• Iain MacLeod (Butcher Boy)
Location:
Staffin
Date:
Thursday 18th September 2008
Reference:
SWI2008/006

Simon:

So shall we start off with a family history?

     

Iain:

Can do, might as well start off at the beginning. Well, I’m Iain Macleod. I moved here in 1980 when I was nine year old and my parent’s grandfather had passed away and grandmother was still living in that house up in Garafad. Been here ever since, sort of thing. I took over the croft from my great-uncle here about ten years ago when he became ... well, he was seventy-five so decided to retire and I got his croft and I bought my house and croft here last year. I keep about a hundred sheep, seven cattle, but it’s only on a part-time basis. I was working for Scottish Water and I do part-time work for the fire brigade on Staffin, so between the three it keeps me fairly busy.

Simon:

In terms of your Grandparents’ generation, were they long-term from Staffin?

     

Iain:

They were all born and bred in Staffin, yep. The house first they were born in is still standing. When my father, he was working away with CalMac on the Clyde, and he built the bungalow about forty-five years ago and it’s still on the croft at Garafad and that’s where we moved into when we came up from Glasgow.

Simon:

So it was your dad’s generation that moved to Glasgow?

     

Iain:

Yeah. It was his generation. He moved to Glasgow for work. He was on the Clyde near enough forty years and we were just always coming up here. Summer holidays was always up to Skye sort of thing to fit in with sheep shearing, peat cutting. There was always somebody in the family coming home at a certain time of year.

Simon:

So when you came for holidays, it was always to help ...?

     

Iain:

Yep. It wasn’t a relax but it was just part of the norm. That’s what you done.

Simon:

Did you enjoy that as a kid?

     

Iain:

Yes, aye. That’s all I had an interest in, you know? School wasn’t the biggest thing in my life at all.

Simon:

How did it feel being between a big city like Glasgow and a place like Staffin and moving between them?

     

Iain:

At that time you were only six, seven, eight, you were always glad to come to Skye on holiday. The journey up was always the worst, you know. That was always the bad side of things coming to Skye. You had seven hours coming up in a car all the way from Glasgow and then you were here maybe for about three weeks, quite happy running about and then away home, and that was you for maybe another ... you’d get two visits in a year but that was it. You just sort of merged in between the two. There was no big shock or anything.

Simon:

In Glasgow, did you know other people that were Skye people? Was there like an ex-pat community that you knew or ...?

     

Iain:

Well my parents, they would all know. My uncle, he was down there as well in Glasgow. There was quite a lot working in the Clyde then from the Highlands and Islands, so my father and mother knew all them. But me in school, it was always just folk from Glasgow that I was with, as far as I can remember.

Simon:

Was it ship building or ...?

     

Iain:

No, no. CalMac itself running from Gourock, Dunoon, these sort of places.

Simon:

There seems to be quite a lot of people with CalMac connections.

     

Iain:

There was aye. A lot at that time. I think when one got a job they were able to get somebody else a job along the line.

Simon:

And thinking about your grandparents and that, were they also involved in ...? Like fishing used to be a big ...

     

Iain:

I’m not too sure. I’m not too sure what their jobs would’ve been at the time. Were they just on the croft? I’m sure they would’ve been. You had to be self-sufficient at these times. There was no dole at that time. What you got off the land and what you got off the sea was to keep you going for your whole year, sort of thing.

Simon:

Did your grandparents talk much about when they were younger or ...?

     

Iain:

Not that I can remember. I was seven, eight year old at the time so I can only remember my grandfather sitting on the chair beside the stove with a big black cat and a pipe, you know? And my grandmother, she was always on the go. She was still living just up until ... well, we were only about ten years when she passed away. But you never heard her talking too much about the old times either. Not that I can remember.

     

Simon:

A lot of people don’t seem to ... It’s not part of what people do.

     

Iain:

It seems to be more of an interest now than it was then.

     

Simon:

Because things are changing quite a lot?

     

Iain:

It could be. Even to go back to Gaelic in schools. I took ... Both my parents had Gaelic but I was only a learners Gaelic and you’re taught more to read it and write it. There wasn’t such an emphasis on speaking it, which seems nowadays kind of queer but ... I went through primary school and all through secondary school learning to read and write Gaelic but, as I say, the emphasis wasn’t on the speaking it.

Simon:

So you understand it now but you don’t ...

