Taking each of your bullet points in turn “Issues for your consideration”

Enable more people in rural and urban Scotland to have a stake in the ownership, governance, management and use of land, which will lead to a greater diversity of land ownership, and ownership types, in Scotland

sideactivity submit that;

a ‘stake’ in ownership, governance, management and use of land would be better achieved by recognising that ‘Townships’ and ‘Townsfolk’ of the crofting counties are in the majority and that their needs come first. By that we mean, those that are active ‘crofters’ are the tip of the iceberg of the economy/livelihood of Townsfolk. For example a typical Township on Skye, one known to sideactivity, consists of 100 parcels of land. In this township, there are only 2 crofters (2%) out of 98 (98%)of the  township who are ‘active’ as crofters.

Whilst these numbers may not satisfy accredited official surveys, we can see that 98% of this townships land (crofts) are not active in the historical sense? There are many reasons put forward to explain this, chief among them is the common realisation that ‘…crofting just doesn’t provide sufficient income for the hours of toil’. That this is true should not, and is not, a surprise to our culture since crofts were never designed to support a livelihood, exclusively.

What does this mean? Well, many of our friends were present at the Portree meeting of the Commission of Inquiry into Crofting which toured the crofting counties in 2007-08 taking evidence from ‘crofters’ (the Shucksmith Report). At that meeting a member of the rostrum asked the $64,000 question, “[on a show of hands] how many people present here tonight are crofters?” Out of 200-odd folk in the Community Hall, only 20-odd (10%) raised their hands? This stark reality could not possibly have escaped the attention of everyone present, including representatives of the Scottish Government, had they been attentive enough. In fact there were audible rumblings in the silence that followed?

What were the other 180 people doing sitting in on a meeting to hear the outcome of an area of activity that didn’t concern them directly, after all, wasn’t the Shucksmith Report a report on ‘crofting’? Yet, only 10% of those in the hall were actually crofters? Why were so many other people so interested in what was going on…? The answer of course is startlingly obvious, as it was then, on the night in question; they wanted to know what ‘crofters’ wanted to do in their name?

However, that the message was so profoundly misunderstood by those present from the Scottish Government, is no surprise to us. Consequently, the chance to act has gone, since the legislation affecting crofting has become law. The sad thing is, it affects the other 98% of townsfolk that are not crofters through economic necessity. And, to quell any popular suspicions that that 98% are ‘incomers’ and have no concern for our rural way of life, let us remind ourselves (from having been in attendance on the night) that we are talking about the original indigenous townsfolk, whose descendants stood up to old injustices that would appear to have simply lain dormant, rather than having been properly exorcised. 

It is imperative that we (as a nation working together for a better more equitable future independent Scotland) do not confuse ourselves over the true aspirations of the peoples of this great nation. And, handle with care its beating heart – the people. Our rural way of life and culture on Skye, as in many highland townships comes directly from the people not an agrarian system? We should have the right to finish the business started by our descendants in 1886 and have the legislatures pass a law that secures total financial control over the land of our fathers into the stewardship of their children.

As things stand, if the main body of townsfolk (98%) do not take the ‘handouts’ they are forced to, from the state, in the form of grants, they can have their lands dispossessed from them by the Crofting Commission; for NOT being a ‘crofter’. Astonishingly, even as every one of them knows, there is no livelihood to be made from a croft, but they must be forced to, or else loose their ancestral legacy. What kind of crazy logic is this?

We believe things could be different and the reason why, in our opinion, they should be different is that the right reforms would include  ALL the townsfolk not just the 2% that are active crofters. If, as everyone knows, there is no livelihood to be made in crofting, why restrict 98% to toil for unsustainable activities? How can this be seen as protecting their ‘culture’. It surely cannot claim to have understood the obvious. If the townsfolk want to choose to be a joiner, nurse, councillor, architect or whatever else, shouldn’t that be their decision alone. Why should they have to conform to a system of legislature that has failed to understand their true grievances? Isn’t this ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’? We believe the conclusions of the 2007 Inquiry into Crofting should have included ALL 98% not just the 2% of crofters.

The barriers that may be in the way of attaining pluralism of aspiration – not just the views of one activity group alone – are purely and simply to LISTEN and to have the ability to differentiate between what is reality and what are the romantic perceptions of rural highland life; and, not to get the two confused.

Our people are no different than any other citizen of Scotland. Improvement, ambition, hard work and reward, are the accepted realities of world nations, but just as importantly, freedom from blind solutions, the power to decide their own destiny and to be extended that curtsey are also common themes.

