Tag Archives: crofters

Crofting Federation call on the Commission’s Convener to be ousted

Scottish Crofting Federation call on Crofting Commission Convener Colin Kennedy to be oustedOn the back of assertions by Colin Kennedy in the press and on TV that he has no intention of resigning as Convener of the Crofting Commission the Scottish Crofting Federation has called on the Cabinet Secretary for crofting, Fergus Ewing, to oust him. First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, hinted at their ability to do so at last week’s First Minister’s Question Time. The BBC suggested if he didn’t jump he would be pushed.

Fiona Mandeville, Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, said:-

This dreadful humiliation of crofting regulation and complete waste of public money has got to stop.

In his latest statements to the media, Mr Kennedy has said that he intends to stay in place as Convener of the Crofting Commission. He still refutes any wrong doing and claims to have operated within the law, despite the fact that lawyers and the Cabinet Secretary for crofting, who is himself from a legal background, have said he is wrong. That is some arrogance.

To top this Mr Kennedy said on the BBC that he had no knowledge of the fact that his fellow Commissioners have no confidence in him. He must be the only person in Scotland who hasn’t heard that last week the Commissioners unanimously agreed that Mr Kennedy should stand down, following his petulant abandonment of their board meeting. This joins the widespread calls from the Scottish Crofting Federation, crofters and politicians for Mr Kennedy to go. He’s now a laughing stock if it weren’t so serious a situation. He is a lonely figure with his head stuck firmly in the sand.

How much is this whole affair costing the public purse? The resources being used trying to clean up after Mr Kennedy’s bungling must be astronomical. We have the existential crisis of Brexit staring us in the face and the fundamental weaknesses in the whole regulatory framework, yet a phenomenal amount of everyone’s time and energy is being expended on this one deluded despot.

The Cabinet Secretary must end this farce and restore some normality in crofting by demanding Mr Kennedy’s resignation forthwith. It is within his power to do so. Mr Ewing has the support of the Crofting Commissioners, the public, MSPs and the First Minister. If it just takes all the parties to formally give their support, we urge them to make this clear. Crofting is too important to the Highlands and Islands to let this man run rough-shod over the lives of decent people any longer.

Image Credit: Lord Sugar says “You’re fired” on The Apprentice © BBC

Kennedy stays in post and seeks legal advice

Colin Kennedy stays in position as Convener of the Crofting Coimmission and seeks legal adviceYesterday we heard that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, had told the BBC that he had no plans to resign.

Today we learn that he has also been speaking to The Scottish Farmer. Their front page main story reveals:-

I am currently taking legal advice and it is inappropriate for me to comment at this stage.

All I will say is that, despite all the flak, I am staying in my position as convener, and not resigning.

In the past week Mr Kennedy has provided statements to The Herald, BBC and The Scottish Farmer asserting that he is going nowhere. That appears to be many more statements than he has ever made to the press as convener on behalf of the Crofting Commission in over a year in that position.

With no support from fellow commissioners, the Scottish Crofting Federation, National Farmers Union Scotland, MSPs of all political persuasions, the press and the vast majority of crofters it would appear very clear that he no longer has a mandate to continue in that position.

All the legal advice in the world won’t change that simple fact.

Brian Inkster

Either he Jumps or he will be Pushed

Sally Magnusson - BBC Reporting Scotland - Crofting Commission Report

Sally Magnusson – BBC Reporting Scotland

Reporting Scotland took up the Broragate story yesterday following the questions asked by Tavish Scott MSP at First Minister’s Question Time on Thursday.

Sally Magnusson introduced the news item:-

Pressure is mounting on the head of the Crofting Commission to resign after the First Minister warned that the Government would intervene if it didn’t put its own house in order.

This follows a turbulent few months during which the Commission was forced to apologise to crofters in the Western Isles and then passed a vote of no confidence in its own convener.

Craig Anderson - BBC Reporting Scotland - Crofting Commission Report

Craig Anderson – BBC Reporting Scotland

Craig Anderson explains:-

Its feared by many as an idylic lifestyle, part time farming on small parcels of land with tiny rents.

There are almost 20,000 crofts in Scotland protected and regulated by government agency the Crofting Commission.

But the body is imploding. It suspended two local grazings committees in Lewis earlier this year on the grounds of financial mismanagment but was forced into a u-turn when that was ruled heavy handed if not illegal.