     

Iain:

I can understand it, yep. But I just don’t have the confidence sort of thing. But folk round about you speak it all the time. They speak it to you, straight to your face and you just answer them back in English.

Simon:

Yeah, Teenie’s a bit like that. She’s kind of back and forth between the two languages.

     

Iain:

Yeah. Well probably Teenie was the same. She would’ve been reading and writing it in school but maybe not speaking it as much. I think then once you get out of doing it ... Maybe you were trying it a wee bit when you were younger, but once you get out of it, that’s it. It’s easier for you.

     

Simon:

Did your parents and grandparents speak it?

     

Iain:

All the time, yeah. All the time.

     

Simon:

Did your grandparents speak English?

     

Iain:

Yes. Oh yes, aye. They were fluent in both. Probably that’s why I learnt so much Gaelic. You would hear it in the house all the time. They would always speak to each other in Gaelic so you just picked it up. But as I say, my younger sister was different. She went on to become a Gaelic teacher up in the primary school, so I don’t know if it was maybe just more laziness with me that anything else!

Simon:

Some people have a thing for languages.

     

Iain:

Aye, some people have a thing for study and others don’t.

     

Simon:

And did your parents have any particular desire for you to have Gaelic or was it more like it’s just there and ...?

     

Iain:

It was just there and that was it. Just let you get on.

Simon:

I’ve heard that too from a lot of people. Just, like the kids just pick up what they want and ...

     

Iain:

That’s it, aye. And I know now, as far as the last few years, Gaelic medium schools and that ... you know, the parents must make the decision whether they’re wanting to put them into these classes or ... It doesn’t seem to make a difference in the longer run.

Simon:

Yeah. The school here’s a ...

     

Iain:

Yeah, the school here’s a Gaelic medium, English and Gaelic. And there seems to be more of an emphasis on Gaelic between Gaelic radio and Gaelic television nowadays. I think when I was in primary school there was maybe one programme you would see in a week in Gaelic, a Gaelic spoken thing. Well now there seems to be ... well you’ve got your Gaelic channel coming out now so ... does seem to be putting more money into it.

Simon:

So coming back to the crofting, what decided you to return to Skye?

     

Iain:

My parents. It was only when my grandfather passed away so they shifted up.

     

Simon:

So how old were you when you came here?

     

Iain:

I would’ve been nine at the time.

     

Simon:

So you were only in Glasgow for ...?

     

Iain:

Just nine years aye.

     

Simon:

And so when you came back, were you ...? Well, your family was back into the croft and ...?

     

Iain:

Well, as I say, the croft was always there, there was always sheep on it. My great-uncle, he had a croft here and my uncle, he was still in Glasgow but he had the crofts next door to us up in Garafad. So it wasn’t such a big change. You were used to coming up on holidays and that. The only big shock was that you were told you had to go to school on Skye so ... But as I say, that worked out OK. Moved up here Easter when I was in primary four and, as I say, I’ve been back in Glasgow, I think, twice since then. The last ... well I’m thirty-seven now ... twenty-eight years?

     

Simon:

Just in the twenty or so years you’ve been back, does it feel like things have changed much in the crofting community? At least in this area?

     

Iain:

In this area? In the last ten years there’s been a lot more building going on, building houses, and crofting has taken a back seat. Prices haven’t been good between foot and mouth and BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known as ‘mad-cow disease’) and all that, and then people cottoned on the idea of selling sites. You know, all of a sudden there was big money in sites so folk that weren’t interested in crofting before, well crofting the way I see it with livestock and that, were coming in then. They’d be claiming a croft, you know father or mother’s croft and selling sites on it and that was it. Croft done away with sort of thing. But seems in the last few years that, going by the papers, the Crofters Commission are trying to do something about it.

Simon:

It seems like there was a time when the Crofters Commission were encouraging people to sell plots, or at least turn a blind eye to it. But now ... I was talking to Tatties. He was sort of saying when he’d been the assessor he found it quite kind of depressing in that there was little sense of what impact it could potentially have.

     

Iain:

You know what? I’m no whiter than white, I done it myself. I sold two plots, one to the fire brigade and one to the church. Just down on the edge of my croft there was half an acre of ground that wasn’t any use to anybody anyway and that gave me money in to buy machinery and that, you know? So I think ... you know, at least I put the money back into crofting. A lot who just come in, sold the plots and away again sort of thing. It seems a shame you know that one person could affect a whole community.