When a doctor asks the patient what’s wrong, if he/she doesn’t listen attentively the diagnosis would be misguided and the patient could receive the wrong medication. By the same analogy, we believe the doctor (Inquiry into Crofting) misdiagnosed the symptoms and the wound is beginning to suppurate.

As a result the time is fast approaching when we will soon be witnessing the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of indigenous populations in the worst of all places, Skye?

Another barrier would very definitely be the popular perception that the ‘crofting way of life’ is a divine destiny of the noble peasant. And the very suggestion that it is crofting legislature that is the real problem, and that crofters are the ones responsible for suspending us in formaldehyde, like lab specimens, would suffer upon us an outrage from those that think they know what the answer is, far less the question?

But this message can only get through if the debate is wide open. To grasp the separate threads, although at first sight in the mind may appear confusing, it should surely not be beyond the wit of commentators more eloquent than sideactivity?

Be advised, it is not the wish of sideactivity to see the demise of crofting. Far from it, all our contributors are crofters, but we represent the minority. Indeed to the contrary, we say that if any of the townsfolk of the crofting counties want to continue, or begin, crofting they should have that right. Perhaps with enterprise assistance as is the case for any start-up.

Likewise, if any townsfolk choose to follow another route surely then it is behove of any modern world society, such as a strong, enterprising and independent Scotland, to, in the interests of economic sustainability and growth, encourage this. But, they should not be dispossessed from their ancestral, cultural and physical stewardship of this land because they refuse to accept government handouts in the form of grants and a way of life which preserves the notion that crofting townships are fragile.

It is precisely because we are continually labelled as fragile that we see ourselves as fragile; or rather, others see us as fragile. We do not… It’s become so clouded an issue that it has come full circle and now self-fulfilling. We do not aspire to this definition of ourselves. But we are habitually and solemnly face to face with this romantic account of our culture by those that think they have a grasp of it. They could not be further from the truth.

The way to challenge this confusing duality of land stewardship,whether by tying down crofters with grants or emancipating the aspirations of ALL townsfolk by removing sanctions, is to null any historic dispensations and negotiations with ‘traditional’ landlords and present the keys to the rightful (Allodial) incumbents; tenant crofters and townspeople. We should ‘own’ our crofts outright, including any historic mineral burdens, etc. This Legislature should be swept in without delay. And, just like any citizen of Scotland, townsfolk should be able to decide what they are to do for a living without the threat of sanctions from, landlords, the Government and the Crofting Commission.

At the moment the two, quite separate, definitions for our way of live have been treated as one in the same, for too long. So that the one is indistinguishable from the other, and, are very often merged into one, as though they were one…? They are not. One would retain grants, happily suspended in a protected economic system, the other would live in reality, but be at the same time unshackled, free to pursue a sustainable path, and to actively contribute to the future development of their and the country’s economic aspirations.

Education is the answer. Open debate, free debate; to be encouraged to mention the ‘unmentionable’. The Shucksmith Report should have been a study in Township economics not restricted to crofting. We lost a magnificent opportunity to really examine what the crofting way of life is. We can only do this by open, educated, free debate. A funded phD student could concentrate on this activity. Go door to door and sit with people in the comfort of their own homes. Produce a paper on the subject. Find out what the townsfolk really want. Perhaps even an affinity group such as sideactivity could do their own report, but we would need funding? It is our personal local experiences which gives us the confidence to challenge ‘official’ perceptions. We ‘on the ground’ know what is good for us; and not necessarily academics and bureaucrats.

Thank You.

Sideactivity

18/1/13

Scotland will very soon be ours once again. If we are to be a strong, confident and enterprising world nation we desperately need to be free in conviction and honest with ourselves.

sideactivity are of no doubt all Scots are made of the right stuff; independent of mind and passionately visionary. We see this every day in our rural township. But we desperately need open and expansive debate from every view-point. With this in mind, it may surprise the Scottish Government that, as well as Scotland, we here in the crofting counties have our own first-hand experience of being ruled by a system that is foreign to our universal freedoms and civil liberties?

So, we (at sideactivity) humbly and respectfully submit our view-point for the consideration of the Land Review Reform Group.

