Tag Archives: Convener

Secret meeting declares Brora meeting valid

Crofting Commission 'secret' Special Meeting

Crofting Commissioners meet to debate legality of their previous meeting

In my last post I considered the background to the ‘secret’ special meeting of the Crofting Commission that was to be held in Inverness this morning. It had been requested by the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, purportedly to seek to overturn the decisions taken after he walked out of the Brora meeting.

Mr Kennedy has maintained in statements to the media that the Brora meeting was ultra vires (illegal). It is assumed that he was to argue this at the special meeting called by him this morning even although I pointed out yesterday that it would be a clear conflict of interest for him to participate in any decision making process in this regard.

It was reported by the BBC that at the start of the meeting commissioner David Campbell (West Highlands) made a motion for the meeting to be held in public for the purposes of natural justice, accountability and transparency to the ordinary crofter.

However, none of the other commissioners in the room (who are all crofters) were willing to second this motion. Thus the meeting proceeded in secret and out of honourable principle Mr Campbell departed the meeting at the same time as the press and public were excluded.

David Campbell departs the meeting as it was being held in private rather than public

David Campbell departs the meeting as it was being held in private rather than public

Commissioner Murdo Maclennan (Western Isles) did not attend the meeting. It was reported by the BBC that this was due to a threat of legal action against the Commission/Commissioners by the Convener.

Thus the secret ‘cabal’ consisted of:-

  • Colin Kennedy (Convener) – South West Highlands
  • Ian George Macdonald (Vice-convener) – West Highlands
  • Kathleen Sinclair – Shetland
  • Arnold Pirie – Caithness and Orkney
  • Marina Dennis – East Highlands

However, at the end of the day (after a 6 hour meeting) the Convener didn’t appear to get his way.

Bill Barron confirms that the Brora Meeting was valid

Bill Barron confirms that the Brora Meeting was valid

The official statement issued by Interim Chief Executive Bill Barron to the BBC after the meeting stated:-

At the request of the Convener, the interim CEO called a special meeting of the Crofting Commission on Friday 9 December 2016.

The Commissioners present reaffirmed the importance of working together effectively in the final months of their terms.

The Board also discussed the status of the meeting held in Brora in September and how to move forward.

The Board decided that there was one meeting in Brora which took place in two valid parts, the meeting previously referred to as a special meeting being a continuation of the scheduled Board meeting.

Any consequences from this will be considered at their Board meeting on Wednesday 14 December 2016.

So six hours to decide that the two meetings in Brora (one with the Convener present and one without him after he walked out) were in fact one meeting held in two parts. It is assumed that legal advice had been sought on this (the Commission’s lawyer was evident in the film of the meeting shown on BBC Alba tonight) and that such advice conflicted with the Convener’s own interpretation which may well have been ingenious but flawed.

So there we have it: The Convener’s publicly stated position on the Brora meeting has been wrong from the outset. But will he now accept that?

The official statement says that any consequences from this will be considered at the Board meeting on Wednesday. Surely there are no consequences as such if the meeting was a legally held one. Is it not just a case of approving the minutes and moving on? Or are the consequences linked to the Convener’s stance on the meeting being ultra vires? After all in terms of the Standing Orders [PDF]:-

Once a decision has been reached, all members have a corporate responsibility to recognise and accept the decision as that of the Crofting Commission. Corporate responsibility entails that members must adhere to and accept such a decision until it is otherwise altered.

We will no doubt find out on Wednesday!

Brian Inkster

Image Credits: © BBC Alba

First Minister answers questions on “intolerable” Convener

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, answers questions on the turmoil at the Crofting Commission

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, answers questions from Tavish Scott MSP on the turmoil at the Crofting Commission

At First Minister’s Question Time in the Scottish Parliament today Tavish Scott MSP questioned the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, over what could possibly be dubbed Broragate.

Tavish Scott asked:-

Is the First Minister aware of the turmoil in the Crofting Commission caused by the intolerable behaviour of the current convener?

