Wednesday, 22 May 2013

But Sir, you ARE the problem.

I feel there is a need to explain why so many tenant farmers are furious about the LRRG's decision to ignore the many issues which make a tenant's life so difficult in 21st Century Scotland. Here are a few examples:

1. The laird's cut.

Our daughter, who is registered disabled with learning difficulties and who will be leaving school next year, wishes to set up her own business. We are working with her school to concentrate on life skills, independent living, etc and we all agree that Rosie ought to be able to work in her chosen field and make an income for herself.
We would help her with book keeping, VAT, etc but the bulk of the work is well within her ability.

The problem is that she would have to ask the lairds permission to start her business.
Our estate have a history of never returning letters, are in 'meetings' if you phone, are shifty if you email. Months can go past before you get a reply, IF you get a reply. They do not visit our farm in order to talk face to face. They do respond to a letter from our lawyer, however.

If the laird granted permission, he would then set the percentage of his cut of Rosie's business, his only 'input' being that he owns the land.
Rosie would do the work, buy the stock, put in the hours, etc and the laird would benefit from her work.

I have personal issues with some of the laird's agents. I have found them arrogant, ignorant, misogynist, dismissive and so frightfully plummy that it can be difficult to figure out what they are saying. And those are their good points.
I fail to see why anyone should have to go cap in hand to ask permission to start up their own small business and pay someone else for it.

Rosie would feel intimidated by these men. There is so much more I want to write about that loaded sentence but I think it best, dear reader, if you decide for yourself and that way I will not be sued.

I have written to several of Britain's leading business people to ask advice on how a disabled person goes about starting up a business but have not received a single reply apart from a 'Good luck' from Deborah Meaden. I was not asking for money but just how do they avoid pitfalls like being exploited, how to organise the business side etc.

We do not have to travel off the farm to experience exploitation.....

2.Feudal slavery.

 In 1890, when Great grandfather Otter rolled in on his horse and cart, wife, child and few belongings, ready to begin as a new entrant to farming after resigning as a headmaster in Edinburgh, a whole new world awaited him.
The then laird, grandfather of the now laird, had a lease written up. In those days, farmers did not have lawyers and besides, the lawyers would have been close to the lairds so the leases are nothing more than a testament to slavery. the restrictions for the farmer are astounding.

Our family are still legally bound to those terms and conditions. In 2013.

The railway that we are supposed to cart stones from the also redundant quarry - no longer exists. The horses that a 'good man' is supposed to use for a week of unpaid work for the laird, they are long gone and only a few dusty bridles still hang in the bothy as testament to their presence.

The roof which was patched up in 1800, repatched in 1890 is the same roof today. There is nothing left to patch.

The original sheds still stand and we still use them for grain, shelter, sheds for the animals when they come in bye. They are tiny sheds, not designed for modern machinery like a tractor loaded with hay for example. All heavy feeds have to be carted in by hand - just like they did in 1890.

Nowadays, the laird is supposed to provide the tenant with modern day sheds but they will not do it. this is a huge issue for a tenant farmer as they end up buying and erecting their own sheds then they do not receive the true cost of the money they spent if they leave at 'way-go'.
 Plus, and this sticks in my craw, they have to ask the laird's permission to spend their own money on erecting their own sheds. Usually once the new shed goes up, so does the rent as it is an 'improvement'. You could not make this up.

3. Shooting rights.

Why is it legal for a laird to charge full rent from TWO PARTIES for the same field? We are paying rent for a field which also comes under the remit of the shooting tenant. Not that we have a clue who it is. The estate have never informed us as to the name or address of the new shooting tenant. the man who appears to have been given free reign to shoot anywhere on our farm, cropped land, near the house on any day he pleases.
And we pay full rent for land which was fenced off from our best field, no compensation, no legal document to state this land was resumed, no adjustment in rent nor field in lieu.

4. Water.

To date, we still have polluted water.
In April, right in the middle of an early calving and the lambing, the farm water supply was turned off with no warning.
The Farmer and I had to transport gallons of clean water from our temporary home up to the farm, several times a day so the newly calved cows were hydrated and could make milk for their calves. ditto for my sheep.

