Tag Archives: Common Clearances

The Crofting Commission has become a three-ring circus

The Crofting Commission has become a three-ring circus

Every good circus needs a performing elephant!

The title of this post is the title of the Editorial in the West Highland Free Press (WHFP) published on 16 December 2016.

We reproduce that Editorial here as an important addition to the 101 blog posts already published on the fiasco arising from ‘The Common Clearances‘:-

For the last three months the Crofting Commission has not been dysfunctional. it has been non-existent.

As the Crofting Commission is the regulatory body of almost 20,000 crofts occupied by over 30,000 people – including around half of the combined populations of the Western Isles, Skye and the west Highlands – that is plainly unacceptable.

This dire state of affairs originated in the persecution of grazings committees in Lewis and Lochaber by the commission’s convener, Colin Kennedy.

Following a widespread outcry, Mr Kennedy’s edicts were overthrown and he was ordered by the crofting minister, Fergus Ewing, to retreat and apologise.

In September the rest of the commissioners issued their own apology and passed a vote of no confidence in Colin Kennedy, who had stalked out of the meeting.

In the real world, that would have been that. Mr Kennedy would have vacated the convener’s chair. The Crofting Commission would have dusted itself down and continued to do its duties as best as possible.

In the unreal world of the Crofting Commission chaos ensued.

Colin Kennedy has refused to accept the censure of both the Scottish Government and his colleagues on the Crofting Commission. Even more remarkably, the other commissioners and the crofting minister seem prepared to accept this.

As we go to press on Wednesday the Crofting Commission is meeting in Inverness. Following recent form, we have no idea what will transpire. It could be anything from another walk-out to a song and dance act in the grounds of Great Glen House.

It is possible that the commission will settle for a quiet life and accept the status quo – Colin Kennedy included – until its elections next March.

That would mean three months of a non-existent Crofting Commission followed by three months of a dispirited and barely functional Crofting Commission.

Why has the crofting minister allowed this to occur?

View from the Crofting Law Blog

The WHFP have a greater grasp of the situation and have been more vocal than most news papers in calling for a resolution thereof by the Scottish Government over the past few months.

They are as perplexed as I, and many others are, at the dithering on the part of the Scottish Government over it.

Unfortunately a song and dance act in the grounds of Great Glen House did not take place at the board meeting underway as the WHFP went to press that Wednesday. Perhaps that is being saved until the Scottish Government does take the action that it really needs to take 😉

Another walk-out was nearer the mark as will be revealed in our next blog post.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Coll-ossus cartoon © A concerned crofter

three-ring circus - definition

101 blog posts on ‘The Common Clearances’

101 Blog Posts on 'The Commom Clearances'

For some ‘The Common Clearances’ have been the equivalent of being sent to Room 101. Many have suggested who should be sent to room 101!

When I published a post on here back in April 2016 on alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission I did not think for one minute it would spawn 100 further blog posts all linked to the same issue and in effect stemming from what has been dubbed ‘The Common Clearances‘. Here is a handy index to the first 101 posts. Perhaps I should have called this blog post ‘101 reasons why the Crofting Commission is not fit for purpose’ 😉  More such posts will undoubtedly follow! At least 9 are currently pending.