Does she know that other commissioners have asked for his resignation and that the previous Chief Executive, Catriona Maclean, left because of the convener’s behaviour and the pressure that is being placed on commission staff?

In those circumstances will she and her rural secretary now take action to make the commission work for crofters across the crofting counties without the disruptive presence of the convener?

Tavish Scott MSP asks the First Minister questions on the turmoile at the Crofting Commission

Tavish Scott MSP asking the First Minister questions on the turmoil at the Crofting Commission

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon answered:-

Well Tavish Scott raises a very important issue.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy has already welcomed the apology from the board of the Crofting Commission but it is disappointing that the convener was not a party to that apology.

It is important that we get to the stage of being able to draw a line under recent events.

The resources spent on dealing with these issues by the  commission would in my view be far better used in being an effective regulator in contributing to a sustainable future for crofting.

I note that crofting commissioners have unanimously called on the convener to resign.

The Scottish Government have requested further information from the convener in relation to last week’s events.

While the Government would not ordinarily intervene in the internal operations of an independent statutory body the legislation does give Scottish Ministers power to act if required, and I can assure Tavish Scott that the Cabinet Secretary continues to monitor the situation very closely and would be very happy to discuss it further with Tavish Scott.

You can watch this exchange between Tavish Scott and the First Minister on YouTube at about 24:42 in:-

Grazings Puppets

Grazings Puppets

Strings are attached when appointed a Grazings Constable by the Crofting Commission

Grazings Constables appointed by the Crofting Commission have asserted their independence from the Crofting Commission. It must be remembered though that these grazings constables have been illegally appointed, and in the full knowledge that this was the case, by the Crofting Commission. However, legal or illegal how independent were the appointments and how independent were the grazings constables?

A freedom of information disclosure has shown that they were perhaps not very independent at all. Certainly, it would appear, not in the eyes of the Chief Grazings Constable and Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy. He stated, prior to one of the grazings constables being appointed, in an e-mail to the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean:-

I have had a man on from [name of grazings in question] delighted with the moves and if the Constable has any difficulty and backs out, he will willingly take the Constable position on and pay the monies.

Thus the Crofting Commission, or at least their Convener, was intent on putting henchmen in place to do their bidding. Something, once more, that the Crofting Commission had no power in law to do.

The first post on this blog about ‘The Common Clearances‘ made reference to alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission. 36 blog posts on the same subject matter later and the evidence is fairly clear that there was some substance to those allegations.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Police Officers © Puppetville

Yes Crofting Minister

Yes Crofting Minister

James Hacker: You said yourself how important these select committees are. I cannot be seen to mislead them.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: You will not be SEEN to mislead them.

How the Crofting Commission played out their sudden and surprise U-turn on the question of ‘The Common Clearances‘ would not have been out of place in an episode of Yes Minister. Sir Humphrey Appleby would have delighted in the obfuscation and manipulation displayed by the Crofting Commission in Holyrood on Wednesday night. However, like Sir Humphrey, the Crofting Commission is not immune to making miscalculations or outright blunders.

It was the first meeting, since the latest Scottish Government was formed, of the Cross Party Group on Crofting within the Scottish Parliament.

It was the first time, since allegations of abuse of power within the Crofting Commission over ‘The Common Clearances‘ were made, that the Crofting Commission would meet eye to eye with politicians and other crofting stakeholders in a public forum.

In the preceding week or two damning revelations had been made of historical revisionism and flouting the will of Parliament on the part of the Crofting Commission. This was on top of votes of no confidence against them, the Convener of the Crofting Commission attending meetings despite a clear conflict of interest,  a Crofting Commissioner resigning and calls for the Scottish Government to investigate the whole matter.

It looked like the Commission would be in for a very rough time at the Cross Party Group meeting.

They knew that and had to do something quick and decisive to limit the damage being caused to them and that could be wrought on them at that meeting.

Nothing like a massive U-turn, with an attempt to dress it up in other ways, to achieve that.