When I phoned up the person responsible for turning the water off, merely to ask when it was going to be turned on again, this rude man hurled abuse at me and asked me why I had broken the pipe! He must have been psychic as at that point, they did not know where the burst was yet I was being blamed for smashing a pipe somewhere in a five mile radius give or take a few miles.
It is reminiscent of blaming a witch for crops which never grew or a solar eclipse happening and turning night into day suddenly.
A bit 16th century, don't you think?

There are other issues but I will write about them another time.

So, it seems if we are having these problems, the LLRG have decided that it is best if we go to our laird to sort them out. All very cosy and jolly.

When the problem IS the laird, the fact that some lairds openly break the law, some lairds are even law do you go cap in hand and tell them "Sort yourselves out, dudes?"

How do you ask for clean water when they are not interested if a) you actually died and b) the public will pay for the water then c) they will charge water charges.
and I will add d) charge rent for the water pipe you installed at your own expense.

How do you prepare a vulnerable young woman to go and ask if she can start out in life, supporting herself financially, offering something valuable to society, the self esteem of being independent, to ask this in front of misogynistic, unapproachable, sneering men?
And leave it to them to calculate their cut?

The simple answer is that we cannot approach the laird to address these issues.  We are supposed to address them through a land court but this would cost an enormous amount of money plus the lairds tend to employ expensive Q.C.s who can prolong a court case and ruin a farmer.

The odds are stacked up against tenant farmers. These farmers are honest, hard working, helpful and empathetic. They are also isolated, often have no modern internet access nor mobile phone reception and are therefore vulnerable.

We are abused by the lairds, ignored by parliament, despised by the landowner's agents yet we take the knocks and persevere with our livelihoods.

You won't read any of this in the newspapers nor hear it in the news, it is one of Scotland's dirty, hidden little secrets and one which, in my opinion, is part of a bigger agenda....follow the money...

Please support Scotland's tenant farmers. Write to the Scottish government, email, shout out your support on twitter and help illuminate the problems we are facing, how feudalism still exists, how we have something valuable to offer but are held back by oppression.

Thank you.


  1. I can't imagine your frustration but hopefully the blog will help you get it off your chest as well as driving reform. Very best of luck.

  2. Afraid that I really know next to nothing about Scottish law, but this sounds very drachonian - and can't believe it's human rights compliant, shocked to hear feudalism struggles on as I thought this was being abolished with - outrageous that you need consent for your daughter to start a business!

  3. oldfarmhorace, thank you for your good wishes and yes, the blog helps to vent and catalogue the problems here.

    Sarah, life here is draconian and we tend to forget that it is not normal as it becomes part of everyday life. You realise that people are horrified when you speak out about it.
    The Scottish government are WELL aware that people like our laird or his lackeys run a dubious outfit and the truth is that I have held back on many aspects of living under a feudal system.
    Our example is one reason why other tenant farmers do not speak out. They are terrified and so used to oppression that it becomes institutionalised in your daily life.

  4. I've been wondering where you'd got to!

    I cannot believe you're still having to live with polluted water, especially after your son got sick from it a while back, it's madness!

  5. Hello, Last Alliance Studios!

    Fed up to the back teeth with it all especially when there appears to be no rush to remedy the issue. Still lugging clean water in from other places, daily.
    I should market our water as an 'Instant Weight Loss Remedy', the laird would want his cut, of course. Wonder if he would accept liquid assets ;)

  6. I'm entirely with you on the last two paragraphs. Only trouble is, it's difficult to write to our European MEP and ask him/her to ask questions about 'scottish crofters' in general. I'd need solid facts, like places and things that even an MEP can check. Could you get them to me via my blog (there's a contact form there somewhere)?

    As for other things (random thought) what about and their petitions?

  7. workbike, thank you.
    I have followed you on Twitter (I am @GentleOtter on there) and I can send a DM for your email address if that is ok.
    The issues I have written about can be seen by any visitor to the farm at any time and the MEP would be best to visit and see first hand.

    Whilst can be a brilliant means of raising awareness for so many campaigns, I don't think it would change much for us as we need urgent help to address our home, our water and the feudal bullying. This can only be done by either law or a change in the law.
    The way Scottish agriculture law lies at present is heavily stacked against the tenant farmer and very pro the landowner so the very law must change and soon.