Simon:

Does it have a big impact?

     

Iain:

I don’t know so much over here. The other side of the island, when we were going round doing Water Board connections for new houses, there was a lot of new houses spouting up and you thought, you know; “Great for the community.” And then, all of a sudden, last year the primary school closed down because everybody that was coming into the place was of a retired generation. So it’s just the next few years, how many of them will stay? You see, a lot seem to stay a couple of years in a place, a couple of winters, and then they’ve had enough of it and they’re away again.

Simon:

The winter’s the test.

     

Iain:

The winter’s the test. Six months of wind and rain ... You’ve always got to be hardy or stupid to stay here.

Simon:

So in a way it’s ... I mean there’s different sides to it isn’t there? Just over that issue of selling is the fact that people don’t have that much money and they’re in a situation where they’ve got limited means of generating money and so, like yourself, in order to continue crofting selling a plot was necessary.

     

Iain:

It was necessary.

Simon:

So there’s a kind of necessity to do it for some people but on the other hand, when people overdo it, if you like, then it’s detrimental to the people around them?

     

Iain:

I think so, aye. I think as well, you know, it depends on which part of the croft you’re selling your site. If you’re selling a good bit of ground that could ... There’s not a lot of arable ground in Staffin so if you’re selling a site bang in the middle of the arable, decent ground ... you know, OK. You’ve made money on it but what happens to the poor folk coming behind you? And it’s just a case of people grabbing the money just now and forgetting about anybody else, sort of thing.

Simon:

I think some of the proposals in this Shucksmith report are that there should be more ... I don’t know whether it’s regulations over how things are sold or ... are you aware of ...?

     

Iain:

I’m not too sure at all, nope. Not too sure.

     

Simon:

What do people feel, at least amongst other crofters like yourself, about if land’s been ...? You’ve kind of said already, you’d prefer to see it sold back in to crofting or in a way that supports crofting ...

     

Iain:

Well I would ... As I say, we’ve got to generate some money. There was no price on stock and that the last whiley, so in selling a site at least you’re generating some money. You’re keeping the croft going, but you’ve got to look into where the site is and what impact it’s going to have in the future.

Simon:

So do you think people now are thinking more about that when they’re coming to sell? Are they thinking as much about ...?

     

Iain:

I don’t know that people are. I hope ... the Commission are thinking more on that. I think it’s up to them, they’re the governing body at the end of the day, you know? If you have a three or a six acre croft, you can make maybe ... Well, not now, but maybe three years ago you could make £40,000 a site. If you sell off three sites, that’s big, big money. But then that’s that croft near enough kaput.

Simon:

And some of these new people coming in, could be a healthy thing for the community but it’s ... I guess it depends on ...

     

Iain:

Yep. It depends on who ...

     

Simon:

It seems to be whether they can contribute or take part in a community or ...?

     

Iain:

That’s it, aye. I mean, we’ve had a croft up in Garafad there that’s gone through two lot of hands in the last seven or eight years and the first couple that came in, I think they tried. They had pigs and a cow on the croft and decided to move on. Now, when they sold the house on the croft they made a big big profit from it. Then the next man that come in, he hasn’t done anything with the croft. It’s not a big croft anyway, three acre croft I think it is. But he sold a site so he’s probably made more money selling that site than I’ll make in the next thirty or forty years by working sheep and cattle. And now he’s got it all in the machair again, you know?

Simon:

But selling’s just a one off thing whereas what you’re doing has got continuity to it?

     

Iain:

Well, I hope so! At least if I keep it going, if there’s somebody else coming in behind me, at least there’s something there for somebody else.

Simon:

Have you got kids?

     

Iain:

No, no.

     

Simon:

Have you got other family that would potentially be interested in taking the croft land?

     

Iain:

I don’t know. I’ve got two sisters just so, just depends. Hopefully I’ll have a few years on it yet so we’ll see what happens.

     

Simon:

So what crofting work do you do yourself? You’ve got sheep and cattle?