  1. Abuse of power within the Crofting Commission?
  2. The Common Clearances
  3. Crofting Commission’s appointment of Grazings Constable is illegal
  4. Crofting Federation hold meeting on Common Grazings Calamity
  5. Crofting Commission Statement on ‘Common Clearances’
  6. When the costs of administering a Common Grazings Fund would exceed the income
  7. Whose best practice?
  8. Claims against Mangersta Common Grazings Committee withdrawn
  9. Vote of no confidence in Crofting Commission and calls for their Convener to stand aside pending the outcome of a full external enquiry
  10. No let up on the Common Clearances crisis whilst on holiday!
  11. ‘A Menacing Presence’
  12. Common Grazings and the Spirit of the Law
  13. Crofting Commissioner Resigns over situation the Scottish Government and Crofting Commission need to sort out
  14. Crofting Commission deletes its history
  15. The deleted Crofting Commission post
  16. Crofting Commission must be audited “and we do mean a full audit”
  17. Pressure mounts for a full investigation of the Crofting Commission
  18. It’s been 125 years
  19. Crofting Commission flouts the will of Parliament
  20. The Emperor’s New Clothes
  21. The Commission is for turning
  22. Yes Crofting Minister
  23. Ignore the law and the lawyers
  24. You might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment
  25. Crofting Crossroads
  26. Dismissed before you can resign
  27. Back to the Future of Crofting
  28. Grazings Constables Risk the Clink
  29. Carry on Grazings Constable
  30. Reports from a ‘Grazing Constable’
  31. The Chief Grazings Constable
  32. Crofting Commission knew they were acting illegally in appointing Grazings Constables
  33. Grazings Constables were added to the Sump by the Crofting Commission
  34. Time for Kennedy to go
  35. Grazings Puppets
  36. Keystone Crofting Cops
  37. ‘Allo ‘allo ‘allo… what’s all this then?
  38. Lewis and Harris Crofters’ Meeting
  39. Who pays the Grazings Constables?
  40. How much are Grazings Constables paid?
  41. The cost of the Common Clearances
  42. Crofting Convener must go
  43. A “big step” or a just step?
  44. Cabinet Secretary “wholly disagrees” with Crofting Commission Convener
  45. Fudged response from Crofting Commission
  46. Decisions “have been divisive, unacceptable and not in line with crofting law”
  47. Statement by Crofting Commission gets no better in Gaelic
  48. Crofting Convener seeks to stop SRDP funding for Common Grazings
  49. Who calls the shots at the Crofting Commission?
  50. Lacklustre response by Crofting Commission
  51. Croft Wars: Return of the Committee
  52. Croft Wars: The Constable Strikes Back
  53. Who are we supposed to believe?
  54. Not a Grazings ‘gamechanger’
  55. Crofters and Lawyers
  56. The Wrong Grazings Committee!
  57. What the Grazings ‘Constable’ didn’t do
  58. Crofting VATgate
  59. Catriona moves on from herding the Commissioner(s)
  60. Inspector Constable
  61. The Crofting Bat Phone
  62. Conflict of Interest at Upper Coll
  63. A chair fit for a Crofting Convener
  64. Twitter Hashtags poke fun at Crofting Convener
  65. New Grazings Committee formed at Upper Coll
  66. The Scottish Farmer adds balance to the tales of the Upper Coll ‘Constable’
  67. Crofting is about People
  68. Crofters, Lawyers, VAT and a Grazings ‘Constable’
  69. Constable Propaganda
  70. The T-1000 Grazings ‘Constable’
  71. Decisive Ministerial intervention in crofting crisis is now required
  72. Grazings ‘Constable’ must stand aside or be removed
  73. Brown Envelopes at the Crofting Commission?
  74. Croft Wars: A New Hope
  75. Crofting Convener in Hiding
  76. Crofting Commission must “swiftly resolve” Common Grazings Crisis
  77. Scottish Farmer confused over Common Grazings Crisis
  78. Kennedy walks out of Brora meeting and remaining Commissioners apologise and call for his resignation
  79. Crofting Premonition
  80. Souter to step down “as soon as possible”
  81. Kennedy refuses to adhere to the law
  82. Few tears should be shed
  83. Crofting Farce
  84. Shackles lifted on Murdo Maclennan
  85. First Minister answers questions on “intolerable” Convener
  86. Either he Jumps or he will be Pushed
  87. Kennedy stays in post and seeks legal advice
  88. Sunday Politics Scotland: Chaos on the Croft
  89. Has the Convener lost his memory?
  90. Crofting Federation call on the Commission’s Convener to be ousted
  91. An elective despotism is not the Crofting Commission we fought for
  92. Kennedy says hell will freeze over before he resigns and that the Cabinet Secretary for Crofting should stand down!
  93. Radio Crofting GaGa
  94. Bad penny?
  95. Colin Kennedy and the Holy Grail
  96. Crofting Law whilst in Milan
  97. The end game?
  98. The Cross-Party Elephant?
  99. Why are the Crofting Commissioners not meeting?
  100. A Crofting Cabal?
  101. Secret meeting declares Brora meeting valid

Image Credit: 1984: © Virgin Films

Bad penny?

Bad Penny? - The convener who just would not goAnother hard hitting editorial appeared in this week’s West Highland Free Press (14 October 2016). It was entitled ‘The Convener who just would not go‘. It follows on from their editorial two week’s ago in which it was suggested that by walking out on the Crofting Commission Board meeting in Brora Colin Kennedy “abandoned the convenership“.

