NORRIE T MACDONALD: Crofts have become the bitcoin of the Hebrides

A recent plan for a glamping site at Luskentyre in Harris proved hugely controversial


Here’s a hypothetical situation; Murdo Dan and Chrissie Mary have been ‘working’ the croft that has been in the family for years without much financial reward. 

Yes, it’s more of a hobby than a full-time commitment, but it’s ‘in the blood’.

Sure they both love looking after the sheep and lambs every year, and they plant a few potatoes which go down well with the odd, early season, sgadan. But were it not for Murdo Dan’s job as a joiner and Chrissie Mary doing a few shifts as a carer, their economic ‘situation’ would be very difficult indeed.

To supplement their income, they have decided to use their meagre savings, borrow a not insignificant sum from their local bank, and apply to stick a couple of pods on the croft.

Meanwhile, Nigel and Pippa saw a croft for sale in the Sunday Times Property Section for what they thought was a snip at £200k and decided to use part of a trust fund to purchase it as a commercial investment.

They thought that they could also capitalise on the local tourist ‘boom’ and have applied to turn the derelict croft house into a vegan cafe and craft shop and also to stick several pods on their newly acquired croft to offer a ‘holistic getaway’ for their jet-set pals.

Do you, and I certainly don’t mean to pre-judge anyone who reads this paper (An Tir, An Canan, ‘S na Daoine as the banner headline might put you in a certain bracket) think that their ‘cases’ should be treated any differently by the local planning authorities?

If the answer is “yes”, then think again.

Too difficult a scenario to judge?

Try this one.

Should an application to build a couple of pods on a croft, which is basically 75 per cent bog, in the middle of Ranish and has no view of anywhere except adjacent croft/bog, be given any additional merit over a similar application in beautiful Scaristavore or Ardroil where ‘breathtaking scenery’ will be the selling tagline?

Wrong again.

As a member of the local planning board here in the Western Isles, I’m more than well aware of what my responsibilities are and it’s certainly not to pre-judge any applications based on my own preconceptions, or prejudices (I’m human) of what should or shouldn’t be allowed.

I’ve to stick to the guidelines and the training I’ve been given, understand what’s expected of me (impartiality and an awareness of the Scottish Government regulations and the Local Development Plan) and to base my decision without emotion or bias.

None of the emotive issues which have been highlighted across the front pages of this paper and others, on social media and the television news, can influence any of my/our decisions.

The capitalist playground which crofting tenure has now become, and the seismic change in the scale of speculation on ‘marketable’ properties available,  is in danger of knocking the fragile socio-economic balance of the west of Scotland even further off its already very shoogly axis.

Crofts have now become the equivalent of crypto-currency; the ‘Bitcoins’ which can provide financial security for those fortunate enough to be sitting on ‘gold’.

What’s being done to stabilise and bring a dose of reality to a market which threatens to get completely out of control?

How can single individuals be able to own several crofts with not an intention to ‘work’ or develop any single one of them?

I believe that a crofting historian once said that this form of land tenure has become ‘the single biggest impediment to sustainable development in Western Scotland and the Highlands and Islands’.

That wasn’t yesterday.

‘Things’ are already well out of control.

But who should intervene?

I’m not the only one who keeps asking the question.

Apparently ‘we’ should legislate to address.

We need, it has been suggested, to become Jersey or Guernsey.

That people shouldn’t be allowed to buy homes here unless they intend to be used as a primary residence (Five years minimum).

Second homes taxation needs to increase significantly and the additional income be used to support tourism infrastructure.

From the Butt to Bodmin there have been various proposals as to how to legislate to prevent the worst effects of tourism from destroying fragile local economies.

Have any worked, and if so, could they be implemented here to make any difference(s)?

Let me be very clear.

Tourism is hugely important to our rural economy.

More so since Brexit and Covid.

But I’ll say this again, at the risk of boring you all: it needs to be carefully nurtured and sustainably developed.

We cannot survive if we turn our villages into ‘ghost-towns’…yes, I know…..for the winter months.

We need a balance, we need the ‘tools’ with which to legislate properly and we need those charged with ‘oversight’ to take better ownership.

We need, and I’ve yet to see any evidence of this, these same people to begin to take this seriously.

For our future generations.

They are the ones who will be impacted most if we don’t sit up and pay attention.


Norrie T MacDonald is a Western Isles councillor and sits on the local planning board