     

Iain:

I’ve got sheep and cattle and they’ve always been on the croft. And as I say, to try and make money you’re buying machinery now, balers and that, so you can do your own sileage and that. An investment that hopefully will pay for itself in the future. You know, instead of dragging all your harvesting stuff in from the mainland or having to get a contractor in to do it, you can do it yourself but that’s maybe a ten year outlay. So it just depends. If prices keep going ... I know prices were up this year on sheep and calves but springtime the fertilizer and food prices shot up as well so ... it’s just a kind of see-saw effect. Maybe the last five years the government introduced new schemes, for RSS (Rural Stewardship Scheme) schemes for land management, birds and bees and ... you know. That’s brought a bit of money in. And planting the hedge and that, tried that out. You know, so I get paid for planting the hedge and looking after them for five years. But then hopefully by the end of it I’ll have a decent shelter built for the likes of the sheep and that so ... One thing’s helping the other sort of thing but, as I say, only time will tell.

Simon:

So people ... The impression I get is that people broadly support the land management scheme, but some people feel that the way they’re managed at the bureaucratic level is sometimes not ... Like Blondie was saying with his hay he wasn’t allowed to cut the hay until a certain date, and it was actually too late in the year so he didn’t make as good a yield as he would have. And things like that are ... are they kind of a niggle or ...?

     

Iain:

Maybe kind of a niggle. I’m not so bad, it’s sileage I make. So I’m not allowed to come on to my sileage until the 1st August which doesn’t bother me. I just leave my fertilizer on that wee bitty later. But the likes of if you want to do any re-seeding or anything like that, you’re kind of looking at May time to do your re-seeding but you can’t because that’s the time of the year that the crofts are ... you’re not allowed to do anything on them. But then you’ve got to weigh up the money they’re giving you to do this scheme. Is it more ... are you making more on that side of things than you would ...?

Simon:

So ... I guess what Tatties was saying, for example, is that if there’s a way they could make it more that the time’s managed by the crofters ... integrating it into the crofting calendar better, but at the same time having that support and ...

     

Iain:

I suppose at the end of the day, you’re dealing with nature. It’s not ... Most of these schemes are for birds nesting on the ground and all this carry on and the mice and all this carry on for them to eat, so you can’t change nature. That’s the times of year they’re wanting to nest so ... you’ve just got to ... you have the choice of going into the scheme or not going in to the scheme so it’s entirely up to yourself. You’ve got to look at the five year picture at the end of the day before you come into these schemes. But I think it’s ... I would back it like. I can work the two together. I can work my stock and plus the RSS schemes along with it.

Simon:

And is it, in some kind of way, reviving an older aspect of crofting, in a way? Because traditional crofting would’ve been naturally more environmentally, or what we nowadays call environmentally sustainable or whatever, just because it was lower impact. It was less industrial and some people are saying that there was a point in the 80s and 90s that people were heavily farming the land and they did it too much to that saturation point. So these schemes kind of, in some areas, help to sort that balance.

     

Iain:

They could be. I think at the end of the day you’ll have folk that want to work the land. They’ll want to do their ... they’ll have their stock and their sileage and all this and they’ll find a way to work with the schemes, and then you’ll get other folk that croft who’ll just: “Well, I’m going to get money for putting all my stock away just for these birds and the bees,” and they’ll be quite happy as well with it. But then at the end of the day, does it make the croft look untidy sort of thing? You know, all the weeds starting to shoot up after a few years. If you look at old photos you’ll see every croft, come September time, it’s all nice and green and flat and now you only have patches of it. So I suppose it depends who’s eyes you’re looking at it through.

Simon:

Staffin used to do quite a lot of grain as well.

     

Iain:

A lot of corn was grown here. Well, they had to. They had to grow all their own stuff, but we’re back to weather-wise now. I know everybody says that it’s wetter now than it used to be but you just don’t know. And folk have a lot more to do, a lot more to do.

Simon:

What’s like a typical year for you? What do you do, just in brief, over the space of the year?

     

Iain:

Over the space of the year ... You can near enough start your year with ... you start it from September time. You’ve sold your lambs, you’ve sold your calves. That’s your biggest pay days in the year. Subsidies and that, but livestock buying is your biggest. This time of year you’re just in to getting your sheep dipped and dosed. You’re kind of quieter now maybe until November, until you put your tups (rams, for mating) out. Cattle then start coming in for winter, maybe in October or middle of November. That’s you feeding them right through till May time you know? Up in the morning before you go to work, you feed. Come home at night, feed them again. So you’re tied for nearly six or seven months of the year. And then throw in a bit of lambing, just to make things really difficult for you in April time. Winters can be, all depending weather-wise, how difficult or how easy they’re going to be. You’re always going to have to feed but if the weather’s half decent, you know, it makes things a lot easier. And coming to May time, cattle are going out. Sheep hopefully all lambed, stopping feed and everything. The last few years we’ve started cutting peats so you’re running into starting cutting peats, planting potatoes, things like that in the ground. Into June, fertilizer onto the ground for your sileage. July, August, sileage starts then after shearing. And then you’re back round again. So every time you take a holiday. Well, every time I seem to take time off it’s something to do with the croft, but if you don’t move along with these sort of stages ... you know, you miss weather and ... everything has it’s time of year and then you’re back in September again, hopefully the prices are good again and away you go.

