A thousand years of feudalism in Scotland has ended officially with the Abolition of Feudal Tenure Act 2000 that came into force this week. Some fear that the result may be a rush of people claiming bogus titles, such as the Baron John Smith. The legal status of such titles is in question.
It has been possible for more than 1,000 years to purchase a Scottish title, typically Barony titles. All one had to do was purchase a large piece of land that had a title attached. The transactions, including the barony details, have always been recorded on the official land registry.
However, the Abolition of Feudal Tenure Act 2000 removes the landowning element of a barony title. Only land transactions will be registered - not the barony, leaving prospective buyers with no way to check the authenticity of the title they are being sold on official records. The head of one of the country's oldest noble families has warned that the repeal of feudalism in Scotland will lead to a flood of bogus barony titles.
Niall Livingstone, Younger of Bachuil, whose family title dates back to the 6th century, said that the new land reform laws will remove the traditional legal safeguards that confirm their authenticity. Livingstone, who is spokesman for the Convention of the Baronage of Scotland, believes that the change will create a lucrative market for those peddling fake titles.
Barony titles can fetch up to £750,000. He estimates that only 10% of the estimated 2,500 barony titles held in Scotland are genuine. "There is a strong consensus that this situation has already gone too far," said Livingstone. "Separating the title from the land will undoubtedly make it even more difficult to detect dubious claims."
Unlike English titles, Scottish baronies will continue to be transferable to an heir. Ministers decided not to scrap the titles in case the loss of titles prompts huge compensation claims from owners who are deprived of a "heritable asset."
The titles, many dating from medieval times, allow the owner to use the prefix of baron on official documents, credit cards, and cheques, but they do not confer aristocratic status.
Not everyone is alarmed, however. "It won't make it easier to get a title," said Brian Hamilton, a broker with Scottish Barony Titles. "I've sold 21 titles this year; only one had a substantial amount of land. I don't think it will cheapen baronial titles. People buy them for the association with Scotland, the genealogy, the historical importance."