Scottish Government accused of ‘21st century Highland clearances’

AN ANTIQUES specialist has claimed he is the victim of a “21st century Highland clearances” as he faces eviction from the croft that has been in his family for 60 years.

AN ANTIQUES specialist has claimed he is the victim of a “21st century Highland clearances” as he faces eviction from the croft that has been in his family for 60 years.

Jeremy Gow is one of dozens of crofters who have fallen foul of a drive to enforce Scottish Government legislation.

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Crofting law, administered by the Scottish Government quango the Crofters Commission, says that crofters must be “ordinarily resident” within a 32km radius of their croft.

Next month, Mr Gow will be forced to give up his croft, which stands in a spectacular location overlooking the Rabbit islands on the far northern coast of Sutherland.

The father-of-two, who runs an antiques restoration business outside Forfar, Angus, is furious that he is to lose the land that he once regarded as his children’s inheritance.

Despite Mr Gow making regular visits to the croft on the Melness Crofting Estate, near Tongue, and having business interests in Sutherland, he says he is a victim of the SNP Government’s tightening of crofting laws to tackle absenteeism.

“I am a Scot, who is losing his land,” Mr Gow said.

He claimed he was being “hounded out” of his croft, when other crofters were being overlooked, including some who spend most of their time on mainland Europe or in Canada and the USA.

“The truth is that I am no more absent that anyone else,” Mr Gow said. “I am up there a lot of the time, but I can’t run my antiques business from there.”

In recent years, the Scottish Government and the publicly funded Crofting Commission has presided over a tightening of the law after a report by Professor Mark Shucksmith recommended cracking down on absentee crofters.

Mr Gow, however, feels strongly that Roseanna Cunningham, the environment minister who has overseen the move, is penalising those who cannot make a full-time living from the land.

“Roseanna Cunningham has not been prepared to listen to the people and she has not taken into consideration our point of view. I have written letters to the Crofting Commission and they are not even prepared to meet me or visit the site and that’s despicable,” said Mr Gow.

He took the precaution of buying his croft house, but the loss of the four acres that surrounds it is still a bitter blow.

“It is like a 21st century Highland clearances,” Mr Gow said. “It used to be that people were moved out by the big estate owners, who wanted to get people out of the way. This is another form of it.”

His case has been taken up by Scottish Lands and Estates, the body representing land owners and rural businesses. Drew McFarlane-Slack, Highland regional manager of Scottish Land and Estates said: “This is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Nick Reiter, chief executive of the Crofting Commission, did not comment specifically on Gow’s case.

However, he said: “The legislation puts certain duties on the crofters and croft tenants in terms of residency and use of the croft. There is a long process if those duties are not being met in which the crofter can remedy the situation. So they have lots of opportunities to do something about it. If they don’t do anything, the commission has a duty to terminate their lease.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The commission is working with absentee crofters to find suitable solutions, giving them every opportunity to resolve the situation.”