Brian Inkster - Crofting Law Specialist - BBC Reporting Scotland

Brian Inkster commented:-

It all begins with the common grazings committees having been put out office. There were two put out of office in Lewis and one in Lochaber. It is really how the Crofting Commission has gone about that and the uproar that has caused.

Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, storms out of the board meeting in Brora

Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, storms out of the board meeting in Brora

Craig Anderson continued:-

The Scottish Government then called on the commission and its convener Colin Kennedy to apologise to the crofters involved.

Last week he stormed out of commissioners meeting. They issued an apology and then passed a vote of no confidence in Mr Kennedy.

So who’s running the show the First Minister was asked at Holyrood yesterday.

Nicola Sturgeon MSP - First Minister - Crofting Commission crisis

Nicola Sturgeon MSP answered:-

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.

Colin Kennedy and other crofting at Brora before he ended the meeting and walked out

Colin Kennedy and other crofting commissioners at Brora before he ended the meeting and walked out

Craig Anderson pointed out:-

I contacted Mr Kennedy at his home on the Island of Coll by phone earlier today and he told me he had no plans to resign but would make no further comment.

But the implication of the intervention by Nicola Sturgeon is clear: either he jumps or he will be pushed.

Tavish Scott MSP speaks to BBC Reporting Scotland about the crisis at the Crofting Commission

Tavish Scott MSP said:-

There is no doubt that there has been a fall out amongst commissioners and that has been caused by the behaviour of the convener of the Crofting Commission.

What this organisation needs now is a new convener, a reconstituted board and the ability to get back what it is meant to do and that is work for crofters right across Scotland.

Crofting Community - affect on Crofting Coimmission crisis

Craig Anderson asked:-

But does any of this really matter to the people who actually live and work in our crofting communities?

Brian Inkster, Crofting Lawyer

Brian Inkster – Crofting Lawyer

Brian Inkster responded:-

People being removed from office unfairly and unjustifiably has a huge affect on small communities. Allegations made about people that have not been proven to be correct. It has split/divided communities, caused lots of problems.

Craig Anderson rounded the news item off:-

There is a saying that a croft is a piece of land surrounded by legislation. It’s an old joke, but never was a truer word spoken in jest.

Image Credits: Reporting Scotland © BBC

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:-

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

 

Crofters, Lawyers, VAT and a Grazings ‘Constable’

Crofters, Lawyers, VAT and a Grazings 'Constable'

Best to instruct a lawyer for legal advice and a chance of justice

I had thought my post on Crofters and Lawyers set the record straight as far as the question of crofters being entitled to engage the services of lawyers was concerned.

I also thought my post on Crofting VATgate and subsequent comments on that topic from Donald Rennie was sufficient to clarify that matter also.

But alas not for ‘Constable’ Souter. He felt it necessary to air his views once more (and ignore the points already made by me to him via this blog) in front of a large number of lawyers by submitting a letter for publication this week in Scottish Legal News. I reproduce here his letter and my response thereto:-

Grazings Constable Colin Souter responds to criticism – 12 September 2016

Colin Souter has written a response to a September 5 article by solicitor Brian Inkster. The views expressed below are not those of shareholders at Upper Coll Common Grazings or of Scottish Legal News.

As the Grazings Constable for Upper Coll, I took over under difficult circumstances, after the former Committee had been put out of office by the statutory regulator (Crofting Commission) for reasons too long to explore in this short piece. Mr Inkster had been engaged by the former Committee for legal advice, whilst they were in dispute with the Commission but apparently without the matter having been put to a wider shareholders meeting to receive the required majority/full vote. I sought to correspond with him in that capacity, having determined that the Crofting Act 1993 does not permit the use of shareholders funds by the Committee for that purpose. Activity may only be funded where it is for the “maintenance or improvement of the Common Grazing”.

I sought Mr Inkster’s co-operation in re-paying the £600 he received as payment. Mr Inkster has refused to acknowledge or respond to my correspondence but is happy to report and comment upon it, and many other related issues, to readers of his on-line blog.

