Crofters and the land issue in Scotland (a first attempt to focus an untidy mind)

It’s been great to travel nimbly without heavy luggage but it’s had its negative sides. Not having my laptop with me has been a pain and I won’t lightly repeat this experience; I find it hard to think without my computer.

I’ve tried three times to summarise my thoughts on crofting and more broadly the land issue in the Outer Hebrides and Scotland. I’ve threshed around unsuccessfully to write on my blog using my mobile. I’ve written texts that are now floating around sadly in the cyber void. This is just as well as they were unsatisfactory. I’ve now tried again but instead of statements, I’ve produced a list of areas that I would like to know more about, which can hopefully enable a more systematic and alert re-reading of the material I have access to.


Before 1800 (arbitrary choice of date)

– Decline of clans and transformation of clan leaders into landlords

– Developments in agriculture. Similarities and differences to situation further south

(as regards enclosure of common lands, agricultural modernisation etc. movement of surplus agricultural population to industry/proletarianisation (or lack of this possibility). Accumulation of statistical material.

– Financial situation of landowners

– Demographic developments

– Structure of land ownership, Scottish land law, feudal remnants

– Emigration, nature of emigration prior to main period of clearances in C19. Landowners attitude to emigration (negative in some cases from concern about loss of reserve pool of labour). Who emigrated and under what conditions. Further fate of emigrants. Possible differences in emigration at this time and later on during main Clearance period.

– Class structure of (especially) Highland society. Crofters, cottars, landowners. Relationship to and involvement of landowners in other occupations – kelping, fishing. Who were the Scottish landlords and what other economic interests did they have?

– Removal of crofters from areas wanted for sheep farming and transfer to small shoreside crofts with poor quality common land. Not viable by itself (without secondary occupation).

After 1800

– Extent of clearances in Hebrides and elsewhere in Highlands in period from 1800 to main clearance period in mid nineteenth-century. Forced emigration, brutality. Attitude to Gaelic population. Subsequent fate of emigrants

– Effect of poor law system on landlords’ desire to remove crofters.  

– Changes in agriculture.

 – Scottish equivalent of potato famine and landlords’ activity or more usually non-activity to alleviate starvation. Treatment by different sources and limitations of these sources.

 – Study of literature, both academic and non-academic, romantic and revisionist.

– Development from deference to political resistance.

– Effect of World War 1, Irish situation and Russian Revolution. Information about positions of, for example, Scottish CP on land question.

– Crofting legislation – what it provided and limitations.

Limits to efficacy of state repression and attempt by authorities to resolve problem by concessions to most militant section of crofters in local area (Outer Hebrides).

– Situation after World War One

– Intervention by Lord Leverhulme.

Study of Lever Bros (Unilever) – Port Sunlight and search after sources of palm oil. Activities in Belgian Congo (contact with authorities after problems obtaining labour). Relationship with trade unions. Attitudes to Lord Leverhulme’s activities on the part of the rest of Lever Bros, later Unilever.

Plans for industrialisation and Lord Leverhulme’s negative attitude to crofting.

Splits in crofters’ response – collapse of Leverhulme’s intervention after downturn in fishing industry and his withdrawal.

Ideological considerations – inadequacy of Christian approach of good and evil to analysis of actions and interactions of social classes.

– Political considerations – viability of crofting, attitude to proletarianisation (from left). Confirmation of limitations of “peasantry” (farmers) in leading political changes (too locally based etc.)

– Development of crofting after World War. Did it remain unviable – if not, why not. Could it be viable under conditions of capitalist agriculture?

– Continued development of land situation. Scotland’s highly concentrated land ownership. Nature of traditional aristocratic landowners and other activities.

– Nature of capitalism in Scotland (degree of integration of Scottish pools of capital with UK capitalism).

– Significance of striving towards Scottish independence. Will this lead to less sympathetic treatment of large landowners? Relation of Scottish landowners to other classes in Scotland. The land issue in Scotland today.

Some categories need further editing but it should be sufficient to enable me to read sources critically and make notes that can be shuffled more intelligently as I become more fleet of foot in the area.

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