Preparations began this week for the first ever elections to the new Crofting Commission, which replaces the current Crofters Commission.
For the first time, six people will be democratically elected by Scotland’s crofting community to represent their interests. The remaining three spaces are to be filled by ministerial appointment, announced on Wednesday.
One of the ministerial appointments is investment manager Sandy Cross, whose family lived at Vementery and who stood unsuccessfully as a Conservative candidate for Shetland in the last Scottish parliamentary elections. The others are Skye crofter Susan Walker and veterinary surgeon William Swann.
The postal ballot for the further six members will take place in March 2012 with the count on 16th March. The official change to the Crofting Commission will then come into effect on 1st April.
Whalsay woman Eleanor Arthur, chairwoman of the Scottish Crofting Federation, said the elections were an “exciting development” for crofting as crofters would be able to directly influence how crofting was regulated in the future.
Mrs Arthur said: “I would encourage all crofters who are eligible to vote to make sure the commission have the correct details for them so that they receive a ballot paper. They should also consider standing for election and they should certainly encircle their vote.”
Environment minister Stewart Stevenson said: “The Scottish government wants to give crofters a voice to determine their own future and these first ever Crofting Commission elections is a solid step down that road.
“Crofting has defined cultural shifts in our history. Today marks another historic moment – when Scotland’s crofters get a seat at the table to make decisions that affect their future.
“The Scottish government believes crofts that are occupied and worked can be the biggest contribution to the sustainable economic growth and development of our crofting communities. Having an effective regulator is a vital part of achieving that aim.”
The Highland Council chief executive Alistair Dodds, who will act as returning officer, said the landmark election was a great opportunity for crofters to engage with the decisions that affect them.
“There are many able people within crofting communities from Shetland to Argyll and I hope to see many coming forward and running for the six positions on the board,” Mr Dodds said.
The deadline for submitting changes to the Register of Crofts, which will be used to compile the crofting electoral roll, is 19th January. Voting is restricted to one vote per croft and to one vote per crofter: a multiple occupancy croft must nominate one voter, and a crofter with multiple crofts is only eligible for one vote.
The elections will be conducted using a postal ballot with ballot papers being issued on 27th February and the count taking place in Inverness at the Highland Council Headquarters on Friday 16th March.