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Law and change: Scottish legal heroes
Law and change: Scottish legal heroes

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Assynt Crofters’ Trust and Allan Macrae

The 1 February 1993 has become an historic date in relation to the laws of land tenure in Scotland.

In 1989 the Vestey family sold the North Lochinver Estate (the ‘Estate’) in three parcels for £1 million to a Swedish land speculator. The people who lived and worked the land were not consulted and were presented with a fait accomplis.

In 1992 that Swedish land speculator went into liquidation. A London firm of Liquidators appointed selling agents. The ‘Estate’ was divided into seven parcels. Once again there was no consultation of the local people who lived and worked on the land. The possibility of a number of disinterested and remote landlords loomed large for those who lived and worked on the land for generations. Their homes and livelihoods were at risk through a process over which they had no input or control.

A public meeting was called at which it was proposed that the crofters on the Estate should try and raise sufficient money to bid for the land themselves. This would enable them to secure their own future and the future genera­tions to come. The aim was to achieve 100% croft ownership.

There were no forgone conclusions and the crofters worked hard to raise awareness of their situation and to secure capital with which to buy the Estate. Their campaign began to gain wide support thanks to publicity on a local and international level. The crofters formed a trust, the Assynt Crofters’ Trust. As a result of the publicity offers of support and financial contributions were made to the trust from all over the world.

Despite the support shown it was not a straightforward process. Two offers to buy were made to the liquidators, both were refused. The trust had to change tactics and turned to the legal regulations of the time. They threatened to use right-to-buy provisions of crofting law to buy the crofts. This option had drawbacks (it was potentially expensive, time-consuming and involved resorting to legal provisions) and would not have given the trust complete control of the estate. However those tactics meant the Estate was less attractive to other buyers. Compulsory purchase of the crofts would force new landowners to sell parts of Estate land for a fraction of its value.

In December 1992 a deal was reached with a sale price of £300,000 pounds. Almost half of the money was raised by locals and their supporters worldwide, the rest was made up from grants and loans from public bodies.

On 1st February 1993, following their hard fought campaign, the Assynt Crofters’ Trust took title to the land and, in the words of the local MP, 'lit a bea­con throughout Scotland’.

On 26 June 2013 a motion was lodged at the Scottish Parliament which noted:

That the Parliament notes with regret the untimely death of Allan Macrae at Lochinver who led the successful Assynt crofters' bid in 1993 to take control of the North Lochinver estate, which involved teamwork and leadership of a high order; understands that this was the first modern takeover of crofting land and has inspired today’s community land movement to reclaim 500,000 acres of Scotland into local control; recalls what it considers Allan’s dramatic use of language that galvanised his fellow crofters to persevere in retaking the land of their ancestors and make it subject to modern local democratic control; understands that there was world-wide welcome for the Assynt crofters’ success, and contends that this action of the Assynt crofters represents a major part of the modern-day land rights movement and set a template for many more similar buyouts by communities across the Highlands and Islands and the rest of Scotland.

Allan MacRae of the Assynt Crofters’ Trust
Figure 10 Allan MacRae of the Assynt Crofters’ Trust