    That said, I will contact our MEP to come and visit the farm. None of the MSPs were interested but our M.P. took the time to visit and was horrified. I am waiting for a letter on his findings plus a report on his recent meeting with the landowner.

    1. Good idea: contact me through Twitter. My thinking with or similar is that politicians tend to notice numbers, I'm just worndering how more people could be mobilised without you getting repercussions, although I'm sure you've considered that yourself many times.

  8. The fundamental problem is that the law is ill-equipped to square the circle that is that a relationship which began as a finite medium term one (a lease of a farm in 1890 for 20 or so years) was converted into a permanent one when tenants were given security of tenure in 1948.

    Thus, who could have foreseen in the 1890s that there would ever be a time during the tenancy when the railway wouldn’t be there? And although the landlord is obliged to renew a building which is past economic repair, what in practical terms does that involve when the building is hundreds rather than dozens of years old? Does the landlord have to provide new state of the art facilities or just something as close as possible to the original as it’s possible to get - does it have to be of whinstone and slates?

    You’re in an awkward limbo half way between being a tenant and an owner. And there’s also the problem that your home (as to which one is entitled to a measure of security of tenure) is inextricably mixed up legally with your business (which should be a commercial relationship).

    I think the only way to resolve this is to give agricultural tenants in your situation – that is on very old leases, not more recent limited partnerships etc. – the choice of being proper owners or proper tenants.

    Thus, they have a right to buy but only within a finite period (3-4 years). Government to underwrite loans so nobody can complain they couldn’t secure finance. Those who do not choose to buy within that period will have their leases updated to remove old stuff about good men and horses to long gone railway stations and – more importantly – up to date terms about who’s liable for what in terms of modern infrastructure. Costs of arbitration on this in the Land Court to be met by Government so nobody can complain about legal fees. But the lease will also end with the current tenant or any younger close family member currently involved with the farm.

    In future, all new leases will have complete freedom of contract. No minimum or maximum terms or nanny state (or the STFA) telling you what you can or cannot agree to. (I’ve a notion great-grandfather Otter, the headmaster, would approve of that and would have been an equal match for the landlord of the day and would not have needed a lawyer.) I might be persuaded to agree that, in future, it’s a condition of farm leases that the tenant is not allowed to live on the farm so as to break the home/business linkage. But that really goes against the grain as I deplore regulation like that because it can cause unintended consequences (as witness for example the prohibition on house lets longer than 20 years introduced on the back of abolition of feu-duties in 1974 – means you can’t guarantee a lease of a house to a 65yo for the rest of his/her life but let’s not digress into that.)

    Neil King (previously known as Neilscountryfile)

    1. "I might be persuaded to agree that, in future, it’s a condition of farm leases that the tenant is not allowed to live on the farm so as to break the home/business linkage."

      That seems an odd condition for people who have to be in attendance on livestock, potentially 24/7 during times like lambing.

      Maybe I just see things differently because of my experiences here in Germany. Here, if you want to live rent or buy you often have to make at least part of your living from the land, so we have the opposite condition.

      We also have some very strong laws to make the landlord/tenant relationship more even. Many are as you suggest, a clear definition of what responsibilities are. Another is a matrix for the maximum rent a landlord can charge. This takes into account age of the building, condition, how well insulated it is and how much heating costs, and also how good public/private transport links are. We even get a rebate because our apartment is in a roof and the ceiling is low in some places.

      This is normal in Germany, and I suspect other places in Europe. I fail to see why some rich laird in Scotland gets away with playing the feudal lord.

    2. Sorry,

      "Maybe I just see things differently because of my experiences here in Germany. Here, if you want to live rent or buy you often have to make at least part of your living from the land, so we have the opposite condition."

      Should read: "Maybe I just see things differently because of my experiences here in Germany. Here, if you want to live rent or buy a farm or smallholding you often have to make at least part of your living from the land, so we have the opposite condition."

  9. Workbike, you just talked me out of my proposed rule that the tenant is not allowed to live on the farm (which I was never very keen on in the first place).

    What you were saying about how it works in Germany with rents being controlled according to ceiling height etc., that's *homes* you're talking about here, right? Because, if so, I'm not talking about homes, I'm talking about farms (business premises) as to which very different considerations apply. That's why it's difficult to combine a home and a place of business in a single lease agreement.