A local farming leader has backed criticism made by a crofting law expert of Scottish government consultation.
NFU chairman Jim Nicolson has commented after Brian Inkster spoke out against Holyrood proposals over the division of crofting constituencies.
Due to the Western Isles containing almost a third of all crofts, it has been suggested that this constituency could be divided into two. Under the proposal, Lewis and Harris could emerge as one constituency with Uist and Barra as another.
However, creating two new constituencies from one would mean larger or combined constituencies elsewhere if the number of constituencies were to be maintained at the current level of six.
The resulting options put forward in the consultation paper see Orkney and Shetland combined into one constituency or, alternatively, both combined with Caithness.
That, says Mr Nicolson, would present practical difficulties, and should be avoided.
“Regarding constituencies, my position is that Shetland remains a constituency on its own,” he said.
“It’s very, very difficult for whoever is the commissioner. It’s time consuming, expensive, and there are a large number of crofters to represent in Shetland as it is.”
Mr Inkster had described the consultation exercise as “flawed”.
“What the consultation paper misses altogether is that there is no need to be confined to six constituencies.
“The mistake appears to be an assumption that because there are currently six elected crofting commissioners there must be six constituencies. But in the same way that the Scottish government may, by regulations, amend constituency boundaries they can likewise vary the number of elected members under and in terms of paragraph 3(6)(c) of Schedule 1 to the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993.
What the consultation paper misses altogether is that there is no need to be confined to six constituencies. BRIAN INKSTER
“This could and should be given as an option in the consultation paper. By not offering it the consultation is flawed.”
Liberal Democrat candidate in the Scottish election Tavish Scott has called for Shetland and Orkney to be considered as separate constituencies in the 2017 crofting election.
Mr Scott said: “Shetland’s crofting communities face different challenges to those in Orkney, but yet again the Scottish government is proposing to ride roughshod over the needs of local people.
“The SNP simply does not understand these differences. Already we have ministers who have imposed a one-size-fits-all approach, failing to take into account the unique nature of crofting in the isles.
“Already crofters are spending more time meeting the demands of regulation and waiting for payments that have been delayed by months.
“The consultation needs to offer something different: separate constituencies for Orkney and Shetland in the 2017 crofting election.
“Diversity between our crofting communities should be encouraged and supported but the SNP does not appear willing to even entertain that idea.”