Tag Archives: Chief Executive

Pressure mounts for a full investigation of the Crofting Commission

The crofting law truth is out there

The truth is out there

On this blog on 25 April 2016 I called for the Scottish Government to review the Crofting Commission’s actions in connection with ‘The Common Clearances‘ due to an alleged abuse of power within Great Glen House.

The Scottish Crofting Federation and others have backed that call. Yesterday the Scottish Crofting Federation reiterated that call on the back of apparent historical revisionism on the part of the Crofting Commission. Statements by the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, previously published on their website have been deleted and a different version of events presented by their Chief Executive, Catriona Maclean.

The uncovering of this underhand behaviour on the part of the Crofting Commission has resulted in mounting pressure for  the Scottish Government to now actually do something about it.

Uisdean Robertson, Councillor and Chair of the Joint Crofting Committee of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), has been quoted as saying on Radio nan Gàidheal that the Council have no confidence in the members of the Crofting Commission and their Chief Executive. He has said that Crofting Commissioners and the Chief Executive all need to think about their positions in light of what has gone on.

Brian Wilson, writing in The Scotsman, has said:-

The immediate question is whether the Scottish Government is prepared to back their quango’s interpretation of the law and its heavy-handed approach to enforcement.

In the short term, a rapid inquiry into why the Crofting Commission has got itself into this mess and how it can be helped out of it may seem a relatively attractive option.

It has been asked on Twitter who would carry out such an inquiry. It must be someone with investigative experience (with a team at their disposal to assist them) and who is truly independent with no association whatsoever with Commissioners, the Convener or the Chief Executive.

Also, in my view, the Scottish Government should directly involve the Scottish Land Court by submitting a reference to them under section 53 of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 to answer the questions in law that the Crofting Commission have been evading. Catriona Maclean, the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, has stated:-

The Commission is confident they are applying the law correctly but the only place this can be clarified is in the Scottish Land Court.

However, the Crofting Commission have yet to set out any legal argument with reference to statute or case law to show that they are applying the law correctly. I am strongly of the view that they are not. My detailed legal reasoning to them on this has gone unchallenged other than for them to say that once they make a decision that is final and cannot be changed by them!

If the Crofting Commission are so confident that they are applying the law correctly they should have nothing to fear by making a reference to the Scottish Land Court to confirm that. As they clearly do not wish to actually be found out to be in the wrong (the same is true of the decrofting debacle that resulted in unnecessary ‘remedial’ legislation at huge expense to the taxpayer when a Section 53 reference could easily have resolved the issue) the Scottish Government should advance that reference or insist that the Crofting Commission do so.

The truth is out there and it is in the Scottish Government’s hands to find it.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: The X-Files © Ten Thirteen Productions, 20th Television, 20th Century Fox Television

The Common Clearances

Crofting Clearances

Who wields the axe at the Crofting Commission?

Following the revelations of the Upper Coll Common Grazings Committee being removed from office by the Crofting Commission in a “dictatorial, vindictive and unjustified“ manner there came news that this was not an isolated incident. The Mangersta Common Grazings Committee has also been removed from office by the Crofting Commission. Members of the now defunct Grazings Committee have referred to the Crofting Commission’s behaviour as “erratic, overbearing and contradictory”. They have called on an inquiry into this “appalling” situation.

The facts surrounding the Mangersta ‘sackings’ related to payment of monies to an absentee crofting tenant who had returned cheques sent to him. On any reading of the situation, as disclosed in the press this past week, the actings of the Commission and their Convener appear almost beyond belief.

The only cheep so far on any of this from the Crofting Commission is a blog post which they state to be a reminder on the ‘The Rights of Crofters and the Duties of Grazings Committees and their Grazings Clerks‘. This ‘reminder’ is unfortunately misleading and inaccurate. It is recommended that crofters don’t follow it but seek independent specialist advice.

Donald Macsween (a crofter in Ness on the Isle of Lewis) has blogged on the “nonsensical” and “totally impractical” stance by the Crofting Commission on the financial management of grazing funds. He makes some very astute and sensible points. Ones that appear to be lost on the powers that be in the crofting regulator’s HQ at Great Glen House in Inverness. I am likely to return to this topic on a future dedicated blog post covering it in some detail from a legal point of view.

Scottish Labour’s candidate for Na h-Eileanan an Iar/Western Isles, Rhoda Grant, has backed calls for a full inquiry into the workings of the Crofting Commission and the reinstatement of  Upper Coll Common Grazings Committee.

