The latest edition (30 September) of the West Highland Free Press contains a strong editorial concerning the events in Brora last week. It is entitled Crofting Commission: No tears for the end of the Colin Kennedy era. We reproduce it here as an important part of our archive on ‘The Common Clearances‘:-
By walking out of a Crofting Commission meeting in Brora yesterday (Wednesday) because everything was not going his own way, Colin Kennedy abandoned the convenership in the same disgracefully arrogant manner with which he has held the position for the last 15 months. Few tears should be shed.
Last week crofting minister Fergus Ewing instructed the crofting commissioners to make a full public apology to the Lewis grazings committees which earlier this year, they summarily and possibly illegally dismissed from office.
In other words, according to the crofting minister, throughout this whole sorry affair the Crofting Commission has been completely wrong in both its legislative interpretation and procedural actions.
The commission was wrong to consider that the locally-elected grazings committees at Upper Coll and Mangersta had been constitutionally at fault. It was also wrong to sack them.
There can be few graver charges laid at the door of crofting’s regulatory body. Its punishment is to publish a humiliating confession of its sins, and to submit to a review of its practices by Scottish Government officials.
More than anybody else, Mr Kennedy spearheaded the assault on the grazings committees. In doing so he at least demeaned and possibly also subverted his office.
If one thing was certain following Mr Ewing’s intervention before Wednesday’s meeting in Brora, it was that Colin Kennedy could no longer stay on as convener. All that remained was the manner of his leaving. It could have been gracious or it could have been petulant. It was of course the latter.
The remnants of the Crofting Commission was left to compose its letter of apology. Once that task was completed, before dusting itself down and attempting to resume normal and responsible service, it must tie up another loose end from Mr Kennedy’s convenership.
The commission should instantly remove its constable, Colin Souter, from Upper Coll. The imposition of Mr Souter on that part of Lewis was a grossly insulting over-reaction. He should never have been sent there in the first place.
In the words of the Scottish Crofting Federation’s Fiona Mandeville, Constable Souter “has no place in crofting, is aggravating bad feeling and is standing in the way of democratic process”.
Colin Souter’s continuing presence on the east side of Lewis is reminiscent of the Highland authorities’ response to the 19th century land war. It has no place in the 21st century.
Colin Kennedy was elected to the Crofting Commission by the crofters of the south-west Highland constituency. He was then elected to the convenership by his fellow commissioners following their vote of no confidence in the government-appointed chair, Susan Walker. He is walking proof of the fallibility of democracy.
But if free votes have bad outcomes, they can also correct their mistakes.
If Mr Kennedy hangs around, stands and is re-elected by the voters of Lochaber, Argyll and Bute, Arran and Cumbrae and the Small Isles next March, that will be their right and their responsibility. We hope, however that the crofters of the south-west Highlands have enough decency and sense to choose an alternative.
Other commissioners should and doubtless are taking long hard looks at their positions.
They have all been complicit, to one degree or another, in this fiasco. Murdo MacLennan was returned from Lewis with the biggest vote of all. For all of his experience and affability, Mr MacLennan has not defended the crofters of his own constituency from his convener’s excesses.
If, as we have often suggested, the size of the Western Isles crofting constituency was property respected and it had two or three elected commissioners, Colin Kennedy might have found some opposition within the commission’s ranks – and the grazings committees of Upper Coll and Mangersta might not have been dragged through the mire.
As things stand, Murdo MacLennan is the only Western Isles representative on the Crofting Commission. In this important instance, however reluctantly and for whatever reasons, he has failed his voters. If he also stands for re-election, he might not expect many voters from Upper Coll next spring. Whether or not the crofters of the rest of Lewis stick with him is their decision. We suggest that it is time for a change there also.
It may not be his worst offence, but Colin Kennedy’s Crofting Commission has given ammunition to those who will suggest that crofters are incapable of managing their own affairs.
Crofters themselves can refute that charge. Six months from now they will once again be asked to vote for crofting commissioners.
In the elections of 2012 the turnout was low. In both the Western Isles and in Skye and the West Highlands, only half of crofters bothered to vote.
That turnout should increase significantly next spring. Crofters everywhere know by now how much is at stake. The least they can demand of their commissioner candidates is that they refrain from mounting concerted attacks on grazings committees.