Those who live on the land and have been connected to the land for centuries should have the right of determination to act as they see fit in a capitalist country, rather than face the whims of an authoritative body whose sole aim is not, as is often claimed, to be the true protectors of our culture, but to force us to be tied, under threat of eviction, to a system which suffers the population to toil under the ever increasing burdens, restrictions and enforcements of a living museum. [last paragraph; ‘The making of the crofting community’ James Hunter]

As crofters ourselves we earnestly believe the people of the Crofting Counties of Rural Scotland should be encouraged to buy their land/crofts as is already the case, and once bought, they should be designated as being removed from the legal definition of crofting…? Then, if they are single-mindedly drawn to crofting, as we in sideactivity are, they should be given every encouragement to receive grants just as any other farmer in the UK.

Surely it is dependant upon the individual free will as to whether the citizens of rural townships of Highland Scotland should be a bricklayer, dentist, fisherman, architect or anything else they see fit. And, not to be locked into a system that forces them in only one direction, under threat of being throw off their croft by the Crofting Commission. Surely townspeople should always be encouraged to engage in anything to improve their economic circumstances, and in the mean time if they want to be crofters – then be crofters. Although, not everyone who lives in the Highlands wants to be a crofter? In fact, most are not?

Sideactivity are all crofters from Skye. We love being crofters. But we all feel very passionately that our fellow townspeople are being forced into crofting?

The shucksmith report highlighted issues that would seek to strengthen crofts; not people. Crofts don’t define our way of live, people do. Townspeople. Thousands of them. Yet they were not asked. Crofters were asked. Townspeople’s views were not sought.

To say this was a thorough report into the grievances of crofting way of life would be deluded. The true nub of the question became super-imposed by focusing on the efficacy of the crofting system, whilst claiming to strengthen our ‘culture’. But our culture is the people, not an agrarian system..?

This land is our land, the peoples, and our ancestors land, we will defiantly defend it from all-comers. And, that includes any over-politicised, self-important authoritative bodies, such as the Crofting Commission, the Landed Elites of Scotland and the Legislatures, that believe they are acting in the peoples best interests?

Crofting is fine for us crofters; we all get grants that help us survive. But wouldn’t we get agricultural grants to preserve/steward the land even if we weren’t in a fragile crofting area?

Many of our fellow townspeople don’t choose to croft. Should they be punished for that? Some are teachers, one’s an award winning architect… shouldn’t they decide what’s best for them not the government, landlord or Commission?

1. Abolish this soviet style agrarian system, that is surely the true reason why the land of our fathers is persistently and widely labelled as fragile.
2. Cut out the swathes of red that cover the political map of the highlands from the Great Glen – north westwards and…
3. Free our fellow townspeople from a life of burdens. ‘leave a man alone to his fate’, said Burns

Cement your place in history alongside Angus Stewart of Braes and Burns himself; the two men quoted at the inauguration of the Scottish Parliament. Do this for Angus and Rabbie and for Scotland.

Pass a law tomorrow that hands over crofts to their rightful stewards; the ones that have toiled for generations without autonomy. Give them all rights to their crofts – wholly free of mineral burdens, etc.

Give the people of the highlands their universal rights and leave them to their ‘fate’. Stop meddling. Encourage pluralism of aspiration. These handouts and conditions taint us and suspend us in formaldehyde like lab specimens. They choke us. This land is not fragile.

‘Millions’ are earned here – in the heart of Scotland. From fish-farming, forestry, whiskey, renewables, hydro, land prices, houses prices and the majority of it is invariably syphoned off to international corporations around the world. Scotland is rich. And rural Scotland is richer still. But above all that, our people are our priceless asset. Let them share in the wealth of this great nation and the wealth of their own culture, unfettered by burdens. Only then will there be true reform.

Sideactivity.
18/1/13

Sideactivity has identified a possibly new, as yet untried and tested, method to help reduce exorbitantly high vehicle insurance premiums for crofters. This method should reduce premiums considerably, year on year, by pooling the resources of a co-operatively owned and managed fund (a self-insurance fund) established by its membership (Folk from the townships of the crofting counties of Scotland).

We are currently working to identify agencies and consultants best placed to provide and administer this method of insurance and are confident the Scottish Government will participate in the form of new Legislature to protect premium assistance provisions for affinity groups such as crofting townsfolk.

There may well be significant sideactivities to emerge in the form of value-added markets within this affinity group?

sideactivity is a Pluralist think-tank for the Townsfolk of the crofting counties of the Highlands of Scotland. It is a new group established by Skye Crofters to examine methods of working and production that expand and add value to wholly sustainable practice. Autonomous in deed and actions…