Simon:

And you mentioned potatoes there. Is that just for yourself?

     

Iain:

Just for yourself, aye. Since we moved here, the last year, you see a lot on the telly about self-sufficient ... well, not self-sufficient but growing a wee bit to keep you going, and it doesn’t take a lot of ground for a wee bit of veg and a fifty kilogram bag of seed potatoes doesn’t take up a lot of ground so we tried that this year and done OK. I kind of grieve going into it but it’ll be better next year, we’ll try again next year.

Simon:

And you’ve got the chickens too?

     

Iain:

We’ve got the chickens down the road aye. Just again ... well, maybe a novelty but the way food prices are going... All you need is a shed and a wee bit of room for them and they seem quite happy.

Simon:

And you also mentioned the peat there. There seems to be an increase in people ...?

     

Iain:

There was definitely this year. The price of oil went up and we’ve always cut peat just to see us through the winter. As I say, if you get the weather ... This year May was great and I brought them home within two weeks of cutting; was using them within a month. The month of May you’ll have your peats home just to save you a bit over the winter. But as I say, over the last ten years there wasn’t a lot of peat cutting getting done. But this year, with the price of everything going up, there was a lot more getting in and doing it.

Simon:

Do it up at Grealin?

     

Iain:

Eh, we do it in this direction, up Maligar direction.

     

Simon:

With the peats, do you have particular areas for each croft or is that a commons type of idea?

     

Iain:

Well the likes of, we’re in Stenscholl so I should be ... You would go to Stenscholl township to cut peats but maybe there’s a better bog, we’ve had it in our family since I came home up in Maligar in the next township so you just go and see whoever’s in charge of the township and there’s never been a problem. As long as you keep everything tidy and away you go again. But when we came home in the 80s, all the laybys would be full near enough with cars. Just a family all out cutting peats.

Simon:

It used to be a big family event.

     

Iain:

It was, aye. Everybody went to the peats. It wasn’t a case of: “Oh no, I’ve got football practice today.” That wasn’t the case, you were going. You thought nothing of it, you know?

Simon:

Are there many ... there seems to be quite a few things that were family ... and obviously the whole family always worked but there was things like the peat cutting, like the sales, actual special days or events that were more much family in the foreground to join in.

     

Iain:

Aye, that’s it. Just labour you know? They needed their labour, they had to. Maybe not so much in the 80s but before that. When my father was younger, if you didn’t get the peats cut you had no peat for the winter. If you didn’t get potatoes planted then your bellies would’ve been hungry all the time. So the whole family did muck in, aye.

Simon:

I guess that that kind of stuff seems to have gone away a bit but the market ... Maybe the labour was not so important but the market seems to have been, in the past, a ...

     

Iain:

A big day out! Oh definitely. It doesn’t seem to be ... even at the last sale there, there are usually a lot of kids. It was that you’d get a day off school no bother for a sale but I noticed there on Monday, there wasn’t so much kids running about your feet or anything like that. Even if you look at the average age of the folk that were serving there, it’s a lot higher now than ... not what it used to be. Just the young are not ... either they’re not bothering or they can’t get ... I suppose it’s time to work as well. You can’t be taking time off work to work a croft, sort of thing.

Simon:

So when you do ... like through that time you were in the Water Board, do you get employers that understand when they’ve got crofters as workers? Do you have some that understand your problems?

     

Iain:

I think a lot do. As long as you’re booking it, maybe like holidays, a wee bit in advance but then again if you’ve got somebody coming with hay or if somebody’s coming to scan your sheep in February time, maybe they’ll phone you up the day before to say they’ll be there. Phone you up Monday night to say they’ll be there on Wednesday. I was always lucky and always had days off no bother, sort of thing.

Simon:

And just coming back to the market. Ned was telling me that on the market days when he was a kid, they used to bring the cattle through the town and stuff. Do you remember or was that before your time?

