Highlands & Islands

The rough and tumble of reforming Scotland's crofting law

Track on Lewis

MSPs are due to decide whether to pass new legislation to resolve confusion over parts of the 2010 Crofting Act, but it is only the latest twist on the long, rough road to reforming crofting law.

A bill designed to sort out failings in crofting law is headed for its final hurdle when it is put to the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish government has proposed the new legislation to end confusion over how rules on decrofted land in the 2010 act should work.

The uncertainty over the rules led the Crofting Commission, the agency that advises the government on crofting, to suspend all decrofting applications on owner-occupied crofts in February this year.

Decrofting is when agricultural land held by the crofter is re-zoned, allowing it to be used for purposes other than crofting, most commonly to build a house on.

Crofters may want to do this to replace their existing house, build a home for their children so they can stay on the croft or perhaps to rent as a holiday let to subsidise their crofting income.

However, the 2010 Crofting Act seemed to allow decrofting for tenant crofters but not for those who own and live on their crofts.

But it is not the only one part of the law that has been in the spotlight since reforms were passed three years ago.

A separate row centres on the Crofting Commission terminating tenancies of absentee crofters - tenants who do not live on their croft or assign it to someone else.

The commission said in most cases amicable solutions were being found.

However, some absentee crofters being evicted for not using their land have joined forces to challenge the decision.

Visibly upset

The process of passing the act itself back in July 2010 was also done amid a political storm which saw parliament suspended.

As MSPs finalised the bill, Holyrood descended into chaos over final changes to the legislation.

Deputy Presiding Officer Trish Godman did not hear Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham's objection to a Labour amendment.

Ms Godman asked if Holyrood agreed the amendment and did not hear anyone say "No", but Ms Cunningham said one of the parliament clerks heard her objection.

MSPs shouted at each other across the chamber, and Ms Godman insisted she "genuinely" had not heard any objections, telling MSPs: "I didn't hear and I intend to move on."

Ms Godman was visibly upset amid Labour claims she was being bullied by the SNP into going back to the issue, although she later made it clear she felt this was not the case.

Proceedings were suspended for five minutes to try to resolve the issue.

The legislation was passed by 66 votes to 0, with 59 abstentions.

Historically, crofting is no stranger to angry disputes.

In the 1880s, crofters protested against high rents, their lack of rights to land and evictions.

The police, Royal Navy gunboats and marines were deployed to places like Skye to quell the restless tenants.

In 1886 the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act was passed. However, this legislation did not solve all the problems over land rights and disputes continued into the years between the two world wars in the 20th Century.

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