Mr Inkster has presented a series of speculations, opinions and inferences in his VAT article, without demonstrating any desire to obtain a definitive outcome for those involved. I might be forgiven, I hope, for wondering why, if an expert on the subject, Mr Inkster does not already know definitively whether Committees are eligible to register for VAT and if raised as a legal point, surely it is in the interests of all parties to understand if they have somehow incurred a liability with potential for penalties? The fact of the matter, which undermines Mr Inkster’s conspiracy theory is quite simply that the former Committee included VAT in their annual Statement of Accounts presented to the Crofting Commission but set it out in a way that raised more questions than answers and whilst I am now speculating, I think it reasonable to conclude that the Commission, in responding to a review of those accounts, was left with little alternative other than to seek opinion from Senior Counsel to help address the matter. Senior Counsel, much respected in crofting circles, opined that there was no power for Grazings Committees to trade or to register for VAT under the Crofting Act 1993.

With ownership of the issue at Upper Coll and the need to resolve the matter, I brought it to HMRC and await their definitive response on the matter. If they determine the eligibility criteria have been met for registration, I will be delighted and can sign-off on one more point. If the contrary is true, then I have advocated for a “no-penalty resolution” to apply to all Grazings Committees who may be in a similar situation. The suggestion by those who align with Mr Inkster that being registered must mean they are entitled to be registered, clearly ignores the possibility that registration was made in error by those unaware of the legal status of Grazings Committees under the Crofting Act. Not a difficult scenario to envisage, I’d suggest.

I can only hope Scottish Legal News readers will appreciate my need to ensure shareholders interests at Upper Coll are properly protected and that the future framework in place for the management of the Grazings, when my short term in office expires, will be a legally compliant one. Liabilities will have been exposed for discussion and debate, and as far as possible, remedied. Given the circumstances, however, I cannot promise the remedies will satisfy everyone………least of all Mr Inkster.

Colin Souter
Grazings Constable
Upper Coll

Crofters, Lawyers and VAT – 13 September 2016

Brian Inkster addresses yesterday’s response from Colin Souter to criticism the latter had received.

Colin Souter responded yesterday via Scottish Legal News to my concerns regarding the Crofting Commission investigating the legality of VAT registration of Grazings Committees.

My views attacked the Crofting Commission on this issue and called on an investigation by Fergus Ewing MSP, as cabinet secretary responsible for crofting, into what I considered could be dubbed ‘VATgate’.

It seems rather odd that a grazings ‘constable’ purportedly appointed by the Crofting Commission to manage the affairs of one particular common grazings on the Isle of Lewis should be acting as spokesman for the Crofting Commission on the issue. That is surely the responsibility of the Convener of the Crofting Commission.

That Mr Souter saw fit, at the same time, to draw to the attention of many solicitors that he considers them not entitled to be paid for legal services provided to shareholders in a common grazings is bold indeed.

Firstly, it must be remembered that I do not consider Mr Souter to have been legally appointed. Indeed it has been shown that the Crofting Commission acted contrary to its own legal advice in making the appointment. However, having made an illegal appointment the Crofting Commission are of the view that they cannot revisit that ‘final decision’.

On the basis that I do not recognise Mr Souter as having any legal standing whatsoever I am not about to respond to his demands to repay to him fees legitimately paid to my firm by a properly constituted grazings committee following the provision of legal advice to them.

Mr Souter has threatened to raise a small claims action against my firm and I am more than happy to see him in court. He is well aware that in such circumstances the Crofting Commission will be brought in as a party and there will be a counterclaim for the time, inconvenience and costs caused to me unnecessarily by Mr Souter.

A right for crofters to instruct lawyers does not need to be contained in tablets of stone within the Crofting Acts. It is a fundamental human right. The Magna Carta would be a good starting point for Mr Souter to look at!

Shareholders in common grazings have been instructing lawyers to represent and provide them with advice in numerous matters over many years. Is Mr Souter really suggesting that all those lawyers need to repay fees received for work undertaken and advice given?

Is Mr Souter really saying that shareholders could not have a lawyer representing them in an action brought against them in the Scottish Land Court?

Does Mr Souter really think it is okay for the Crofting Commission to hire top QCs in their questionable battles against shareholders in common grazings but that those shareholders cannot be afforded access to lawyers themselves?

Has Mr Souter not read the Guidance Notes issued by the Crofting Commission on the Management and Use of Common Grazings? These Guidance Notes contain an “Important note” that reads:-

The following guidance is intended to assist grazings committees with regard to the use of grazings regulations. The guidance does not constitute legal advice, and should not be construed as such. Should a grazings committee and/or shareholder require legal advice on a matter concerning common grazings, independent legal advice should be sought from a suitably qualified solicitor.