     

Iain:

Nope. That was before my time. They used to do sales locally.

     

Simon:

Up at the old Clachan.

     

Iain:

The old Clachan, aye. There was drovers ... My great-uncle who had this croft, he was one of the ones that used to be, you know, driving the cattle. They’d take them maybe as far as Portree. Now they seem to have folk in certain areas who will push the cattle along a wee bitty further, you know? And they had to walk into Kyle in them days and board the boat and onto the train and out of here, but lorries have changed all that.

Simon:

So, when you were a drover, what you’re saying is that someone like your uncle would take it so far and then someone else would take over?

     

Iain:

That’s right, take over. I seen a bit on telly with another old fellow and they were saying that they were the ones in the north end taking them as far as Portree, drove them into Portree then and there’d be somebody ready to take over then, you know? So probably just a case of the same person going too far, you know?

Simon:

And is it just like the main roads here when you’ve got people or did you have special droving routes?

     

Iain:

I think it was just on the roads like, and they’d just weave their ways through the various townships where there was sales and that and then keep on going.

Simon:

Cowboy was telling me that there used to be rustling and stuff at times.

     

Iain:

Aye! Oh you bet, aye. Always something. I don’t suppose the poor folk would pay much money so that was the cause of it.

Simon:

Do you know who the buyers were back in those days because now it seems to be big farms and ...

     

Iain:

No, no. I couldn’t say. I know there’s a new drover exhibition opened in the big auction mart. I don’t know what that’s about. I know they had old pictures there before. You were seeing them droving cattle through Bernisdale and all these places in Skye, you know? There’s a picture there of a gentleman who started just as a boy helping the drovers along, running about in his bare feet and that, helping the drovers chase the cattle through the townships and that, and then he started the droving himself. It said at the bottom of the photo that by the time he’d finished he could drive his cattle from Skye to Falkirk all on his own ground. So that must’ve been a fair whack of ground he could do that. But that’s just the way it was in them days.

Simon:

What do you mean his own ground?

     

Iain:

He must’ve bought up his own estates along the way. He must’ve been making that much money in droving, buying and selling cattle, that in the end that’s what he could do.

Simon:

So do the drovers then always buy the cattle, they’re not just transporters?

     

Iain:

Drovers would be buying them. They’d be buying the cattle, they’d be getting them here and then I don’t know if they’d be fattening them up somewhere on the mainland or just taking them down to Perth and Stirling to the sales there. Just like along the same lines as what they do here ... (inaudible) ...

Simon:

I’d always thought the drovers were just the transporters, not the people that actually owned the cattle.

     

Iain:

No, no, no. What I thought a drover was is that he’d been out buying the cattle, aye.

     

Simon:

Have you been involved at all in the Grazings Committees or that side of it?

     

Iain:

No. No, I tell a lie, I was in the Garafad Grazings Committee for a few years, but, again when you’re only small you don’t hear a lot. As long as there’s nothing going on in the township.

Simon:

So with the wee-er crofts, I guess there’s not so much need for the Grazings Committees. People just kind of work it out ...

     

Iain:

Themselves. I suppose at the end of the day the Commission needs somebody they can send all their letters and that to, but a lot of the stuff that comes, by the time you get it there’s going to be another lot coming behind it saying: “Forget about the first letter we sent you.” There was an awful lot of literature coming and it just wasn’t read.

Simon:

Was it just really bureaucratic or ...?

     

Iain:

Bureaucratic, yep.

     

Simon:

How do you manage to deal with that yourself? Do you feel it’s overwhelming or ...?

     

Iain:

The paperwork? It seems to be. What you have to do isn’t bad but it’s finding out what you have to do that’s the problem. If you get a form, there’s pages and pages and maybe only a few questions to fill out in it. I know a lot just take the forms up to the college, SAC (Scottish Agricultural College), in Portree and they deal with it all because they’re scared that if you make a mistake you could get penalties thrown on you then. And you’d start losing money. But as I say, the Department office in Portree are very good, very helpful. I can’t complain at all but it seems to be a case of ... I mean, up here you’re only very small but you’re still doing the same paperwork as big farms down south and all that. You wonder if there is a need for it.

Simon:

Do you feel crofters should be in the same system as the big farms or should there be some allowances or some slightly different infrastructure for ...?