Mrs Grant has issued a letter to the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, in which she refers to the removal of the Upper Coll Common Grazings Committee as a “sorry episode”. She states that this is:-

symptomatic of a much wider problem with the Crofting Commission which has gained an unwelcome reputation for its high-handed, overbearing attitude towards good people doing their best to hold crofting together.

Mrs Grant goes on to say:-

The whole system of crofting tenure is in a very parlous state and it needs the support of a regulatory body which acts firmly and fairly in the crofting interest.  Instead, we have a bull-in-the-china shop approach which is undermining the work of well-run crofting villages, for reasons that seem to be random rather than for any consistent, coherent reason.

The Crofting Commission is a creature of statute and nobody is empowered to behave as a law unto himself.  There must be an urgent inquiry, relating to Upper Coll and also more generally, to find if the Commission has acted beyond its powers and whether its recent behaviour is consistent with the interests of the crofting community.

The Editorial in this week’s West Highland Free Press brands the Crofting Commission’s actions at Upper Coll as “high-handed, insulting and wrong”. It states:-

Every single one of the eight commissioners should be aware that this crisis is now their responsibility. They must take it upon themselves to resolve a serious situation before suffering the ignominy of ministerial or even legal intervention.

Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, has asked:-

What on earth is going on? How many others are there who have been intimidated and bullied into submission under threat of removal?

He has gone on to state:-

It is clear that there has to be a review by the Scottish Government of how the commission works and what its objective is.

The Scottish Crofting Federation yesterday issued open letters to the Crofting Commissioners and to the Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. They call upon the Crofting Commission to make a public statement on what is behind their actions. They request the Scottish Government to carry out “a full review of the situation as soon as possible before the damage is irreversible”.

It has been stated that “crofters are so intimidated by the Crofting Commission that they will not speak out publicly“. Now that some crofters are actually beginning to do so hopefully more will tell their stories. From what I can see this is the crofting worlds equivalent of the ‘Panama Papers‘. There is likely to be many more revelations on the actings of the Crofting Commission surrounding ‘Common Clearances’ and other crofting issues.

In 1883 a Royal Commission (The Napier Commission) was set up by Gladstone’s Liberal Government. Its purpose was ‘to inquire into the conditions of the crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland’ and everything concerning them. This came on the back of The Highland Clearances and ‘The Battle of the Braes’ where the Braes crofters stood up against the 50 policemen brought in from Glasgow following the loss of their hill pasture on Ben Lee and a rent strike in protest. The Report by the Napier Commission resulted in the first Crofters Act in 1886 providing security of tenure for crofters.

130 years after security of tenure was given to crofters a new form of clearance is happening in the Highlands and Islands: The clearance of common grazings committees by the Crofting Commission. They are wielding power in an unjustified and brutal manner reminiscent of landlords from the nineteenth century. We are about to see I believe ‘The Battle of Great Glen House’ (this time perhaps fought with paper and ink rather than stones) and the Scottish Government must now institute an inquiry into the actings of the Crofting Commission and everything concerning them.

Brian Inkster

Crofting Commissioners do the Hokey Pokey

Crofting Commissioners do the Hokey Pokey

Shake it all about

The Crofting Commission have announced the election of Colin Kennedy as their new Convener.

The secret ballot, overseen by the Crofting Commission’s Chief Executive, came following the delegation of the selection of the new Convener to Commissioners by Scotland’s Crofting Minister Dr Aileen McLeod.

Ian George Macdonald was voted in as Vice Convener, a position previously held by Colin Kennedy.

These elections follow on from a period of conflict within the Commission which resulted in the resignation of former Convener, Susan Walker, who was appointed to that position by the Scottish Government.

Back in April it was reported by The Herald that at least 5 commissioners had requisitioned a special meeting of the Crofting Commission in order to move a motion of no confidence in Susan Walker. The report claimed that there had been growing concern amongst her fellow commissioners over her style of leadership with it being alleged that she had assumed the role of an executive chair, rather than that of primus inter pares – first among equals. It was also suggested that she had been closer to officials in Edinburgh and Inverness, than to her commissioner colleagues.

What some have called a “witch-hunt” resulted in Susan Walker resigning both as Convener of the Crofting Commission and as a commissioner.

Following her departure Crofting Minister Dr Aileen McLeod said:-

“I would like to thank Susan for all of her hard work and for making such a positive contribution to crofting during her time as commissioner and convener. I have been impressed by her vision and passion for crofting and Scotland’s crofting communities, as well as her expertise and her many achievements since taking office.”

Colin Kennedy will now take up the post of Convener until 31 March 2017, covering the remaining tenure for the current Board.