So even the Crofting Commission acknowledge and accept that shareholders can and should seek their own independent legal advice.

Where on earth does Mr Souter get the idea from that they can’t?

I will now return to the original and more important question involved, namely VAT registration of Grazings Committees.

Mr Souter refers to me as “an expert on the subject”. I have, for the avoidance of any doubt, never been and certainly would not profess to be an expert on tax law or any matter concerning, in particular, VAT.

My concern is as an expert in crofting law advising crofters daily on that particular subject. My concern is that the Crofting Commission whose function is to regulate and promote the interests of crofting may instead be actively seeking to deprive crofters of VAT receipts.

VAT registration of Common Grazings was something that the Scottish Government insisted upon as part of entry into Woodland Grant Schemes. Did Mr Souter know that? Did the Crofting Commission advise their QC of that when seeking an opinion on the matter? Is the Scottish Government happy that Mr Souter and the Crofting Commission are challenging their policy on Crofters, Forestry and VAT?

Mr Souter says that he “can only hope Scottish Legal News readers will appreciate” his “need to ensure shareholders interests at Upper Coll are properly protected”. Is seeking to deprive them of VAT receipts protecting their interests?   As Donald Rennie, Honorary President of the European Council for Rural Law, stated on the Crofting Law Blog:-

Let us for the moment assume that Mr Souter was properly appointed a grazings constable. In that office he would be a trustee for behoof of the Upper Coll crofters as beneficiaries. As a trustee his duty would be to protect the assets and income for the beneficiaries. In the event that his blundering and unnecessary interference results in the abilty to reclaim VAT being lost he will be liable to reimburse the crofters for the losses. The measure of damages would be the total expected VAT reclaim lost from the date of his interference until VATable receipts came in.

This is in addition to any other damages claims to which his improper and negligent acts and omissions expose him.

I have written to Fergus Ewing MSP expressing my concerns about this illegal ‘constable’ being allowed to wreak havoc by the Crofting Commission. I have copied my letter to Mr Souter out of courtesy. Mr Ewing has already had to rein in Convener Colin Kennedy. Now it is time for him to rein in another Colin.

Brian Inkster

Not a Grazings ‘gamechanger’

Not a grazings gamechanger

The new, badly programmed, Robotic Grazings Cop introduced by the Crofting Commission unfortunately did not prove to be a gamechanger!

This week’s front page headline in The Scottish Farmer is Grazings ‘gamechanger’.

The news item by Gordon Davidson states that:-

New evidence has been revealed that appears to justify the Crofting Commission’s unpopular intervention in the financial affairs of a common grazings committee.

Colin Souter, the constable controversially appointed to replace the grazings committee at Upper Coll, on the Isle of Lewis, this week wrote to all its shareholders itemising examples of that committee’s “arbitrary decision making” on how shareholders money was spent.

Quite the contrary is in fact the case.

A proper analysis of the ‘findings’ of Colin Souter demonstrates his complete lack of understanding of (a) what the role of a legally appointed grazings constable is (he, of course, being illegally appointed); (b) crofting law; and (c) duties and responsibilities that a grazings constable has towards shareholders in the common grazings.

It also, alarmingly, exposes the true relationship between Colin Souter and the Crofting Commission. More significantly it also exposes a new scandal to hit the Crofting Commission, namely (assuming that Colin Souter is not solely behind it) their attempt to deprive common grazings of finance by seeking to prevent them being VAT registered.

This follows hot on the heels of revelations that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, was seeking to prevent common grazings from receiving SRDP funding!

This attempt by the Crofting Commission and/or their Convener to meddle once more in matters that have nothing to do with their role as a regulator and seek, in so doing, to deprive crofters of finance is the real story here. That is the story that should have made front page news in The Scottish Farmer had Gordon Davidson been tuned into the actual facts involved or had contacted myself or former committee members at Upper Coll for a truer picture. Instead he appeared to rely only on the word of Ivor Matheson (the aggrieved crofter who originally complained to the Crofting Commission) and the misguided ‘findings’ of an illegally appointed grazings ‘constable’.

In subsequent posts on this blog I will consider some of the more salient ‘findings’ by Colin Souter and expose them for what they really are. I will also look at the cosy relationship that Colin Souter appears to enjoy with the Crofting Commission and the real significance of what could easily be referred to as Crofting VATgate.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Robocop © Orion Pictures

Update – 4 September 2016: Crofters and Lawyers + The Wrong Grazings Committee!