So Crofting Commissioner, Murdo Maclennan (the Convener, Colin Kennedy, was conspicuous by his absence), announced to the Cross Party Group that he “thought we have a conclusion” on Mangersta and there was “no grazing constable in place at the moment“.

On being pressed for clarification on certain elements of this the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, elaborated that:-

there is no constable at present, the case is over and the people of Mangersta will be advised.

So case closed and no further discussion on that then. Please move along ladies and gentlemen.

When the removal of the Upper Coll common grazings committee from office was mentioned that, of course, could not be discussed as it was subject to on going proceedings in the Scottish Land Court.

The third committee that the Crofting Commission have evicted from office was not mentioned at all, other than briefly by me when Commissioner Murdo Maclennan insisted that I declare my interests. I think that perhaps backfired on him as the Commission would rather pretend that episode never happened as there has, to date, been no publicity surrounding it.

So one case conveniently closed, one sub judice and one we can simply forget about. Thus nothing really to talk about.

The extra gloss on this being that new guidelines were being produced by the Commission and all would be well when these were issued and followed. My criticism of this approach is already well known. You have to get the law right first before you write guidelines about how to follow that law. The Commission’s viewpoint is that their interpretation of the law will follow “in due course”. Perhaps this is because their latest massive U-turn means they actually now accept the law to be as I have been setting it out to be on this blog for some time!

The U-turn is great news for the shareholders in the Mangersta Common Grazings and the former members of their grazings committee. It is a vindication of the position correctly maintained by them throughout.

It leaves the Crofting Commission with egg on their face however they try to dress it up. The Emperor’s New Clothes remains a theme, in so far as the Commission is concerned, post the Cross Party Group meeting.

In my next blog post I will reveal how the Crofting Commission not only ignore the law but lawyers who write to them concerning it. In a subsequent blog post I will explore the significance of the latest U-turn by the Crofting Commission and the possible repercussions thereof.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Yes Minister © BBC

Update – 2 July 2016: Ignore the law and the lawyers

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

Oh yes you did!

Oh yes you did!

The whole truth and nothing but the truth?

On Monday of this week the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, published an open letter. It reads:-

There has been much said recently about the Crofting Commission and its actions, in particular in relation to common grazings.  As the regulator for crofting we cannot comment on specific cases but it is clear that there have been a number of issues raised which many people have expressed concern over and the full circumstances of why action was necessary is not yet in the public domain.

I think it is important to say that the Commission is not on a campaign to review the functioning of every grazings committee.  Be assured, we do understand that most of the nearly 500 grazings committees across the crofting counties are working well, and will continue to do so, helping to safeguard this important community asset.  This situation has identified the passion and value that crofters, and those who represent them, put on common grazing land.  The Commission shares that passion and value and it is good to see its management and potential being discussed openly.

It is also important to emphasise that the Commission has never said “every grazings committee must carry out a full audit of their accounts” or that “without question all grazings committee must distribute every penny of money to all shareholders and that no money can be retained”.  This view has been advanced by others, not the Commission.

We are the regulator of crofting and we must represent the interest of all 15,388 crofters, the majority of whom share in common grazings and when they express concerns we have a duty to investigate.  In most cases these matters are resolved by mutual agreement.  Putting a committee out of office is not a step taken lightly by the Commission and only occurs rarely and after protracted discussion and investigation.

The way the Crofters (Scotland Act) 1993 (as amended) states that common grazings should be managed represents true democracy at its most local level.  It requires the committees, who are appointed by the shareholders to represent them, to discuss plans with the shareholders and to get their approval for improvements.  This ensures that shareholders share both the costs incurred and any benefit or dividend that results.  All the more reason to see grazings being managed well.

Indeed, the Commission has had support from within crofting communities for being willing to grasp the nettle and be an effective regulator, taking the position that grazings should be properly managed.