Mr Kennedy said:-

“I would like to thank the Commissioners for voting me in to the role of Convener.  I am looking forward to working with the Board and staff in delivering the express will of Parliament contained in crofting legislation and effectively regulating crofting.”

It will be good to see the Crofting Commission actually “delivering the express will of Parliament contained in crofting legislation”. In recent years they have been putting their own interpretation on crofting legislation which many have argued was not how Parliament intended it. Indeed the Scottish Land Court recently ruled the Commission’s interpretation in one particular case to be wrong and clarified for the Commission what Parliament actually intended.

It is to be hoped that the Crofting Commission under Mr Kennedy’s stewardship will actually follow the express will of Parliament and no longer seek to interpret the Crofting Acts in weird and wonderful ways.

Mr Kennedy is, of course, no stranger to crofting legislation having been involved in a number of high profile personal battles in the Scottish Land Court over the years regarding crofting issues on the Isle of Coll.

Mr Kennedy originally stood for election to the board of the Crofting Commission after becoming disillusioned with its management. He said, at the time, that the eight crofters on the Isle of Coll had been treated ‘appallingly’ by the Commission, accusing the organisation of applying the legislation differently in one part of the country to another. If elected, he said he would strive to ensure Scotland’s Crofting Acts would be applied evenly across the board.

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has cautiously welcomed the election of the new Crofting Commission Convener, warning of a long way to go to restore confidence in the Commission.

SCF Vice-Chair Russell Smith said:-

“Following a long period of silence since the early departure of Susan Walker from the leadership of the Crofting Commission, we are pleased to see that something is being done to get the commission back on to a road to recovery. Electing a replacement convener will at least allow the commissioners to get on with their job.

“Crofters welcomed the fact that the new Commission had a majority of elected commissioners when it took over the regulation of crofting in 2012. So, it is even more disappointing that the fracas that led to Ms Walker’s resignation was allowed to happen.

“The fact that there have been no reasons given for the alleged vote of no confidence or that there has been no visible attempt to deal with the commissioner who breached the Code of Conduct by going to the press, leaves a bad smell. There are, understandably, questions still about how the commission operates. It is for the new convener to rectify this.

“However, we were gratified that the minister for crofting, Dr Aileen McLeod, allowed commissioners to elect their own convener this time, and we hope that this practice continues.

“There are some very experienced and competent people still on the commission and we hope that they are able to pick up the pieces. It is the intention of the SCF to continue to work closely with the commission for the furtherance of crofting.”

So it’s in, out and shake it all about at the Crofting Commission. But will they turn it around?

New Chief Executive at the Crofting Commission

Catriona Maclean - New Chief Executive of the Crofting CommissionCatriona Maclean is the new Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission.

Catriona is from a crofting family who live on the Isle of Lewis. Born in Glasgow her family returned to Lewis where she completed her secondary education at the Nicolson Institute.

Catriona previously worked with the Crofters Commission for over 14 years in various roles, including Head of Regulation.

Commenting from her home in Inverness, Catriona said:-

I am delighted to have been appointed Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission. It is 25 years since I first worked in the Crofters Commission and while both the organisation and I have evolved and progressed, crofting has remained a key element in my life. This is an exciting time for crofting and I am looking forward to working with everyone at the Commission and our partners, to ensure that the Crofting Commission is modern, relevant and makes a real difference to crofting and the people of Scotland.

Convener of the Crofting Commission, Susan Walker, commenting on the appointment said:-

The Crofting Commission has experienced a lot of change over the last year, with a new name, a new Act, new Commissioners, new Convener, new Assessor panel and the retirement in November 2012 of Chief Executive, Nick Reiter. The appointment of Catriona Maclean as our Chief Executive completes the renewal and change process. In her current post within the Grampian and Highlands Criminal Justice Board, Catriona has demonstrated an ability to work innovatively and collaboratively on various projects to develop better, more efficient ways of team working.

The past year has, of course, also seen, from a crofting law point of view, (a) the decision from the Scottish Land Court on the reference from the Commission on questions concerning common grazings shares; (b) the introduction of the new Crofting Register; (c) the Commission halting owner-occupied croft decrofting and keeping the legal advice behind that top secret; and (d) continuing controversy over the Commission’s approach to ‘absentee’ crofters.

As recently reported on this blog, following the debate on the proposed introduction of a Decrofting Bill, Tavish Scott MSP said:-

I am very concerned that many crofters have little or no faith in the Commission.

They have an important regulatory role over crofting but their handling of this matter has brought real financial difficulties to many people.

So the Commission has a big task in re-establishing its credibility in the crofting counties.

Catriona Maclean will be faced with that unenviable task when she takes up her new position as Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission in mid-May.

Brian Inkster