Crofting legislation is a mess and action should be taken by the next Scottish Government, political representatives agreed at yesterday's Crofting Law Conference.
Organised by the WS Society and the Crofting Law Group and held in the Signet Library, Edinburgh, the conference heard an address from Trudi Sharp, Deputy Director of Agriculture, Rural Development & Land Reform in the Scottish Government. Ms Sharp, who stood in for the minister, Dr Aileen McLeod, who was unwell, indicated that she had yet to speak to anyone who would disagree with the sentiment that there was a need to simplify crofting legislation. She said: “The minister is clear that crofting legislation should be well thought through with stakeholders and deliver law that is modern, simple and fit for purpose.”
Representing the opposition were Rhoda Grant MSP, Scottish Labour; Tavish Scott MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrats; Donald Cameron, election candidate for the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party; and Andy Wightman, election candidate for the Scottish Green Party. At a "Crofting Question Time", moderated by Jean Urquhart MSP, they were joined by Rob Gibson MSP, Scottish National Party.
There was little in the way of disagreement about the need for crofting law reform. Rhoda Grant described the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 as a "mess" that "probably needs to be revoked altogether". This was echoed by Tavish Scott who remarked: “The less said about the 2010 Act the better. It is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed by the Scottish Government.”
Both Tavish Scott and Rhoda Grant took the view that crofting can mean different things in different areas. Shetland, for example, is very different to other areas that may work in a more communal way, and the current legislation does not recognise these differences.
Donald Cameron was of the view that it was “time for crofting law to be for the crofters and not the lawyers”. He warned though that “if you legislate in haste on crofting law you will repent at leisure”. Andy Wightman, quoting Dr Jim Hunter, referred to crofting law as a “highly unsatisfactory guddle”.
Brian Inkster, honorary secretary of the Crofting Law Group, commented: “It is heartening to see such cross-party support for crofting law reform. The word ‘mess’ was used more than once to describe the current state of crofting legislation. It is to be hoped that the next Scottish Government take cognisance of this and put crofting high on their agenda for new legislation during the next parliamentary term.”