Giving away an island: Part 4 (and other land reform stories)

That Scottish land question, eh? No-one seems to be able to answer it once and for all. In fact, what was the question again?

Anyway, leaving that [huge] question to one side, you may recall I blogged about giving away the island of Great Bernera. The BBC carries an update today, as follows:

Residents on Great Bernera on the west side of Lewis have been given until 1 April to decide whether to take over the isle in a community buyout.

The family of Count Robin Mirrlees, who owned the island until his death in June last year, have given crofters first refusal on buying it.

The count had lived on Great Bernera for 40 years.

Tom Macdonald, of Great Bernera Development Group, said the offer of first refusal was a “fitting gesture”.

I await further notes from that small island with interest. Another story that has broken today is that Raasay crofters lost out in a tendering exercise by Scottish Ministers for sporting rights on that island (report in Gaelic, but see also the video where the Scottish Government is accused of acting like an absentee landlord). The crofters had apparently enjoyed those rights for some time in terms of a lease, but The Scotsman reports (in English) that the crofters came fifth out of five. And therein lies a crucial land question. How much is it worth? As a supplementary question, should the Scottish Ministers be bound to accept the most economically advantageous tender in these circumstances, even if that freezes the locals out? I wonder what the West Highland Free Press position is? You can read the “Robbed at gunpoint!” analysis here.

Meanwhile, nothing is happening in Pairc.

Okay, not quite. The landowner has managed to air some views online and on BBC Alba’s excellent Eòrpa on the back of the recent Court of Session judgment and it seems he wants to make some progress towards transferring the whole estate, subject to adequate funds being provided by the community. I have no idea how much he is seeking but, speaking as a lawyer who has done a bit of negotiation training, I do wonder whether the landowner is aware of BATNAs and WATNAs. The “top-line” figure for the crofters, at least in terms of land under crofting tenure, has to be that of the land as valued under the terms of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, plus a top-up of some sort to reflect the time, administration and legal costs saved by avoiding that legislative route. If there is a disparity between what the landowner expects and this figure, then there needs to be a reassessment of sorts (at least in respect of land that is eligible in terms of the statute).

It might also be noted that the landowner is challenging the community’s ballot that approved the land acquisition in Stornoway Sheriff Court as being unfair (in terms of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and associated legislation). That observation is offered with no comment.

There is a fair chance this whole land question thing will be written about again. And again. Meanwhile, you can catch Eòrpa on iPlayer for the next 6 days, then hear about the whole land reform and competing rights thing at the SECC next Wednesday.

Update: On 25 February, The Herald carried a very interesting article with input from Jim Hunter, who characterised the Raasay sporting rights decision as a transfer to “external and absentee” interests that “runs counter to the Government’s stated commitment to empower communities and to expand community control of assets.” It seems the winning bid was some £2,000 a year higher than the crofters’ bid. Andy Wightman’s blog on the point is also worth a look for an interesting exchange with the relevant Scottish Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP.

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About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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2 Responses to Giving away an island: Part 4 (and other land reform stories)

  1. neilking says:

    What’s happening with the wind farm planning application on Pairc? That seems to have gone very quiet for a very long time now and is surely the most critical factor in the whole saga.

    • basedrones says:

      You ask a very good question. The Trust (as in the community) have also been granted Ministerial consent to buyout the interposed lease to the “Renewables” company, so that must have thrown the proverbial spanner in the works. Meantime all over the island the initial bold schemes have been pared back and (perhaps most importantly) there is still no interconnector that is able to export electricity across the Minch. I understand the only way to export energy at the moment is via a wood-pole line through Harris then via Skye. (I would be grateful if anyone more knowledgeable can correct me!) All in all, there is plenty to make wind-farming seem less of a sound bet than it was a few years ago.

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