Owner-occupier crofters currently find themselves in a legal limbo over the issue of decrofting, with Scottish ministers and the Crofting Commission apparently uncertain of exactly how to solve the problem.
The situation first came to light at the end of last month when the commission announced that, following legal advice on the 2010 Crofting Reform Act, they would no longer be processing decrofting applications from owner occupiers. They did promise, however, to look further at the issue to see how it might be resolved.
Last week though, a statement from the commission confirmed the position already laid out, explaining that “as the law currently stands, there is no provision that allows owner occupier crofters to decroft [all or part of their land]”.
The statement went on: “The commission will continue to work urgently with the Scottish government to find a long term solution. In the meantime the commission confirms that landlords of vacant crofts and tenants are still able to decroft.
“Owner occupier crofters finding themselves compromised by recent legal clarity are advised to seek independent legal advice as to possible remedies. They may also find it useful to contact the Crofting Law Group and/or NFU Scotland and/or Scottish Crofting Federation.”
The crofting reform act came into force on 1st October 2011 but it was only this year that the flaw in the legislation was exposed. There has so far been no clarification for the 179 crofters across Scotland whose decrofting applications have been accepted since 2011, or for the 59 whose applications have already been submitted.
MSP Tavish Scott this week described the situation as a “shambles” and demanded that the government act to resolve it immediately.
He said: “Many crofters in Shetland are now denied the right to remove crofting regulation from their land by the nationalist government’s 2010 Crofting Reform Act, an act I voted against.
“It is completely unacceptable for the government and the commission to state as they did jointly last Thursday that it is now up to crofters to take their own legal advice. That is a disgraceful position for the government to adopt.
“There is now legal uncertainty over title to land that has been decrofted since the 2010 Act passed. I have had crofters, solicitors, builders and others constantly on the phone since this utter shambles emerged. I expected the First Minister to have taken action by now, it needs resolved immediately.”
Local Scottish Crofting Federation director David Smith, from Levenwick, offered a more conciliatory response, however.
“Obviously there’s a problem,” he said, “and obviously the Scottish government are aware of it. They’ll have to do whatever it takes to resolve it. It may mean that they have to bring forward emergency legislation to the parliament.”
Should that be the case, Mr Smith said, “everybody will support that legislation I’m sure, because it has to be resolved. So there will be no problem getting it through parliament. Or there shouldna be.
“So, cock up, yes; conspiracy, no.”