The UK is not a region known for its indigenous communities but Scotland is home to the often overlooked crofters. While faced with a number of challenges, Scottish crofters maintain an important place within Scotland’s cultural landscape.
There are 17700 crofts, or small farming lands, in Scotland. While many crofters will work the land, for most it is no longer their primary income. Moreover, crofting is often seen as a way of life, with distinct ties to Gaelic culture and the impacts of colonialism on the Scottish Highlands.
Crofters are not recognised as indigenous by the Scottish or British parliaments, although they have long been campaigning for official recognition. This official status would make crofters the only indigenous group in Britain, and would give crofters greater protection from discrimination. For many in the crofting community, it is also seen as the first step in establishing an independent, self-governing crofters’ parliament.
Although crofters now receive some legislative protection, they faced severe oppression until the late 19th Century. After the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th Centuries, which saw crofters denied the right to land, crofters responded with resistance to the British government. Taking their lead from the Irish Home Rulers, crofters formed a political movement, rebelling against the British administration, in a period of Scottish history referred to as the Crofters’ War. This led to the establishment of the Crofters Act of the late 1800s, which granted residential security to the crofting community. However, crofters were still met with discrimination and economic difficulties as a result of years of British intervention.
Modern Day Crofting
Today crofters still face difficulties, with high rates of depression and alcoholism among the highland regions and mass emigration leaving the land unworkable in parts. However, a number of organisations are working to protect crofters’ interests. The Crofting Commission is involved in overseeing crofting regulations, while the Scottish Crofting Federation is a vocal interest group which campaigns for better representation. Crofters have also gained widespread public support, receiving assistance from campaign groups and activists – most noticeably in the purchase of the Assynt crofting area in the late 20th century.
Crofters represent an important part of Scottish history – one which should not be forgotten.
For the first part of this series on indigenous populations, see here.
Above photo: a Crofting community by Donald Bain via WikiCommons.