Some have expressed concern over crofters who are absent, possibly blocking improvements or failing to pay for maintenance.  I would like to assure crofters that there are remedies available within the current law.  The Landlord has the right to make an application to the Scottish Land Court to terminate the tenancy where a person is in breach of their statutory conditions as, following a much more complex process, can the Commission.  Even if that does not happen should a shareholder fail to contribute to costs the Commission can, when asked to intervene, act as arbiter and has the power to suspend and ultimately terminate a share and reallocate it to others.  This would result in shares coming into the hands of active crofters, willing to pay their dues.

People have said “why should an absentee get anything at all?”  The current Act does not differentiate between shareholders who are resident and non-resident and therefore, neither can the Commission. This is for legislators to address when next reviewing crofting legislation.  Equally there has been speculation about the interpretation of the Act.  The Commission is confident they are applying the law correctly but the only place this can be clarified is in the Scottish Land Court.

I would like to reassure committees and shareholders that we are preparing more best-practice guidance for them and, once we have discussed this guidance with our crofting partners, we will make it available to all grazings committees, shareholders and crofters.  In the meantime, Commission staff are on hand to support and provide guidance to crofters, grazings clerks and grazings committees.  More information can be found on our website (www.crofting.scotland.gov.uk).  In addition we will be running an information session on common grazings at our local crofting meetings to be held across the crofting counties later in the year.

As Chief Executive of the Commission I have a genuine interest in the crofting system.  Partly because I have been involved in its administration one way or another for over 20 years, but even more so because – as a daughter of the croft – it is in my psyche and in my heart.  I know how it benefits people and I am committed to seeing the system flourish.

What is important to both myself and Commissioners is that we work together with others to secure the future of the crofting system that we all value.  I sincerely hope that those who have either engaged in this debate or have been reading along with it, will continue to engage in a discussion about what that future will look like and make sure that decision makers hear those views.

For those who feel passionate about the Commission and how it operates – then why not take the chance to be part of it by standing for election when these take place early next year?  This would provide you with the opportunity to be at the heart of shaping the future Crofting Commission to ensure that it, and the crofting system, is the way you want it to be.

What I would highlight, in particular, from this letter is Catriona Maclean’s adamant statement that the Commission has never said “without question all grazings committee must distribute every penny of money to all shareholders and that no money can be retained”.  Oh yes they did!

The Crofting Commission have deleted from their website guidance issued by their Convener, Colin Kennedy, on 25 April 2016. That guidance included the following statement:-

As trustees any money received by the committee belongs to the shareholders and
should be distributed to them as soon as is reasonably practicable. It is NOT the
township’s or the committee’s money and as such it is the duty of the Grazings Clerk
to distribute any money received from whatever source, but in particular
resumptions, according to each individual shareholder’s share entitlement whether or
not they are active crofters.

When the Grazings Committee require monies to maintain the common Grazings
and the fixed equipment or to carry out works for improvements, the committee must
levy and recover the required monies directly from the shareholders for onward
payment to any third parties.

William Swann, who has since resigned as a Commissioner, also reiterated this same stance on behalf of the Crofting Commission when he chaired a meeting that the Crofting Commission held with the shareholders in the Mangersta Common Grazings. It was reported at the time that:-

Commissioner William Swann, who presided over the meeting, made it clear that under the Crofting Reform Act of 1993 any money that comes into the village must be distributed among all the shareholders – including absentees. Any improvement works then needing to be carried out must be financed through a levy charged on the same shareholders.

The Crofting Commission’s attempt at the eleventh hour to change their tune in this way through historical revisionism does them no credit. An apology and an admission that they got it wrong might have.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Pinocchio © Disney

The deleted Crofting Commission post

Rebel Crofters store the data from the Crofting Commission

The Crofting Commission did not bank on the Rebel Alliance of Crofters having the technology to store and retrieve data

In the last post on this blog reference was made to the Crofting Commission deleting its history. The possible purpose for this historical revisionism will become apparent in subsequent posts on this blog. For now we reproduce, for posterity, that deleted post from 25 April 2016 (the Crofting Commission clearly not being technologically savvy enough to completely cover their tracks):-

COMMON GRAZINGS THE RIGHTS OF CROFTERS AND THE DUTIES OF
GRAZINGS COMMITTEES AND THEIR GRAZINGS CLERKS

It seems to me like a very good time to remind shareholders in Common Grazings
what their rights are and what the duties of the Grazings committee and their
Grazings clerk are. The following is a brief overview of the key points that everyone
involved should understand. Many people reading this may think that this is not what
happens in their village and may feel that it is overly bureaucratic but this is what is
contained in the Crofting Acts. If this process is not what is now required then the
only way to address it would be to ensure that any new Act reflects current
requirements. Until then the Commission have a responsibility for regulating crofting
within current legislation.

