After examining evidence garnered from seventeen public meetings held in June and August of last year, as well as numerous written responses received from crofters, non-crofters and commissioned experts, the Scottish government's Committee of Inquiry on Crofting has concluded that crofting is now more in tune with the spirit of the age than it has been at any time in history.
This startling conclusion is contained in the committee's 10-page "Towards a future for Crofting" paper published on Monday of this week.
The committee, chaired by Mark Shucksmith, professor of planning at Newcastle University, paints a rosy picture of prosperous and sustainable crofting communities, rewarded for producing "valuable public goods (environmental and cultural)" and "quality" food.
Crofting will be "effectively" regulated, following rules that are simple and easy to understand. Crofters, the committee were told, want crofts worked and lived on by their tenants. Opposed to sales of crofts to the highest bidder, crofter opinion is also weighted in favour of non-native born crofters so long as they work their crofts and integrate well.
The committee found demand for stronger regulation and better enforcement and hint that decision-making may be devolved, at least to some degree, to local organisations, not necessarily peopled by crofters.
The committee found an explosion in house prices, everywhere except on Shetland. Between 2001 and 2005 prices rose by 56% overall. By 2005, the population of the Highlands (including the islands) had risen to 441,000, but worryingly that of the Gaelic heartland of the Outer Hebrides, and of Caithness and Sutherland, had dropped.
This interim report sets the tone for the final, five public meetings. Ministerial pressure on the committee to make their recommendations by mid-April had necessitated fewer meetings, a committee spokeswoman explained.
Of the five, the meeting closest to the North West will be held in the Craigmonie Hotel, Inverness, at 6.30pm on Tuesday, February 19. All venues are listed here, but anyone unable to attend any of them can still comment by logging onto www.crofting inquiry.com.