This week the editorial expressed amazement that two weeks later he was still in post. Again we reproduce it here as an important part of our archive on ‘The Common Clearances‘:-

If Colin Kennedy is still convener of the Crofting Commission when Fergus Ewing MSP reads this, we suggest that the crofting minister steps outside and personally puts Mr Kennedy’s P45 in the post.

What on earth is going on over there? It is over two weeks since Mr Kennedy walked out of a Crofting Commission meeting in a fit of pique, leaving the chair temporarily to an unhappy and embarrassed Ian George Macdonald.

It is more than two weeks since the crofting minister deplored Colin Kennedy’s convenership. It is more than two weeks since his remaining colleagues on the Crofting Commission unanimously called on Mr Kennedy to resign as their convener, and issued in his absence a grovelling apology for his actions.

Colin Kennedy may still have an electoral base of the 216 crofter voters in the south-west Highlands who elected him as their representative four years ago. He is not being asked to vacate his position as their commissioner.

But as convener he has lost the support of the rest of the Crofting Commission, the Scottish Government, most crofters elsewhere in the country and the Scottish Crofting Federation.

His position has been untenable since he abandoned that meeting on the morning of Wednesday 28th September. But bizarrely, he has refused to vacate it. On the contrary, he has announced his intention to stay in post!

We understand that Mr Kennedy finds it difficult to accept that he has done anything wrong, in Lewis or elsewhere, although the crofters of Upper Coll and Mangersta might disagree.

We understand that he feels himself to have been betrayed by other commissioners who supported him during most of his term in office.

Those considerations are irrelevant. Every day that Colin Kennedy clings on to his convenership brings both the Crofting Commission and crofting itself into further disrepute.

That may, at this point, be Colin Kennedy’s intention. He should not be abetted by the indecision of the crofting minister. Fergus Ewing has the power to remove Mr Kennedy. He should exercise that power without any more delay.

View from the Crofting Law Blog

I, like many others, can only agree with the sentiments expressed by the WHFP. However, I might question their suggestion that Colin Kennedy is not being asked to vacate his position as a commissioner. Can he really be removed as Convener but not as Commissioner?

The relative provisions in the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 refer to removal of a member who is unable or unfit to exercise the functions of a member or unsuitable to continue as a member.

Thus they relate to the removal of a member not removal from the office of convener. Removal of a convener would appear to involve removal of the member who happens to be the convener. On removal they would cease to be convener but also cease to be a board member.

In any event if it is necessary to strip a commissioner of the convenership could that commissioner really be suitable to continue as a member of the board of the Crofting Commission?

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Bad Penny © Jarmean

Shackles lifted on Murdo Maclennan

Murdo Maclennan - Crofting Commissioner (Western Isles)

Murdo Maclennan – Crofting Commissioner (Western Isles)

The Stornoway Gazette, has revealed that Murdo Maclennan, Crofting Commissioner for the Western Isles, is pleased to now be free to publicly declare his position on the common grazings crisis in the Western Isles after the shackles applied, when he confirmed a declaration of interest, were finally lifted.

In the online article Murdo Maclennan admits that the past few months have been difficult as both Mangersta and Upper Coll have endured very public struggles. He is quoted as saying:-

It has been very difficult for me being unable to give my opinions on the ongoing matters in Mangersta and Upper Coll but now my declaration of interests have been lifted.

It is important to say I was being held back by these declarations, but I can speak now.

The Constable (Mr Colin Souter) installed in Upper Coll should complete his work as quickly as possible and the move to have a new committee in Upper Coll should happen as quickly as possible.

I would hope despite all that has happened that there can be a drawing of a line under it to move forward together, and like all committees, we will need to work with the commission for the benefit of crofting in the future in these areas.

There are lessons learned on the commission side absolutely. In terms of Mangersta I have asked why it has taken six years to resolve? That will be open and transparent to everyone. The way matters were handled and whether a grazings officer could intervene at an earlier stage to bring communities together.

The Stornoway Gazette article points out that last week at the Board meeting at Brora Golf Club Mr Maclennan led a motion, which was seconded and agreed by officials, calling for the resignation of the Crofting Commission’s Convener, Colin Kennedy.

This followed Mr Kennedy walking out of a meeting after he refused to accept Mr Maclennan’s withdrawal of his declaration of interest.

