Am Bratach No. 246
The Crofters Commission is no more, having re-branded to become the Crofting Commission from the beginning of this week, on April 1, with a partly-elected group of commissioners. Ian MacDonald, from Skye, was elected on March 16 as the commissioner for the West Highlands, a vast constituency stretching from Skye to North West Sutherland.
A puzzling aspect of the change is why the six constituencies were set as they were, and in particular why they are so hugely different in size. The Shetland and Western Isles constituencies have an obvious geographical rationale, and lumping Orkney and Caithness together makes sense as they have relatively few crofts. However, it is baffling why the Highlands was carved up into two small constituencies, East and South West, each of which have around 800 crofters, and the massive West Highlands area, with more than 3,000 crofters, almost twice the number of the other two areas put together. The Crofters Commission has said only that the boundaries were the result of consultation carried out by the Scottish Government.
One of the effects of this size disparity is that Sandy Murray from Halladale only came third in the election for the West Highlands despite winning twice as many first votes as Donnie Ross, who becomes the commissioner for the E Highlands, and many more votes than Colin Kennedy in the SW Highlands.
Patrick Krause of the Scottish Crofting Federation said: Were positive about the new commission and recognise that its going to be a challenge for the new commissioners. He also said that the constituency arrangements were odd.
As part of the celebration of the change of business from crofters to crofting, the commission organised a series of events, called The Claim of Crofting, celebrating the history of crofting and emphasising the role of women activists such as Màiri Mhòr nan Òran and Margaret MacPherson. The events involved many hundreds of Skye children in understanding the history of crofting and writing stories, poems and songs.
Issie MacPhail, who organised the project and was a commissioner until the re-organisation, said it focused on Skye and Lochalsh because it was the actions in Skye 1881-1882 by people in Kilmuir, Braes and Glendale which brought the government to the negotiating table and resulted in the Napier Commission 1884, the emergence of The Land League, the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886 and The Scottish Land Court which derived from the first Crofters Commission in 1912.
The votes in the West Highlands constituency, which covers the five coastal parishes of North West Sutherland plus Lairg, Creich, Kincardine and Rogart, were cast as follows: Ian G Macdonald, Braes, Isle of Skye 354 (elected); John Laing, Dunvegan 215; Sandy Murray, Halladale 205; Finlay John Matheson, Strathcarron 163; Rodney Martin Minton, Dundonnell 92; Kenneth JBS MacLeod, Inverness 82; Jonathan James Hedges, Rogart 74; Russell Smith, Bonar Bridge 55; Yvonne White, Snizort, Skye 48. Of the 3,076 crofters eligible to vote, only 42.13% actually did.
Absentees crofters, who make up about 10% of the total number of registered crofters, were barred from voting, though there are perfectly acceptable reasons for being absent. But with strong ministerial direction announced in January 2010 and new powers granted under the Crofting Reform Bill, the Crofters Commission has been active in pursuing absentee crofters and it is expected that the new body will follow suit. In contrast, Scotlands large and wealthy estate owners can rest easy though most are absentees, there is no purge of toffs in the offing.