Alasdair Allan, the long-serving SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, said he was concerned residents of Great Bernera, which sits to the north of Lewis, have been trying to buy out the island from Frankfurt-based student Cyran de la Lanne-Mirrlees for more than a decade.
Mr de la Lanne-Mirrlees, who inherited Great Bernera from his grandfather, has reportedly never visited the island and has “frustrated” efforts for its purchase under the Land Reform Act, Mr Allan said.
The MSP called for legislation to be strengthened so that residents like those on Great Bernera could press on and make improvements to their community.
Mr Allan said those acting for Mr de la Lanne-Mirrlees have managed to resist Scotland’s land reform provisions designed to allow a crofting community buyout without the owner’s agreement.
The MSP said: “More needs to be done. The Scottish Government is committed to a Land Reform Bill during this Parliament. As well as hopefully enabling a wider and more equitable distribution of land, it needs to make it easier for groups to face-off against hostile landowners.
"It’s simply not right that, in 2023, the ambitions of a community like Bernera have been indefinitely vetoed by an absentee landlord. If we want the right to buy to be a proper right for crofting communities, it does now need more legal muscle behind it.”
Mr Allan’s comments come as community landowners from the Northern Isles to Dumfries and Galloway gather in Lewis and Harris this week to share ideas and progress at an event organised by Community Land Scotland and Community Land Outer Hebrides
Despite the issues on Great Bernera, Mr Allan said just over 50 per cent of the Outer Hebrides was now community owned.
He said: “The Western Isles has gone from an area where land ownership has historically been concentrated in the hands of a few to the centre of community land ownership in Scotland. While most of Scotland rural land is in private hands, more than 75 per cent of people in the Western Isles today live on community-owned land.
“This has empowered many communities to take control of their own futures and ensure that the land and resources that sustain them are managed in a way that benefits the community as a whole.”
In 2015, a vote held by The Great Bernera Community Development Trust (GBCDT) found that 142 residents (85 per cent of the population) were in favour of a buy-out.
An independent valuation of £70,000 for 5,000 acres of land, which sits mostly under crofting tenure, was rejected by Mr de le Lannes, who said it was worth around £500,000.
A fresh buyout bid was made in 2018, with an application then made in 2021 to force a sale.
It is perceived Mr de le Lannes has repeatedly delayed the process under section three of the 2003 Land Reform Act, which allows community buy-outs to proceed where there is a hostile landlord and a majority support from the crofting community.
Islanders have called for amendments to section three to strengthen the buyout process. Cyran de la Lanne-Mirrlees recently told the BBC Eorpa programme he planned to visit Bernera in the near future.