The Assynt Crofters Trust of 1993 (Sutherland, Scotland)

Note:

I came across this excellent brief write-up on the 1993 Assynt Crofters Trust on-line -- which makes Eigg the second, and not the first time in recent history the tenants have gained ownership of their land.

Who will be next?

- Douglas MacGowan


Assynt, like much of the North West Highlands and Islands of Scotland, has suffered greatly over the past two hundred years. Land held in trust for generations under the clan system has been sold to alien classes, many of whom see the crofting tenants (indigenous subsistence farmers) as a pest and a burden.

Forced clearances from the homelands, frequent crop failures, failed economic ventures by the landowners, followed by massive outward migration, led to a population collapse. In Assynt the population fell from around 2500 in 1850 to around 800 in 1950.

The passing of the Crofters Act by the UK government in 1886 protected the crofters from further eviction and fixed fair rents - but significantly did not restore the stolen lands.

In 1989 the former absentee landlowner Edmond Vestey, whose millionaire family purchased the Assynt Estate in the mid 1930s, sold the North Assynt area for over 1million to SPS Ltd, a company owned by Swedish businessmen which was set up to speculate in land. SPS went bankrupt in 1992 and the estate was put in the hands of a receiver to be broken up and offered for sale again in seven lots for a total asking price of 473,000.

The North Assynt Estate consists of 21,000 acres, all croft land except three non croft subjects - Torbreck House and two plots of non croft land totalling 90 acres. There are thirteen townships with around 130 tenants.

The crofters were angry at this blatant attempt to use our land for speculative purposes, breaking up our crofting communities and selling it to people who have no interest or sympathy for crofting. The brochure advertising the sale even claimed that the crofters are perhaps "alien " to this land - in spite of 8000 years of occupation!

The 130 tenants decided to fight for the control of their land.

We made it known that we were prepared to go to the Scottish Land Court to exercise our rights under the 1976 Crofting Reform Act to acquire the title to as much of our land as possible at 15 times the rent and nominate Assynt Crofters Trust Ltd - a Company set up by the crofters - to take the title if our land was broken up and sold. This, we hoped, would warn off prospective buyers.

Then we decided to buy the estate. We wanted to seize this opportunity in a positive way so we sought to raise the necessary funds to buy all of the assets - the land, fishing, game, woodland, minerals rights and the non croft assets. This would enable us to take over and manage the whole estate and oust any residual absentee landlord interest.

And we did it. Crofters, their families and friends raised 130,000. We were given grants of 50,000 from CASE, 20,000 from SNH, and 10,000 from HRC. Together with a loan of 90,000 from Highland Prospect to buy Torbreck House, we were able to submit a successful offer of 300,000.

On the 1st February 1993 we became the first crofting communities to take complete control of our land. Our success means that we have put an end to the stranglehold of absentee landlords on the Crofting communities of North Assynt and set in motion an irresistible change in the land tenure system throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.


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