Am Bratach No. 203
September 2008


Foundation meets MacRae as Shucksmith suffers delay

A sense of emergency at the Scottish Crofting Foundation may have prompted a meeting between their leaders and one of the principal critics of the Shucksmith report on crofting, and of the organisation’s surprising reaction to it.

“They specifically asked me to meet them because they wanted to discuss Shucksmith with me,” said Allan MacRae of Torbreck, Lochinver, a fortnight after he met director Norman Leask, Shetland, company secretary Alistair MacIver, Rogart, and chief executive Patrick Krause, in Lairg.

Mr MacRae, the organisation’s senior representative in North West Sutherland, who also chairs the Assynt Crofters Trust and the North West Cattle Producers Association, had given several interviews — the first appeared in Am Bratach in June — since the publication of the Committee of Inquiry on Crofting’s controversial final report on May 12. In the interviews he had condemned the main recommendations and chastised the foundation leadership’s enthusiasm in unreservedly welcoming the publication of what they termed “our report”.

“I got the clear impression from Norman Leask, who represents Shetland, that Shetland crofters are very much opposed to burdens, for example,” commented Mr MacRae. “Norman Leask is, of course, a past chairman of the foundation and I have a lot of confidence in him — I get the distinct impression that he’s more realistic as regards these recommendations than some others.

“I think he recognises that a lot of crofters are opposed to Shucksmith. But what the official view of the SCF is going to be at the end of the day I don’t really know, because they’re still forming it.

“However, they did say to me that they hoped to have a meeting of all the directors plus the area representatives very shortly when the final position will be thrashed out. I presume that everybody can have a say — and that they’ll [the leadership] be able to hear from the area representatives what people on the ground are thinking. Not that there can be any doubt what people up here are thinking.

“I think they were keen to reassure me that the SCF was listening. As I said to them — I’ve given them a pretty hard time — I’m only reflecting the views of the members up here.

“The thing that concerns me is that they are now consulting crofters because they’ve been forced to. They gave the impression they didn’t want that at the start. You can’t get away from that.”

He said he read about how crofting minister, Mike Russell MSP, speaking at a meeting on Skye, had urged crofters to work within the framework of Shucksmith. “I thought he was supposed to be listening to the crofters,” commented Assynt’s pioneer land reformer.

“All I can say is that the idea of having local boards of commissars looking over your shoulder is a case of bringing the state into your living room. I think that’s shocking.” He added: “I said ‘commissars’ with good reason, because that’s what you’re looking at.

“My late father used to say that the worst ground officer you could have would be a local man, once they get a bit of power. There are always those who will go along.”
Meanwhile, it turns out that the passage of the Shucksmith recommendations through parliament has been delayed by up to a month.

“The delay is not connected to the hostile response to the report,” insisted a spokeswoman for the Scottish Government. “I am trying to find out precise reasons but I fear they could be extremely boring — time-tabling of debates or something similar.”

Later, it transpired that the interruption is being caused by an apparently unforeseen requirement for the report to be translated into Gaelic — “a process which could take two weeks to completed publication”.

Any expectation that more consideration of crofters’ views might be entertained before the government gives its formal response to the Shucksmith report — a notion fuelled by the Skye-based West Highland Free Press on August 29 in which the crofting minister is reported to have “pledged a fresh round of consultation before the recommendations were considered for legislation” — was given short shrift by the spokeswoman.

“You asked if the information and inferences drawn from reports in the WHFP were correct — they are not,” she told our reporter.

“We are not holding additional consultations. There will be a consultation — as planned from the outset — when a draft Crofting Bill is published next year. There is no additional consultation taking place.

“We are intending on publishing our response to the report in late September,” the spokeswoman added.

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