Shareholders

  • Crofters who share in a common grazing have certain rights over the land. These
    rights, or pertinents, include the grazing of stock, access to a house or pier or
    foreshore, an area for laying up a boat, the right to collect seaware, the right to cut
    peat, the right to use heather and grass for thatching. These rights, shared with
    others, are over the whole area comprising the common grazing. There are also
    certain common Grazings used as arable machairs, particularly in the Western Isles,
    where the crofters may have a right of cropping. The crofting acts state that the only
    way this can be changed is:-
  • If the landlord resumes an area of the Grazings for a reasonable purpose and
    the shareholders are compensated for their loss and obtain a share of the
    development value of the resumed land.
  • An individual gets an apportionment when his souming may be adjusted.
  • If shareholders enter into a forestry project in terms of section 50 or 50A of the
    crofting Act.
  • If the land court has agreed to a scheme for development under section 19A
    which is binding on all parties.
  • If the majority of the shareholders voting and the Grazings committee or
    constable have obtained the Commission’s consent to use part of the
    Grazings for some other purposeful use under section 50B.
  • Through Compulsory purchase by an acquiring authority with powers of
    compulsory purchase under section 37 of the Act, subject to compensation
    and share in the development value as with resumption.
  • By a reorganisation scheme.
  • Any other local Grazings arrangement is not binding on shareholders who, if they
    choose to do so retain the right to graze stock equivalent to their souming over the
    whole Grazings and the committee and clerk should ensure that any shareholder
    wishing to use the Grazings is accommodated.

Grazings Committees

The most important thing that shareholders in a common Grazings need to
understand is that the Grazings committee act as trustees of the shareholders. The
Land Court has stated that:-

..they (that is the Grazings committee) have clear duty to act as trustees of
the WHOLE shareholders in the Grazings and therefore it is their duty to act
impartially and judicially, keep in view what is their paramount consideration
– how the common Grazings can best be administered to the greatest
advantage of ALL of the tenants sharing in the Grazings….

The general responsibilities of the Committee are to:-

  • Make regulations (which require the consent of the Commission and) which
    should in the spirit of their primary duty to accommodate the requirements of
    all shareholders. Regulations cannot themselves curtail the right of any
    shareholder to graze his souming across the whole Grazings other than in the
    circumstances detailed under the paragraph entitled ‘Shareholders’ or to meet
    any specific environmental designations.
  • Hold an annual general meeting and the clerk should give the meeting an
    account of the work of the committee and of the financial position. At this
    meeting the committee should answer the questions of the shareholders
    whom they represent.
  • MAINTAIN the Grazings and any fixed equipment. That is clearly any existing
    fixed equipment such as fences. They can do this without reference to the
    shareholders and they should claim back any costs INCURRED from each of
    the shareholders whether they are actively using the Common Grazing or
    not.
  • Should the committee wish to carry out any IMPROVEMENTS to the Grazings
    they cannot do so unless they have served notice on each shareholder and
    told them how much the shareholder’s proportion of the cost will be. This
    gives the shareholder the opportunity to make representations against any
    such proposal to the Commission.

Financial management

As trustees any money received by the committee belongs to the shareholders and
should be distributed to them as soon as is reasonably practicable. It is NOT the
township’s or the committee’s money and as such it is the duty of the Grazings Clerk
to distribute any money received from whatever source, but in particular
resumptions, according to each individual shareholder’s share entitlement whether or
not they are active crofters.