It goes on to quote Mr Maclennan as saying:-

I had sought to represent publicly the Western Isles crofters involved by asking for the papers and being able to take part in the discussions later on in the meeting,

But I was denied that by the convener and after taking advice from the officials present, my position was sustained, that I could have access to the papers which led to him closing the meeting.

The board did continue to meet and we had a full day of business. I did move that the board state, through a motion, in my opinion it was the convener’s position to retire due to the situation. This was seconded and also received the unanimous vote of the board.

It is a question of accountability and responsibility for all that has gone on in the past six months.

View from the Crofting Law Blog

It is good that Mr Maclennan no longer has a conflict of interest and is able at last to take an active role in important issues concerning his own island community.

It is also heartening to see that he was instrumental in leading the motion calling for the convener’s resignation.

Mr Maclennan says that the grazings ‘constable’ Colin Souter should complete his work as quickly as possible and the move to have a new committee in Upper Coll should happen as quickly as possible.

However, what work does Mr Souter have to complete? I don’t think the majority of shareholders at Upper Coll want him to complete anything for them anymore.

In the case of Mangersta the ‘constable’ there was removed very swiftly indeed. Should the same not happen at Upper Coll?

What move needs to be made to have a new committee in Upper Coll? Is that not in effect all done and dusted by the actions taken by the shareholders themselves some weeks ago?

It looks like the Commission is unnecessarily prolonging the agony for the crofters of Upper Coll.

Colin Souter should step down immediately, without any further delay, and let the crofters get on with it themselves.

That happened in Mangersta. There is no good reason why it cannot and should not happen in Upper Coll.

The six crofting commissioners (including Mr Maclennan) who now oppose Mr Kennedy should ensure that this happens without further delay and preferably by close of play tomorrow at the latest. This would demonstrate that the shackles have well and truly been lifted.

Brian Inkster

Kennedy walks out of Brora meeting and remaining Commissioners apologise and call for his resignation

Crofting Convener, Colin Kennedy, walks out of Board meeting at Brora Golf Club and remaining Commissioners seek his resignation

Brora Golf Club – Location of the latest episode of the Crofting Soap Opera

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.

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?

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Brora Golf Club

 

Scottish Farmer confused over Common Grazings Crisis

Scottish Farmer confused over Common Grazings CrisisThe Scottish Farmer seems to be confused by the Common Grazings Crisis.

They think that:-

The furore within crofting circles shows no sign of abating, as the impasse between the governing body, the Crofting Commission, and the industry representative body, the Scottish Crofting Federation, meanders on.

It is not an impasse between the Crofting Commission and the Scottish Crofting Federation. It is an impasse between the Crofting Commission and crofters. In particular the crofters directly affected by the decisions of the Crofting Commission to remove from office the members of three grazings committees.

One minute the ‘findings’ of Grazings ‘Constable’ Colin Souter is front page news. The next minute they are calling him Ian Souter.

The debate regarding the removal of this Ian Souter could they suggest “continue forever” as he has “support within the crofting community“. That will be 4 out of 42 shareholders!

One minute they are running a poll that shows that 96% of readers who took part considered that the Scottish Government should enact an independent inquiry into the workings of the Crofting Commission. The next minute they are running a poll on “should crofting put its house in order without government intervention?

They think “the time has come for a line to be drawn and for a new Upper Coll committee to steer the way forward“. Probably not many disagreements there other than perhaps from Colin/Ian Souter and Colin Kennedy.

They think that “this decision would be much better taken without government intervention“. I’m sure it would have been but time has shown that there is a clear inability on the part of the Crofting Commission to accept its wrongs. If anything in recent weeks they have been going out of their way to make matters worse with the inexplicable quest via Colin Souter to find something, anything, to justify their actions in the first place.

This all on the back of the first government intervention when Fergus Ewing MSP made it clear than the government’s views were “diametrically opposed” to those held by Commission Convener, Colin Kennedy.

Despite this first intervention and rebuke the Crofting Commission, with Colin Kennedy still at the helm, steered into even stormier waters clearly not heeding what Mr Ewing had told them.

The result was undoubtedly going to be the need for Mr Ewing to intervene again. He did so before the latest poll from The Scottish Farmer properly got off the ground.

Again Mr Ewing has told the Crofting Commission they got it wrong. This time he has asked them to “swiftly resolve” the crisis in crofting of their making. He has also told them to apologise to the crofters they have hurt so badly and the expectation is that this apology must come from Colin Kennedy.

Mr Ewing has also instructed government officials to carry out a review of the governance of the Crofting Commission.