Cabinet Secretary “wholly disagrees” with Crofting Commission Convener

Fergus Ewing v Colin Kennedy

A clash has begun between Fergus Ewing MSP and Colin Kennedy

Breaking news on BBC Radio Scotland this morning:-

The BBC has seen a letter written by the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP, that says he “wholly disagrees” with the Crofting Commission’s stance on Common Grazings Committees and the distribution of funds received by them.

BBC Scotland reporter Gary Robertson said:-

The Scottish Government is going head to head with the Convener of the public body responsible for crofting.

In a hard hitting letter seen by BBC Scotland the rural affairs secretary, Fergus Ewing, has told the Convener of the Crofting Commission that he wholly disagrees with his handling of a bitter dispute over shared land in the Western Isles.

BBC Scotland reporter Jackie O’Brien has seen the correspondence and Gary Robertson asked her what the background was.

Jackie O’Brien said:-

Well this has been a protracted and slightly complicated dispute involving the way that the ground crofters share is managed through what they call common grazings committees which are made up of crofters.

Now earlier this year two committees on Lewis, one in Mangersta and the other in Upper Coll, were removed from office by the Crofting Commission.

This happened after questions were asked over financial records and some transactions including the fact that the Upper Coll committee had not distributed or as they call it disbursed income from croft house sites to individual crofters but had put all of the money into a crofting township fund instead.

Now the Commisssion in the meantime appointed what they called constables to manage the land whilst committee accounts were investigated.

One of the committees has been reinstated but there is still annoyance and outrage over the way that this whole affair has been handled. Some say it is belligerent and unlawful and there have been calls for the resignation of the Crofting Commission Convener, Colin Kennedy.

Gary Robertson asked:-

So what exactly does Fergus Ewing say in this letter?

Jackie O’Brien responded:-

Well the rural affairs secretary has been trying to calm the waters and has been quite diplomatic on this to date. But there is no sign of it in this letter which I have seen that he has sent to Colin Kennedy.

He confirms that contrary to Mr Kennedy’s views the Crofters (Scotland) Act does not require the immediate disbursement or pay out of funds by a grazings committee. He says that as it currently stand the Scottish Government sees little merit in the Crofting Chairman’s views which he says he wholly disagrees with.

The letter goes on to say 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.

Gary Robertson then asked:-

Any response from Colin Kennedy himself?

Jackie O’Brien confirmed:-

I did speak to him last night. He is adamant that he has done nothing wrong. He claims that all of the decisions which have been made have been made during/since he has been Convener have been based on papers supplied by the Commission’s executive.

He has also insisted that not a single matter on this has ever had to go to a vote or at board level and he says that all decisions are taken by means of reasoned debate and consensus.

Gary Robertson then asked Jackie O’Brien:-

What is your sense of the implications of this clash?

Jackie O’Brien responded:-

Well the contents of this letter shows the Government is clearly pointing the finger at Mr Kennedy who is an elected Convener. This is backed up by the fact that Fergus Ewing has said in his letter that he is also very concerned about the risk that policy decisions may be taken without a clear mandate from the Crofting Commission’s board. This implies that not everyone on the board supports the way things have been handled.

Now the Commission’s board does happen to be meeting today, and in his letter Fergus Ewing has asked for its position on the matter to be made clear after this meeting. But he warns that if the Commission continues to subscribe to an entirely different view he will then have to consider what action to take. It is not clear what that action could be but that could put further pressure on him to resign.

View from the Crofting Law Blog

The Scottish Government clearly takes the same view regarding the law on the common grazings debacle taken from the outset on the Crofting Law Blog. It is good that they have done so and made their position clear in such strong terms.

The law on the matter has in my view been fairly clear. It is also, it transpires, clear to the Scottish Government.

Why has it been so unclear to the Crofting Commission?

Despite repeated requests from me to the Crofting Commission asking them to justify their position with reference to statute and case law they have failed to do so. They have simply ignored me. If they had papers from their executive that backed up their position in law surely they would have referenced those to me.

The Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, suggested in a meeting of the Scottish Government Crofting Stakeholder Forum that the law on the matter would follow “in due course” after the Commission had drawn up new guidelines for grazings committees to follow. Putting the cart before the horse was never a good idea!

The Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, has said to BBC Scotland that the Commission were following advice given in papers produced by their executive. Oh no they weren’t! The Crofting Commission specifically ignored the advice given by the executive and appointed grazings constables in circumstances where they knew that to do so was illegal. How many other times has this happened?

Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that a paper [PDF] was considered by the Crofting Commission at a February 2016 Policy in Development meeting. In that paper it was, somewhat alarmingly, stated:-

There is a degree of irony in that the Commission may be requiring grazing committees to adhere to regulations while not being clear about the procedure it is itself employing in directing this.

Thus did the Commission actually have papers from the executive to consider when making some of their decisions or were they simply making it up as they went along?

We also, of course, know that the Commission has chopped and changed its position on the matter, tried to hide the fact they have done so and ultimately made a massive U-Turn. Does that demonstrate having done nothing wrong?

In light of the stance now taken by the Scottish Government against the Convener surely his tenure in office must be in question more so than it ever was. Especially if he continues with the adamant view that he has done nothing wrong when all of the evidence that has so far come to light would perhaps suggest otherwise.

The Crofting Commission are having a board meeting today. On the agenda [PDF] is ‘Grazings committees – a practical approach to the management of common grazings’ with a paper on that topic for discussion. A practical approach would no doubt be a welcome approach from most crofters. But let’s hope the Commission have now got a clear understanding and grasp of what the law actually is when applying a practical approach.

A little bit of humbleness, signs of regret and an apology would not go amiss at today’s meeting in light of the letter from Fergus Ewing.

A statement from the Crofting Commission on the outcome of today’s meeting is awaited with bated breath.

Brian Inkster

Crofting Convener must go

Crofting Convener must go - says Lewis and Harris Crofters MeetingThe overwhelming message that came out of the Lewis and Harris Crofters’ Meeting was that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, must go.

Over 80 people attended the meeting, organised by the Scottish Crofting Federation, in Stornoway Town Hall on 3 August.

I will reproduce some of the reports of the meeting that have appeared in the media.

“Lack of Trust” in the Crofting Commission – BBC Naidheachdan

On Wednesday night, more than 80 people gathered at a meeting in the Stornoway town hall to discuss the impact of unrest/conflict between the Crofting Commission and the Grazing Committees.

They put forward a vote of no confidence in the commission, and agreed that Colin Kennedy should resign from his position as the convener of the Crofting Commission.

The Commission had no official representation at the meeting.

Iain MacIver who is himself a Township Clerk said:-

The turnout tonight shows the interest in crofting, and how worried people are of the situation as it is now that they understand it.

It is easy to see that people are very angry about the way in which some of the villages were dealt.

They want to see how the Commission works, and how the law works, lessons to be learnt so that crofting stands in a better position.

The lack of trust vote shows the feelings that are there, but at the end of the day it is up to the government what they are going to do.

I think that the thing that worried people most, was if the people going forward were to be idle in their roles as Town Clerk , and also the Commission itself with the situation as it is now.

But we hope in the coming months that people will gain confidence and be given the right guidance so that crofting can be strengthened, instead of weakened, and that the Government endeavours to make this happen, and that they won’t ruin it as people suspected they would.  That was the consensus this evening.

Crofters make it clear: The Commission can stay but the Convener has to go – Scottish Crofting Federation

A meeting attended by eighty crofters in Stornoway concluded that a Crofting Commission is good for crofting, but it is currently not fit for purpose so the convener, Colin Kennedy, must go.

A crofting meeting organised by the Scottish Crofting Federation held in Stornoway last week, attended by eighty crofters from townships all over Lewis and Harris, gave a clear message to the Scottish Government: the convener of the Crofting Commission must step down; the Upper Coll grazings committee must be re-instated; the current Crofting Commission must be sorted out by Scottish Government but, nonetheless, a Commission is essential to crofting.

Vice-chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF), Russell Smith, said:-

It was a loud and clear message coming out of a very lively but thoughtful discussion. This is not knee-jerk reaction; the attack on common grazings committees by the Crofting Commission has been on-going now for several months so crofters have had plenty of time to think about this. It is not surprising that there is a call for the convener of the Commission to stand down and for deposed committees to be re-instated. It is perhaps more notable that, despite what is widely regarded as very poor behaviour, the Crofting Commission is still wanted, albeit following a thorough review and improvement of procedures. I think that this is a very sensible approach.