When the Grazings Committee require monies to maintain the common Grazings
and the fixed equipment or to carry out works for improvements, the committee must
levy and recover the required monies directly from the shareholders for onward
payment to any third parties.

The rights of crofters have been detailed above and there is no explicit provision
in the crofting acts for the Grazings committee or clerk to be involved in the
administration or coordination of schemes falling within the provisions of
IACS regulations. So any involvement or concern regarding this should be directed
to the scheme administrators. Notwithstanding that fact, as the committee are acting
on behalf of the shareholders, any monies received and lodged in the Grazing
Committee Bank Account belongs to shareholders and must be distributed to each
shareholder in accordance with their share entitlement. It is important that all monies
are distributed to all shareholders timeously in order to assist correct financial
accounting by each individual shareholder should they require to make an annual
return to the HMRC.

There is nowhere in the Crofting Acts that allows a Grazings Committee to retain and
spend shareholders’ money on projects, village improvement works, or make gifts or
donations no matter how altruistic the purpose for which that money is to be spent.
Should townships wish to do this they should set up a separate, appropriate,
mechanism to do so and gather in any necessary funds from those willing to
participate.

Finally, I would like to say that the Crofting Commission is keen to see, wherever
possible, that crofting communities regulate themselves. It may be that shareholders
in your Common Grazings were unaware of the law and your committee has not
been being run in line with the requirements of the Crofting Act. If this is the case it
is important that shareholders and the committee hold a meeting to discuss this and
work together to ensure your Grazings Committee functions within the requirements
of the Crofting Acts.

Colin N Kennedy
Convener
Crofting Commission

Image Credit: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope © Lucasfilm Ltd

Update: Is this why the post was deleted?: Oh yes you did!

Crofting Commission deletes its history

Crofting Commission deletes its history

No… the Crofting Commission never said that!

The ‘Crabbit Crofter‘ brought to our attention today the fact that the Crofting Commission have been deleting/changing their website in so far as guidelines concerning ‘common grazings the rights of crofters and the duties of grazings committees and their grazings clerks’ are concerned.

In April 2016 the Crofting Commission published guidelines on this topic by their Convener, Colin Kennedy, who stated:-

It seems to me like a very good time to remind shareholders in Common Grazings what their rights are and what the duties of the Grazings committee and their Grazings clerk are.

This came almost immediately on the back of us publishing a post on this blog concerning alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission linked to what has become known as ‘The Common Clearances‘.

The Crabbit Crofter reveals that those guidelines have now been deleted from the Crofting Commission’s website:-

Crabbit Crofter - Crofting Commission Deletes its History

Crabbit Crofter - Crofting Commission Deletes its History

It is extraordinary that a public body in Scotland in this day and age is resorting to historical revisionism and we shall return in a subsequent post to the significance of this in light of what the Crofting Commission is now claiming their current and past position on ‘The Common Clearances‘ to be.

Brian Inkster

Update – Read what the Crofting Commission tried to hide: The deleted Crofting Commission post and why: Oh yes you did!

Common Grazings and the Spirit of the Law

Patrick Krause

Patrick Krause

I continue to catch up with news of ‘The Common Clearances‘ since I returned from holiday. With the amount of new news on this topic being generated daily this week that is a difficult task!

On 25 May 2016 Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, published a piece on the Federation’s website. I now reproduce it here in its entirety with a small comment at the end from myself on the question of the will of Parliament.

 

The Spirit of the Law
The inexplicable case of a public body confusing legal dogma with good sense 

The Crofting Commission website says “The Crofting Commission regulates and promotes the
interests of crofting in Scotland to secure the future of crofting.” Following the summary
dismissal of two (or more) grazings committees; the foisting of grazings constables upon the
dismembered grazings; the demolition of crofters’ characters; the contradiction and confusion,
it is no wonder that crofters and those with crofting interests are standing agog and are asking
“What is going on in the Crofting Commission?” It is not for me to make any judgement on the
legalities of the fracas that has been taking place over the past month – crofting lawyers are
willingly giving opinion – but I will attempt to explain the essence. Common grazings are the
epitome of communal working, yet this is a spectacularly detrimental exercise in public
relations by the Commission that threatens the very core of crofting communities. I wonder
what the motive is.