Yes, it would have been better for there to have been no need for government intervention. But week upon week of the Crofting Commission making the situation worse not better has left little option but for this intervention to take place. It has been very necessary and extremely justified.

I reckon that if Fergus Ewing is forced to intervene a third time (chances are that he will have to) it will be the last time he does so as by that stage heads will have to roll.

Crofting Commissioners should reflect on that when deciding their next move at their board meeting in Brora on Wednesday.

Brian Inkster

Hat Tip: With thanks to Donald Macsween for drawing this to my attention.

Who are we supposed to believe?

Whose riddles are the right riddles?

Whose riddles are the right riddles?

A guest post by the Crabbit Crofter.

Over the last five months “the public” has become more and more confused by the Crofting Commission’s changing statements, retractions, and now silence on the subject of ‘The Common Clearances‘. So whose fault is it the message is so confused?

The Crofting Commission seems to have the right intention. It has a button you can click on its website called Openness. It boldly claims “We aim to provide high quality services and information to all members of the public.” So how is it getting on with its aim?

First. Who should be making sure we were given clear messages about such an important topic? And lo and behold Crofting Commission has a handy Framework Document [PDF]. It became operational just about when everything started to go wrong with the common grazings furore so a shame everyone seems to have forgotten what it says. It covers the period April 2016 to March 2018. The introduction says:-

This framework document has been drawn up by the Scottish Government (SG) in consultation with the Crofting Commission. It sets out the broad framework within which the Crofting Commission will operate and defines key roles and responsibilities which underpin the relationship between the Crofting Commission and the SG.

How handy. It tells us lots of useful stuff. It sets out who is responsible for communicating with the public. Guess who it is? The Convener of the Crofting Commission. The Framework Document states one of the Convener’s “particular responsibilities” is:-

Representing the views of the Board to the general public

So how has Convener Kennedy been getting on with this “particular responsibility”? Since the 2016-2018 Framework Document came into force, there have been:-

  • various interviews on Radio nan Gaidheal and An La, BBC Alba (TV) with Commissioner MacLennan, including one where he was challenged by the interviewer Donald Lamont on why he hasn’t done more to help Lewis grazing committees. Mr MacLennan explained he couldn’t talk about Mangersta or Upper Coll because he had conflicts of interest. In the Upper Coll case because he had some sort of link with the solicitor representing Upper Coll in the Land Court case.

It could be argued Mr MacLennan as a Gaelic speaker was used for these interviews rather than Convener Kennedy. But, guess what?  There have also been:-

  • An interview in English with Commissioner Swan after the meeting in Mangersta on 17th May on Aithris an Fheasgair, Radio nan Gaidheal.
  • An interview in English with Chief Executive Catriona MacLean on Radio nan Gaidheal, and An La, BBC Alba, after the meeting attended also by Convener Kennedy (and Commissioner MacLennan) in Stornoway with the CNES Joint Consultative Committee, on 13th June.
  • Statements at the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Crofting in June by Commissioner MacLennan and Chief Executive Catriona MacLean (in English). Convener Kennedy was notably absent when the big topic of the Commission’s self-inflicted common grazings crisis was on the agenda and obviously politicians and the general public would be demanding a clear statement from the Commission. Strangely Commissioner MacLennan seemed to have forgotten about his reluctance to talk about the issue because of a conflict of interest in the two Lewis cases.
  • Interviews with Commissioner MacLennan following the board meeting on 17th August, carried on Aithris an Fheasgair and An La in Gaelic and in a BBC Highland report in English. These interviews were almost unintelligible. They left the “general public” in a worse state of confusion than if there had been no interviews at all by anyone.

There have also been numbers of statements –

  • The famous Convener Kennedy statement on how to manage common grazings finances, now removed from the Commission’s website but available on the Crofting Law Blog.
  • statement from Vice Convener MacDonald on 8th June contradicting the previous statement from the Convener but with no explanation if it was his own views or those of the whole board who had agreed to disagree with their Convener on the issue.
  • The famous Open Letter from Chief Executive Catriona MacLean still available on the Commission website. It contradicts the Convener’s previous statement, but claims no such statement was ever made. So which of the Convener’s or the Chief Executive’s statements was the views of the board? We have to assume the Convener’s since it is his “particular responsibility” to convey the views of the board to the general public.
  • report from Jackie O’Brien on Good Morning Scotland (Radio Scotland) who hadn’t managed to get an interview but had got a statement from Convener Kennedy prior to the board meeting on 17th August. The Convener’s statement was extraordinary because it disagreed with his Minister. And it stated the Convener’s position on the matter before he allowed the board to have a democratic discussion. But then the Convener didn’t make any attempt to convey the views of the board to the general public after the board meeting. Why not? Instead we got something almost completely unintelligible from Commissioner MacLennan no-one has been able to decipher yet. So what were the views of the board? Since it is his “particular responsibility” to convey the views of the board to the general public we must assume it was the Convener’s statement before the board meeting.

