Dramatic happenings in the world of crofting this morning in Brora.
The Crofting Commission were holding their board meeting in Brora Golf Club. It started at 9.30am this morning. On the agenda, amongst other things, was their meeting with Fergus Ewing MSP last week when they were in effect given a direction to apologise for dismissing three grazings committees from office. It was fully expected that this apology would be forthcoming after the meeting and would have to be made by the Convener, Colin Kennedy.
The BBC initially reported that:-
The Crofting Commission’s convener has walked out of a meeting at which the body was under pressure to make a public apology in a long-running row.
Colin Kennedy had earlier in the meeting refused to allow a commissioner to withdraw his declaration of interest in the dispute about common grazings.
When officials told him he had to accept the request, Mr Kennedy closed the meeting and walked out.
Dealbhan bhidio iongantach de dh'Fhear-gairm Choimisean na Croitearachd a' coiseachd a-mach às a' choinneimh aca.Làn aithris air An Là 20:00 pic.twitter.com/bLW7IjKK6F
— BBC Naidheachdan (@bbcnaidheachdan) 28 September 2016
It would appear that the remaining commissioners then convened a Special Meeting which was posted on the Crofting Commission’s website as starting at 10.15am. They resumed the business of the day without their Convener who has been known to go into hiding before today.
An updated report from the BBC on the resumed meeting states that:-
Commissioners passed a motion calling on Colin Kennedy to stand down after he walked out of a meeting in Brora, Sutherland, earlier on Wednesday.
They have also issued a public apology for how the commission handled its dispute with the crofters.
It is understood that this apology was issued, in the Convener’s absence, by Vice Convener, I. G. MacDonald. Clearly that was the responsibility of the Convener but one that he evaded.
This apology has now been issued in writing by the Crofting Commission. It reads:-
The Crofting Commission wishes to apologise for the way it has handled recent grazings committee cases.
Three unprecedented cases have been considered by the Commission under Section 47(8) of the Crofting Act and resulted in committees being put out of office. The decisions taken by the Commission have created a poor result for everyone involved. The actions taken in these cases did not enable communities to work together for the benefit of crofting and in fact have had an adverse impact on the crofting community. The Commission acknowledges that the recent decisions have caused prolonged uncertainty and anxiety not only for the three communities involved but for all crofters, and for this we are sorry.
The Commission continually seeks ways to ensure it is delivering in the best interests of crofters and will ensure that any lessons learned from the cases can inform future procedures and decision-making. We will also continue to engage with Scottish Government to look at greater flexibility in crofting legislation.
The Crofting Commission will continue to work alongside stakeholders to develop good practice guidance for grazings committees. We would like to reassure crofters that as the regulator of crofting, our main focus continues to be securing the future of crofting through effective regulation and we look forward to working constructively with crofters, grazings committees and crofting stakeholders.
Scottish Crofting Federation chair, Fiona Mandeville, said:-
Surely now the convener will do what he should have done weeks ago – stand down and let the people who genuinely care about crofting get on with their work. So much time and energy has been wasted during this inexcusable debacle. We have had enough of Kennedy and want to see the back of him. By his action in walking out from the board meeting today and refusing to meet the Minister’s request for an apology, we take it that he has finally abdicated.
We welcome the Commission board taking this decisive action at last and look forward to working with them to rebuild trust in the Commission and to developing strategies for crofting, taking up again all the positive initiatives which had been set aside while Kennedy was in control.
We also naturally welcome the apology issued by the board after the convener’s departure.
It is little wonder after these latest developments that his fellow commissioners have now decided enough is enough. The board had appeared split in their loyalties towards him but they have clearly realised that it is time for them to unite under the stewardship of a new convener and seek to heal the damage done as a result of ‘The Common Clearances‘.
There have been repeated calls over a number of months from crofters and from the Scottish Crofting Federation for Colin Kennedy to resign. Those calls have been ignored by him. Now his fellow commissioners are calling on him to do the same thing.
Will, however, Colin Kennedy accept the motion and stand down? Does he have any option? If he doesn’t will Fergus Ewing have to intervene?
Image Credit: Brora Golf Club