The meeting heard presentations from representatives of the removed Lewis grazings committees, SCF, Inksters Solicitors and Scottish Government, not only on the topic of the Crofting Commission but also on CAP, support to crofting and advocacy for crofting. The meeting, that sometimes became quite heated, was well-chaired by SCF member Donald MacSween.

Mr Smith continued:-

We can understand the Scottish Government’s reluctance to interfere with a majority-elected body, but the meeting was united in its view that the Scottish Government does have to intervene in this circumstance. The procedures of the Commission clearly need to be investigated and modified to stop this sort of thing happening again. The Crofting Commission may well be an ‘arms-length government body’, but the Scottish Government still has a responsibility to make sure that the Commission operates in a fair and reasonable manner – and does possess the powers to intervene, for example by removing a Commissioner, if it sees fit.

Following discussions a vote was called on the motion:-

this meeting has no confidence in the existing Crofting Commission and supports the SCF call for the resignation of the convener Colin Kennedy.

The motion was passed by an overwhelming majority.

Anger in Stornoway aimed at commission – West Highland Free Press

The sense of anger at the recent actions of the Crofting Commission was laid bare at a public meeting in Stornoway last week attended by over 80 people, which delivered an overwhelming vote of no confidence in the organisation and called for the resignation of its convener Colin Kennedy….

As the meeting was drawing to a close a vote of no confidence in the existing commission was passed as well as a call for the resignation of its convener. An overwhelming majority supported the moves with only five of those present against – three of whom are the crofters in Upper Coll who raised the original complaint against the committee, including a father and son.

The Crofting Commission’s Response – Island News and Advertiser

The Crofting Commission is committed to working positively with grazings committees and crofters. At present, the Commission is undertaking an examination of the circumstances of the recent cases, so that any lessons learnt can inform future procedures and decision-making.

A majority of the Crofting Commissioners are elected by crofters, with no involvement on the part of Commission staff in the process, so any consideration of their position is a matter for the individual Commissioner.

It should not be forgotten that consideration of the position of Crofting Commissioners is also a matter for Scottish Ministers and I will look at that further in my next post.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: © BBC Alba

21 crofters to share over £705,000 from Croft House Grant Scheme

Fergus Ewing MSP announces £705,000 of Croft House GrantsCrofters will benefit from better housing through funding under the Croft House Grant Scheme.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, confirmed 21 crofters will share over £705,000 from the scheme. The funding allows crofters to build or improve homes, helping to retain and attract people to rural communities in the crofting counties of Scotland.

Since the start of 2007, over £15 million of grant payments have been awarded. From 1 April 2016, changes made to the grant support mechanism include a significant increase in individual grants, with some crofters now eligible for £38,000 of funding.

Mr Ewing confirmed the funds on a visit to a recently constructed croft house near Kiltarlity in the Highlands. He said:

Good quality housing is essential for crofters. We need to draw people to Scotland’s most remote and rural communities and the Croft House Grant can do that. Upgrading or building new properties can help crofters fulfil their duty to live on or close to their croft and can help them undertake additional agricultural activity.

This funding will make a real difference to 21 crofters and their families across the Highlands, Western Isles, Northern Isles and Argyll. Since 2007 over 800 homes have been improved or built under the scheme. It is great to see how this support can make a difference and I look forward to hearing many more success stories from the latest awards.

Mark Wiper crofts at Ardendrain near Kiltarlity in Inverness-shire. He received £11,500 through the scheme in 2012, enabling him to build a three bedroom family home on his croft. He said:

The funding from the Croft House Grants Scheme went toward building Tigh Na Cleit. I’ve been there for two years now and being able to live on the croft I’m working on is great. Beforehand, I was living at home with my parents and having my own home has given me much needed independence.

The grant has provided me the opportunity to build a property that is completely fit for purpose, and allows me to still live close to my family. Crofting can be very challenging and any support to help maintain the way of life is welcome.

The 21 grants referred to are being made to crofters in the following locations:-

  • Caithness
  • Inverness-shire
  • Isle of Lewis
  • Isle of Skye
  • Isle of Islay
  • North Uist
  • Ross-shire
  • Shetland
  • Sutherland

For details of the scheme see: The Scottish Government – Rural Payments – Croft House Grant