All of this leaves the general public totally confused. Which of these contradictory interviews and statements from five different people (Vice Convener, two Commissioners, Chief Executive, Convener) over the past 5 months is the opinion of the board?  The Framework Document tells us we should only listen to the Convener because he has “particular responsibility” to convey the views of the board to the general public. But he has consistently refused to give interviews. And his two public statements baldly state grazing committees have to pay out all money immediately to shareholders and can keep none.  So there you have it. It looks like he is in conflict with his Minister. And with his board. And his Chief Executive. Not to mention crofters.  No wonder we are all so confused and angry.

Crabbit Crofter

Guest Blogger Bio: A crabbit crofter who wishes the weather was better & Scotland produced more of its own food. He believes in a just & honest world, full of integrity & decency.

Image Credit: The Riddler – Batman Forever © Tim Burton Productions and PolyGram Pictures

Crofting Convener seeks to stop SRDP funding for Common Grazings

I don't believe it - Crofting Commission up to their neck in it

“I don’t believe it!”

Whilst the media concentrated last week on Fergus Ewing’s letter to Colin Kennedy stating that the Scottish Government disagreed with the way the Common Grazings debacle had been handled there was another significant element to his letter. This was that:-

there is nothing in the CAP rules that prevents the Scottish Government approving applications for SRDP funding in respect of a common grazings by a Grazings Committee.

This would suggest that the Convener of the Crofting Commission was seeking to prevent common grazings committees receiving SRDP funding! Why on earth would a crofter elected to represent the interests of crofters on the Crofting Commission seek to do that?

Furthermore what does SRDP funding have to do with the crofting regulator? Absolutely nothing!

It is worrying indeed that the Crofting Commission and/or their Convener might be spending any time or resources at all on seeking to deprive grazings committees of funding in the first place never mind them seeking to divest those committees of monies as soon as received.

It was made clear in the letter that this view on SRDP funding was Colin Kennedy’s own view and not one shared by the Board of the Crofting Commission. I will explore that fact further in my next blog post.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: ©BBC – Victor Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave

Statement by Crofting Commission gets no better in Gaelic

Crofting Commission Statement no better in GaelicIt was previously raised on this blog that the statement made by Crofting Commissioner Murdo Maclennan after the board meeting on 17 August was fairly unintelligible.

This was a statement made by him, on behalf of the Crofting Commission, following discussion by them of the letter from Fergus Ewing MSP, the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for crofting, on the Commission’s handling of the common grazings debacle.

That statement was made by Murdo Maclennan in English. He made another statement on the same day to the media in Gaelic. That Gaelic statement was broadcast on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal’s Aithris an Fheasgair on 17 August 2016.

The Crabbit Crofter has made as accurate a transcription and translation into English from Gaelic as he could of this statement, and that as follows:-

…that was in the letter and…um…and…eh…the Convener made…eh…he brought the letter to the board…about it…as I said…as…as…every public board is anyway…there will be different opinions…and we came…we talked about it and we came to the conclusion…everyone in the…everyone in the Commission was behind…as I’m saying…and accepted it.

Unfortunately in these two villages that…they didn’t come to an agreement…there wasn’t an agreement…between the people who raised the topic and…and…eh…the township committees themselves but…but that’s past now…and…and we are working eh with…as in Upper Coll…we have got a Constable who is working with crofters in the village…and…and…I am finding out he is working well with them…eh… unfortunately …I said that it was…it came to this…but we think we did the right things for the township.

Well, no better or any more understandable than the statement made in English!

Interesting that in this statement Murdo Maclennan speaks specifically about an apparent lack of agreement in two villages (there were actually three involved: two on the Isle of Lewis and one on the Scottish mainland) but “that’s past now”.