     

Iain:

You know, if you’re only small surely you could get rid of some of the paperwork, some of the bureaucracy. But I doubt that’ll ever happen. You just wonder: “Do they need it all?” I’m no good at paperwork anyway so maybe I’m a wee bit biased.

Simon:

Ned was telling me about the double tagging that’s been brought in this year.

     

Iain:

That’s right, double tagging the sheep. You know all cattle now are going to have passports before they go, they’ve all got to be double tagged. You just wonder why? Are the rest of Europe doing this or is it just Britain being too careful? I was even reading the papers just today and they were on about this ‘blue tongue’. You know they’re on about everybody in Scotland having to vaccinate them now. You know, if that comes out it’s even more of an expense and not just money but time as well. But I don’t know. Not too sure. We’ll just need to see what happens.

Simon:

Ned was saying that even from an animal welfare approach he didn’t like the double tagging. Because the tags can get caught more easily.

     

Iain:

That’s it, aye. There’s cows there and near enough every year you’re tagging them because they’re falling out, they’re catching them on feet rings and ... every time it’s another five pound to the tag manufacturer, whereas before you just had a small metal tag and that’s it, away you go. It seemed to be on a cow from the day it was born to the day it died, sort of thing. But it’ll be interesting to see this double tagging of sheep because you’ll be going to fanks with just a pocket full of tags just to make sure every one’s got one and at the end of the day ... the likes of a lamb you’re selling just now, it goes away with a single tag on it. It’ll probably be slaughtered within the first year. But a sheep you keep, you’ve got to double tag it and then that sheep will ... you know. 70% of sheep will never leave the ground. They’ll live all their lives and end up dying on the ground, sort of thing. But still you’ve got to double tag them. It seems a bit ... Why at the end of the day? Disease wise up here, we’re pretty free but we’re still lumped in with the rest of Britain. The likes of your foot and mouth there, there was nothing past the Clyde, but it’s this area that lost out the worst because when the foot and mouth hit, you only got a certain time to sell your lambs. A lot of the smaller lambs go to Europe and that market just closed overnight. So you were left with just the government bailing you out in the end. They set a price saying: “Take it or leave it,” and you had to take it because you had nowhere for your stock to be.

Simon:

One of the things some people have been saying about what might be part of the potential future for crofting is that it has a small scale form of farming. It is maybe a better model for the future in terms of the move towards organic farms, the move to more environmentally sustainable ... How do you feel? Do you feel that’s possible? Do you farm that way yourself?

     

Iain:

See, it’s good ... to go organic without fertilizers and poisons, I don’t know how you’d manage it here. I don’t know how they manage it anywhere but I don’t know how you’d manage it here. I see selling direct to the customer. There’s a bit again in the paper about a couple up in Sutherland there. They’re selling lambs direct to the customer, you know? You get them killed in Dingwall, banged and boxed and shift them on to the customer direct that way. Maybe that would be the way forward but it would mean folk working together and ... I would say that would be more profitable than going organic and that sort of thing.

Simon:

Tatties was saying, he feels there should be an abattoir in Portree or something.

     

Iain:

Oh definitely, definitely. You know, because you’re in a case that you aren’t allowed to kill a beast yourself. You can kill a beast if it’s injured or anything like that, no bother as long as you’ve got either a slaughter licence or a stun gun but you’re not allowed to eat a beast. It seems a daft law in a way. At the end of the day, crofting was there to keep the crofter going, but bureaucracy tells me I’ve got to take it to Dingwall. Which is 120 miles away, each way. And then on the other time they’re trying to cut back food mileage. So you’re sending a beast 250 miles to end up back in the same place that it started from.

Simon:

Do people keep cattle for themselves at all now then or is it just made unworkable?

     

Iain:

How do you mean?

     

Simon:

In the same way that traditionally the sheep and the cattle were partly to feed the crofters. Do people still do that or ...?

     

Iain:

Well, it’s kinda ... (laughs) I think they probably do, you know? You’ve got to at the end of the day. That’s the biggest way you’re going to make money. Instead of going to the Co-op to pay a pound for a chop, you’re only going to get £30 maybe £40 for a lamb. And then you know what you’re getting at the end of the day.

Simon:

So what do you personally get out of crofting? Like, not in terms of money or financial means, but like in terms of ... as a person, why’s it important to you?

