym MrDismal. Apart from the slight inaccuracy in the first sentence, it puts the issue beautifully, taking a bigger view…

By law all the land in the United Kingdom is owned by the Westminster Government. Any bit of land in the United Kingdom can be appropriated by Westminster and MPs determine how much compensation, right down to nothing, they will pay. They took the valley of Treweryn in Wales and turned it into a reservoir to benefit rich businessmen in Liverpool – despite massive protests in Wales and a motion set before the House of Commons at the end of which every Welsh MP present voted against the flooding of the valley – but they were outvoted by the English – and the valley was flooded.

By morality, nearly everyone in Wales says that Welsh valleys belong to the indigenous Welsh people and that the flooding of Treweryn was a crime committed by the English and expedited by English MPs – and their police forces and their army. In the same way we can say that Welsh coal belongs to the Welsh people and that it has been stolen by the English. And we can say that who lives in Wales, or doesn’t, is for the Welsh people to decide, and MPs, when they pass laws concerning immigration rights, accept that it is proper for them to determine immigration, and therefore have no right to deny the Welsh people a similar determination.

I say that the land belongs to the past and the present and the future. It belongs to the people who built the dry stone walls many centuries if not millenia ago – and to our memories of them. It belongs to us now, all of us who live on the land, and deserve blame for when we damage our land and praise for when we improve it; and it belongs to the people of the future, hopefully our descendants, and we should try to pass on to them land which will meet with their approval.

And another thing. How should we define the boundaries of land? For thousands of years Brythonic people have defined land by watershed lines – with a river goddess in the middle of the valley and a ridge around the edge.

This was a civilised and communitarian way of defining land, because the most fundamental need of human beings is fresh water, and it is better to make your fresh water river the centre of your community than a divisive border between communities (and I say that the English are not civilised because they always see rivers rather than watershed lines as boundaries). Many countries suffer because their rivers are boundaries rather than life giving goddesses.

And the land in the valley belongs to everyone who grows up in the valley and lives in the valley. And it makes sense for some people to control more of the land than others on a day to day basis – and to pay for that priviledge. And it makes sense for the community to compensate those who control only a little bit of the land – for their frugality.

And it makes sense for everyone to see themselves as custodians of the land they control, with a duty to the past and the present and the future, rather than as owners of the land, with sovereign rights to exploit and devastate land, and carry away its fruits to foreign places.