It may be in the past in the Commission’s eyes but it is what Fergus Ewing’s letter was all about and crofters still want answers as to why the Commission took the action that they did and assurances that they will never do so, in such circumstances, again.

The Commission’s current policy on this matter, in light of the letter from Fergus Ewing MSP, must be made clear and this statement goes nowhere near doing so.

Murdo Maclennan says “we have got a Constable”. Is this, yet again, the Commission thinking the constable is their man on the ground rather than an independent party distinct from the Commission who simply takes the role of clerk/committee?

In any event the grazings constable in question is illegal! If the Crofting Commission are now accepting that they got it wrong, in light of Fergus Ewing’s letter, does it not follow that they are accepting that they got it wrong in relation to the appointment of constables?

The Crofting Commission, via Murdo Maclennan seems to think that the illegally appointed constable in Upper Coll is “working well” with the crofters in the village. Certainly not the message being given out loud and clear by many of  the crofters in the village who have stated that to date they have “only been co-operating with the constable under duress”.

Also Murdo Maclennan said, on behalf of the Crofting Commission, that they think they “did the right things for the township”. That is not what the majority of crofters or the Scottish Government seem to think. Also is that statement actually reflected in the massive U-turn the Commission took over Mangersta?

All and all it still seems to be a shambles. The Crofting Commission appear to say, perhaps reluctantly, on one hand that they agree that they got it wrong (i.e. in support of the Scottish Government position) but on the other hand they still think that they did the right thing. Those two viewpoints cannot sit easily side by side.

However, the statements made on behalf of the Crofting Commission by Murdo Maclennan, both in English and in Gaelic, are far from clear in any event and are open to misinterpretation.

The Crofting Commission must, in all the circumstances, publish a written statement in clear English and Gaelic (each one being a direct translation of the other) that sets out their actual position on the matter. This should, in any event, have been done as a matter of course immediately following their board meeting last Wednesday.

Brian Inkster

Update: 3 September 2016

In the West Highland Free Press yesterday a letter was published from Murdo Maclennan under the heading “Partick twang” to blame. It reads:-

I refer to the comments of Ms Mandeville of the SCF as reported on the WHFP website on 19th August and her reference to my “apparent assertion after a recent board meeting”.

As she does not disclose her source of information I assume that she is referring to my post-board interview with BBC Alba. My Gaelic is nuanced through a Partick twang and she has clearly misinterpreted my public statement. I did state during the interview that the Commission conducted a debate followed by a motion, which I moved, being carried unanimously and without dissent. In any public body vigorous debate is surely to be encouraged and not disparaged.

Sorry, Mr Maclennan but that goes nowhere near resolving the confusion you have already created – It may in fact have caused more!

Do the Commission take the view that they have done nothing wrong despite the letter from Fergus Ewing? A simple “Yes” or “No” in English, Gaelic or Partick twang will suffice.

Decisions “have been divisive, unacceptable and not in line with crofting law”

Scottish Crofting Federation welcomes intervention by Cabinet SecretaryIn a statement issued today the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has welcomed the intervention of rural affairs secretary Fergus Ewing MSP in his letter to Colin Kennedy, Crofting Commission convener.

SCF chair, Fiona Mandeville, commented:-

We are pleased that the Scottish Government has finally endorsed what we and others have been saying for months, that the actions of the Commission convener, and the decisions he appears to have forced through, have been divisive, unacceptable and not in line with crofting law.

While Mr Ewing’s letter is not yet in the public domain, its contents have been summarised and made public. It is clear that the Scottish Government is as concerned as the SCF and all who care about crofting. BBC’s Jackie O’Brien has seen the letter and reports that the Government’s view is diametrically opposed to Mr Kennedy’s and that it is not sustainable for the Scottish Government and one of its public bodies to take opposing interpretations of the law.

Ms Mandeville continued:-

The secretary for rural affairs has written a direct personal reprimand to the convener, who should now do the honourable thing and stand down right away.

Commissioner Murdo Maclennan’s apparent assertion after the Commission’s recent board meeting is that the board is backing Kennedy.  Does the Crofting Commission convener agree with the board? Does the board unanimously support the convener? It is natural for a board to attempt to portray a consensus, but is this really the case?

Fergus Ewing, in his letter as reported by the BBC, expresses his grave concern that policy decisions may be taken without a clear mandate from the Crofting Commission’s board. This suggests such concerns are also held by Scottish Government.

Colin Kennedy must accept the reality that it is time for him to go.