Consensus and conflict over future of crofting

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Debate on the future of crofting at a hustings organised by crofters in North Argyll saw three of the five candidates discuss issues as diverse as house building, vacant crofts and the future.

The meeting was held at the Creagan Inn, near Appin, on Thursday evening. The two Lochaber candidates were unable to make the event due to prior commitments. Catherine MacKinnon, the only woman standing for election, and Ronnie Campbell – known as Ronnie the Crofter – sent their apologies.

Chaired by David Colthart, of Appin, the meeting was well attended, with people at times straining to hear the arguments put forward.

The evening kicked off with each candidate delivering a seven-minute speech about their views and candidacy for crofting.

Uilleam Smith, an Islay crofter who moved to Inverness 30 years ago to work for the Crofting Commission, set out his stall as someone who has the credentials as a crofter with experience, understanding and the contacts within the commission to improve the lot of crofting.

Billy Neilson, a crofter from Taynuilt, discussed passionately the future of crofting and the need to ensure good standards and proper training for people who want to come into crofting. He talked about building crofting communities and the entitlement of crofters to be supported by other employment.

Coll crofter Colin Kennedy is standing for re-election. He talked about the work he has completed so far and his need to continue to make the commission work for crofters. In the past five years, he claimed, he had uncovered cronyism alongside different rules across the country – many of which were in breach of Crofting Commission regulations.

While all candidates spoke with authority, there was a notable difference between the views of Mr Smith and Mr Neilson versus that of Mr Kennedy.

While Mr Kennedy was very clear in his position and role of the commission, he was dismissive of any deviation from the Crofting Act that could be delivered by candidates. Messrs Smith and Neilson could see the potential of crofters linking into other areas of legislation and sharing advice and knowledge.

In a question posed by Marina Curran-Colthart, an Appin crofter who raised the issue of land reform, Mr Kennedy replied: ‘I don’t think that the Crofting Commission can deliver what it is meant to do at the moment, so how can it take on anything else?’

Mr Neilson wanted to use his position as a commissioner to create a place for crofting for his children and for grandchildren.

Mr Smith refuted an allegation by Mr Kennedy that his standing in the election broke any rules of the commission, as the Coll crofter had previously alleged.

The candidates all agreed that the legislation as it stands is not fit for purpose. Candidates varied in their enthusiasm for decrofting, house building and wind turbine building on crofts.

At the end of the meeting, crofters were reminded that voting slips need to be returned by March 16, with election counts taking place on March 17 in many areas.