As a non-crofter and not even coming from a crofting county, I often find myself feeling like the outsider in the organisation.
That’s not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing as I can ask the “daft laddie” questions from a position of authority. There’s a huge amount of history involved in crofting, not all of it helpful, and having someone who can question and challenge the “always been”, to really understand how our system has got to where it is, is of vital importance to understanding where it needs to be now and for the future.
It’s clear that much of the current public support for crofting relates to the social aspects such as access to housing and supporting population retention. These issues take up a lot of time for those bodies representing crofting too – especially how to make crofting both attractive and available to future generations.
There’s much that can be done to make crofts available to young people, at least for them to use, especially by those who may no longer wish or be able to use their croft and communicating these possibilities is something I see as key issue for both the Commission and the representative bodies to take forward.
It’s also vital that the “average crofter” takes a more proactive stance in describing the benefits that crofting brings to Scotland. Statements like “quality food, locally produced from high nature-value enterprises” probably do not trip off the tongues of many, but it’s the sort of language that is commonly used by those making decisions about the future of crofting.
I do notice one aspect of crofting that seems to be dying in many areas which was previously a major strength of crofting – collective effort. Increasingly, every croft is run as an individual enterprise with little sense of common purpose. Grazings committees, where they exist, are often poorly supported by the shareholders. Everyone has to find, buy or hire their own equipment and help. This lack of collectivism in my view is hugely damaging to crofting. Disagreements in communities and failure to take the benefits that are to be had from working together, and collectively communicating what is being done, could be more damaging to crofting than changes to legislative or financial support mechanisms.
Perhaps it’s time for crofters to take a greater role in shaping the future of a crofting system that’s fit for another couple of hundred years?