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Scotland’s seas and coasts are busy places. Well established industries such as oil and gas production, fishing and tourism have been joined in recent years by rapid growth in marine renewable energy development and aquaculture. A system of marine spatial planning is being introduced to manage this complex web of maritime activities. In theory this system allows for unprecedented levels of public engagement in marine resource management. However, there is a demonstrable institutionalised disempowerment of coastal communities.

Scotland’s inshore seabed (up to 12 nautical miles from the coast) is classed as land, and most of it is privately owned by the Crown Estate. By introducing ‘marine land’ to the land reform debates in Scotland we can explore the potential for community bodies to purchase and manage areas of the seabed. The potential non-financial benefits of this model are evident in existing terrestrial land buyouts: empowered and energised communities; greater local resource management skills and knowledge; improved sense of place and identity; strengthened local democracy.

In a time when business and political elites are driving the fallacy of economic growth into our oceans (“blue growth”), Scotland stands at the cusp of demonstrating that the new institutions of economic and political democracy are, above all, local.

This media entry was a contribution to the special session „Community as institution in managing Scotland's seas“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.