Shine A Light

Hebridean crofters fight SNP government, the new 'oppressive landlord'

A tussle over sporting rights on the tiny Isle of Raasay casts more doubt upon the Scottish National Party government’s commitment to localism.

Mel Kelly
8 March 2013

After the shocking revelations in the highly acclaimed documentary “You’ve Been Trumped” by Alan Baxter, documenting a small Scottish community’s fight against Donald Trump and the Scottish Authorities, one of the locals from Menie, farmer Michael Forbes said “I’ve voted SNP for years, but never again. They sold us out”. Forbes, who won the Top Scot prize at the 2012 Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland awards, said he is looking for a public apology from Alex Salmond, the man who backed Donald Trump’s development in the first place.

Despite SNP Leader Alex Salmond's claims last April that “voters can trust the SNP” another small Scottish community finds its way of life under threat by the SNP government.

In January this year, the SNP government informed the Crofters Association on the Inner Hebridean island of Raasay that they were to be stripped of the lease to Raasay’s fishing and sporting rights — rights they had managed successfully for 18 years. The government said it was putting the rights out to tender. In truth, they had decided back in December to hand the lease to a private company, South Ayrshire Stalking, for their profit.

The West Highland Free Press reported: “since 1995 the Crofters’ Association has erected and extended deer fences, invested in deer management training for its members, bought equipment and chilling facilities and hosted stalkers and woodcock shooters. It has established a popular wholesale trade in Raasay venison, venison burgers and sausages.”

The Raasay Crofters wrote a letter of appeal on 14 January. On 22 February, the BBC reported that their appeal had failed. Ministers from the Free Church of Scotland wrote in support of the crofters, reminding the government: “The Free Church has historically supported crofters’ rights against oppressive landlords”.

The makers of “You’ve Been Trumped” were contacted. Just 6 days later, the decision which the SNP Crofter’s Minister claimed could not be reversed was u-turned, as Alex Salmond announced at last week’s First Ministers Questions in the Scottish Parliament.

South Ayrshire Stalking is to be awarded £9,000 compensation for relinquishing a lease they had officially held for just a few weeks – the compensation equates to just short of the total lease fees paid by the crofters for the past 14 years.

Despite the SNP Crofters Minister’s Paul Wheelhouse’s claims that he was horrified at the original decision, when he was contacted by the crofter’s MSP, Dave Thomson, last Friday he claimed “the decision to award the contract to South Ayrshire Stalking after a competitive tendering bidding process had been made by officials without ministerial involvement”.

On 1 March, Paul Wheelhouse told BBC Alba, “only latterly had the issue come to the attention of ministers”.

Yet this same Paul Wheelhouse wrote a letter to Highland Conservative MSP, Jamie MacGrigor on 6 February stating “we are unable to reconsider our decision.” And “I am sure you will appreciate that Scottish Ministers are governed by principles to ensure that we achieve best value for the assets we hold on behalf of the people of Scotland.”

The minister has yet to explain his conflicting accounts of the matter, nor how a spurious attempt to “achieve best value” for Scottish taxpayers should have been attempted against the clear rights and wishes of the local people of Raasay. Are they not Scottish too?

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