One committee was summarily dismissed for not presenting fully audited accounts. Previously
the Commission had issued official guidance that ‘audited’ did not mean fully audited in the
legal (and expensive) sense, but could be taken to mean an independent examination – the
Commission were taking a “light-touch approach”. At the demand by the Commission for five
years annual accounts, the committee presented an independent examination of its accounts,
as is usual for small businesses and social enterprises and is perfectly acceptable to HMRC,
Companies House and the Charities Regulator. They were summarily dismissed for failing the
demand. This subsequent heavy-handed bombshell has naturally caused fear throughout
regulated grazings that they also are in breach for not having fully audited accounts.

A second committee was also summarily dismissed (both grazings then had a constable foisted
upon them by the Commission, which a leading crofting lawyer claims is not legal in these
circumstances), in this case for not distributing income from resumption. Though the only
shareholder asking for his tiny share of the resumption money was an absentee, legally he had
the right to it, we are told by the Commission.

It is hard to understand why this committee was unexpectedly sacked when it had attempted
to pay the absentee, under guidance of the Commission (and the other was also instantly
sacked even though it had seemed to have complied with all the demands of the Commission).
But let’s leave the detail and look at the principle.

The law says that money due as part value of resumption may be paid by the landlord to the
clerk of the committee for distribution by the clerk among the crofters concerned. The law is
not prescriptive in saying when or how the distribution is to take place. The Commission has
added in its regulations the word “immediate”.

For years grazings committees have managed finance in a workable, business-like fashion.
Income generated from anything, such as resumption of land, schemes for development or
through managing agri-environment schemes, is put in the bank. As in any business,
expenditure on carrying out maintenance or improvements is deducted before any profit is
disbursed to shareholders. If a grazings committee was expected to take all income and pay it
out as dividends to shareholders before deducting expenditure, only to then have to recover
from all shareholders their share of the expenditure, it would be a complete nonsense.

Hobbling grazings by making them produce fully audited accounts, when other similar
businesses or voluntary groups don’t, and making them run an unworkable cash-flow, that no
business would, could not have been the intention of the law, but this is what it seems the
Crofting Commission is trying to enforce, presumably at considerable public cost.

The Commission argue that it is only carrying out its interpretation of the law; but why now
and so destructively? If the Crofting Act is wrong (as much of it has proven to be) it could be
put in ‘The Crofting Law Sump’ for future rectification and the Commission could quietly
resolve the issues, rather than turning this into a public, highly-charged stand-off. If it is
enforced, grazings committees cannot comply so will resign (or be dismissed) and the grazings
will leave regulation – unless the Commission then imposes constables on all grazings.

The Commission clearly knows a lot more about regulation than I, and knows what the
consequences of this will be, but are keeping quiet about its objective. How does this fit with
the Crofting Commission Policy Plan in which it says “The Commission regards the shared
management and productive use of the common grazing to be essential for the sustainability
of crofting. To that end it will … work with crofting communities to promote the establishment
of effective grazing committees and will actively support established committees”?

The Convener of the Crofting Commission is implicated in the fracas perhaps more than a
convener ought to be, having had complaints raised against him for behaviour at one of the
grazings meetings and having turned up unannounced at the other. He came to ‘observe’
apparently. The chair would not allow him to participate as he had a conflict of interest, and it
was surely odd that he was allowed to stay at all, this being the case, and it being against the
wishes of crofters present.

The convener has been widely quoted as saying the Commission is to deliver “the express will
of Parliament”. He would do well to go back and look at the passage of the Bill that became the
2010 Act to see what the will of Parliament was. The will of Parliament is not necessarily the
letter of the law, or in this case, the Crofting Commission interpretation of it, if it is bringing
about the demise of regulated common grazings.