     

Iain:

Just ... I don’t know. Probably everybody’s saying the same. It’s a way of life, sort of thing. You’ve been given this croft by somebody that’s looked after it for maybe forty or fifty years and then it’s sort of up to you to try and keep it going for the next generation. It’s ... I know some days it’s pouring with rain and blowing a gale and you’d rather stay in your bed than go out and start feeding cattle in the middle of December but you’ve just got to. I suppose everybody gets the days where they say to themselves: “Right, that’s enough! Everything’s going!” and then two days later everything’s back to normal and you’re quite happy. And you see a lot more folk. Well, I see it, if I didn’t have the croft I wouldn’t see maybe half the folk in a day that you will. And maybe some days you’ll see nobody but then the next day there’ll be three or four people stopping, maybe looking to borrow something or maybe looking for a hand with something or just stopping to see what’s doing.

Simon:

So even though people say that the community side of crofting has kind of declined, it’s still there. Do you feel like you’re part of a community?

     

Iain:

Definitely. I know when things ... when we got our baling equipment first, everybody was green at it. You didn’t have clue what you’d let yourself in for. Things were going wrong and as soon as something was stopped or you were lying under a baler or something like that, somebody else would stop to see what was going on. Maybe somebody else had got the gear a year before that or two year before that and they would come along and help you out, sort of thing. But that’s just within the crofting circle itself. Anybody outside the crofting circle would just keep on walking by. It’s the same when you’re moving sheep down the road, you know? Ones without stock think it’s a big thing, you’re holding them back. You’ll always get die-hards that’ll keep on going, ones that have been born and bred into it. I don’t know about new folk coming. You know, when they start taking over. Buying in stock and that. They get a croft and start buying in stock. Would they last long at it, from the outside? But farming’s the same on a bigger scale. There’s not a large percentage of folk from outside farming that carry on going to college and that to do farming. It’s always somebody that’s either fathers or brothers that’s in it. It’s just the way it is.

Simon:

Do you feel like you’re amongst the last generation of crofters or do you think it’s just the point on a line that’s going to continue?

     

Iain:

Again, going back to the sales, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of young ones there compared to what there ... everybody ... the youngest ones there, we’re talking thirty-five sort of age. So there is a gap, you know, but maybe that gap will be filled if things improve. Or have folk gone out of crofting and maybe they’ll never come back into it, sort of thing? You know, they’ve got other things to do but ... only time will tell. It’s getting harder to get crofts, you know? The last ten years, just the way that property prices were, that was the worst thing. If you can sell crofts for big money, why are you going to give it to somebody twenty, twenty-five year old? But, as I say, maybe that’s slowing down and the Commission maybe are doing something about it to help folk along.

Simon:

Now ... (inaudible) ... again I don’t know the details but it was some proposal that tied into regulating the way that plots are sold, that either there should be ... I can’t remember whether it would be like a kind of quota of land that has to stay within crofting use in the township or whether there’s a kind of preferential ... If you can kind of sell it back into crofting in a way, is there a kind of preferential ...?

     

Iain:

Aye. There is a scheme for the last while, you know, to ... if you had a croft and you were wanting out the crofting and I was wanting into it, the government would pay you so much to give that croft to me. But at the end of the day, that was only a fraction of the price you would get from selling it on the open market. It’s a case of the Commission looking more into who’s coming into crofting, what they’re going to do with it and ... you know. If they don’t stick to what they said they would do, well they should have a kind of clause to take it back off them at the end of the day. But we’ll see what the next few years do. If the prices do improve, there’ll be more incentive for young folk to come in to crofting. At the end of the day, if you’re only ... If you’re working hundreds of hours a year to just break even, people will think you’re just totally mad. So see what happens.

Simon:

If there’s still an interest, do you think crofting should continue? Because another side is there’s some people calling for it to all be scrapped, and just all the land go to the open market and ... Do you think there’s still a place for things like the Crofters Commission, and for there to be some sort of recognition of crofting especially?

     

Iain:

Aye. Well, I think ... I hope the crofting will continue, if even just to look after the land itself. You know, you go to areas in Skye that pulled out of crofting, the place does look untidy compared to what it used to be. And now, again, maybe in somebody else’s eyes that’s into birds and that, it’s beautiful, sort of thing, but I would hope that crofting would continue. But then again, you’re down to the financial again. If prices don’t increase, if folk can’t make money in it, nobody new will come into it. So do we need more support from ...? Do we need the likes of your land management schemes to carry on so that you’ve got the best of both worlds, sort of thing? Which I think could work together. You know? If that’s any use to you. (laughs)