Ministers are being urged to adopt measures to encourage the resettlement of some of the human deserts created by the mass evictions of the Highland Clearances.

There are no provisions in the Land Reform Bill, beginning its parliamentary journey, which would help do this.

But there is a growing body of thought that only when communities once again put roots down on the cleared land, will an important corner be turned in the debate over the future of Scottish land.

The latest to add its voice is the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF), the crofters' representative body in its submission to the Holyrood's rural affairs committee on the Bill.

Sutherland crofter Russell Smith, a vice-chair of the SCF, explained the deficiencies in the proposed legislation: “There are welcome provisions within the Bill to allow existing and newly-formed community bodies to buy land from private owners to put it to community use.

"But this assumes there is a community. There are vast tracts of rural land that no longer have a resident community, it having been cleared centuries ago. It seems that a very important part of the policy intention is being missed from the bill.

“For centuries the wealthy and the powerful have cleared communities off the land that supported them and it is time the land went back to supporting many families rather than the few. SCF therefore suggests consideration be given for Scottish ministers to be able to force the sale of privately-held land where the land is being neglected or misused, on behalf of the public in order to restore the land to community benefit.

"The necessary use of compulsory purchase is shameful for the large land-owning entities that have shown no interest in helping to bring communities back by re-creating crofts on the land that they control.”

Community Land Scotland, umbrella body for buyouts like Assynt and Gigha, has already proposed ministers, with the backing of parliament, should have the power to ask the question whether the ownership of a particular area land is in the public interest, and act if necessary.

Highland historian Professor Jim hunter, whose new book on the Sutherland clearances ‘Set Adrift Upon The World' is due to be published by Birlinn in October, agrees.

He said: “Too many see the uninhabited land of the Highlands and Islands as somehow being in its natural wild state. But that is wide of the mark. In Strathbrora, for example, there were 62 different townships cleared in the second and third decades of the 19th century. So out of the last 50 centuries, this part of Sutherland has been lacking people for only the last two. It would be of tremendous symbolic importance if we could see communities grow again on Highland land cleared of its people.”

He said nowhere else in the developed world would it be thought acceptable for just 432 owners to have possession of half a country’s privately owned land.

The Scottish government made clear it has not closed its mind to such thinking.

A spokeswoman said all voices were welcome to the debate on land reform, and there would be an opportunity for these ideas and issues to be explored as the Bill now goes through parliament. She added "Of course, the Bill is not an end in itself and, in establishing a permanent land commission, future reforms beyond those in the bill can be pursued.”

But the landowners' organisation Scottish Land & Estates had a different perspective: "Perpetuating an out of date and divisive picture distracts from the core debate of how land is best used.

"Private landowners– regardless of scale – make a very significant social, economic and environmental contribution to rural Scotland. That contribution has been verified in a range of studies.

"We support a variety of ownership models including community ownership and the reality is that private and public landowners can and already do co-exist in a constructive and productive manner. Also, the Scottish parliament has just passed the community empowerment act which includes measures to deal with abandoned and neglected land."