Patrick Krause (Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation)

Comment on the Will of Parliament

Patrick is correct to highlight the fact that the Commission are certainly not delivering “the express will of Parliament”. This is something I will return to in detail in a later blog post with a clear analysis of what the will of Parliament actually is on this issue. This should also, actually, help to spell out the letter of the law on the matter. It should be noted that to date the Crofting Commission has not given any explanation with reference to the law as to why they are taking the stance or actions that they are and have been taking.

Brian Inkster

Update – 20 June 2016: Crofting Commission flouts the will of Parliament

No let up on the Common Clearances crisis whilst on holiday!

No let up in the Common Clearances whilst in Morocco

Could I really escape the presence of the Crofting Commission in Morocco?

I have been in Morocco on holiday for the past couple of weeks. The run up to getting away and being away has meant a lull in reporting by me on The Common Clearances.

The last time I was in Morocco coincided exactly with the Scottish Government’s one week consultation period on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. A bill that arose from the Decrofting Debacle unnecessarily and unjustifiably created by the Crofting Commission. Notice a theme?

I spent that week writing detailed submissions and drafting a better (in my view) bill for the Scottish Government and submitting it to them from Marrakech. A civil servant was to later tell me that my intervention was unhelpful. No doubt the same view is taken in the corridors of Saughton House and Great Glen House over my comments on The Common Clearances.

But it has been said that we provide a clear and understandable source of information at the Crofting Law Blog, something that you cannot get from the Crofting Commission (see ‘A Happy Crofter‘).

I decided, this holiday in Morocco, to actually have a holiday. Now I am back a quick look at the internet tells me there has been no let up in the Common Clearances crisis. As far as I can glean, so far, since I last blogged:-

  • The Crofting Commission held a meeting in Lewis with shareholders of the Mangersta Common Grazings which was chaired by Commissioner William Swann but “marred by a menacing presence” in that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, turned up unexpectedly to observe proceedings despite having declared a conflict of interest.
  • Members of the ousted Upper Coll Grazings Committee applied for an interim interdict against the appointment of the Grazings Constable at Inverness Sheriff Court and that was refused.
  • John Finnie MSP has asked questions about the situation in the Scottish Parliament which have been answered in a fairly neutral manner by Cabinet Minister Fergus Ewing MSP.
  • Further parliamentary questions have been asked by John Finnie MSP and Rhoda Grant MSP about the issue with answers anticipated to be given by Fergus Ewing MSP on 23 June 2016.
  • Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting federation, has written about ‘The Spirit of the Law – The inexplicable case of a public body confusing legal dogma with good sense’.
  • It was reported on Radio nan Gàidheal that another grazings committee has been put out of office by the Crofting Commission, this time on the Scottish mainland.
  • It was also reported by Radio nan Gàidheal that a grazings committee in South Uist has put themselves out of office to avoid any difficulties that may be encountered with being regulated by the Crofting Commission.
  • Commissioner William Swann has resigned from the Crofting Commission.
  • Propaganda about ‘the role of grazings committees in representing shareholders’ has been published by the Crofting Commission.
  • The former and ousted Convener of the Crofting Commission, Susan Walker, has written in the West Highland Free Press about the situation.
  • The Upper Coll Grazing Constable (illegally appointed in my view) has issued a letter to the press.

I will try to catch up on all of these developments on this blog in some detail, and share my thoughts on each, over the coming weeks. Do let me know if I have missed anything.

I also have to tell you on this blog about Inksters’ new and enhanced crofting law team (you may have read about that elsewhere before now).

So keep an eye on the Crofting Law Blog over the next few weeks for, as the ‘Happy Crofter‘ put it, an “invaluable source of information that [is] virtually impossible to find anywhere else”.

Brian Inkster

Update – 13 June 2016: The Crofting Law A-Team

Update – 14 June 2016: ‘A Menacing Presence’

Update – 15 June 2016: Common Grazings and the Spirit of the Law

Update – 16 June 2016: Crofting Commissioner Resigns over situation the Scottish Government and Crofting Commission need to sort out