Tag Archives: crofting

Nominations open for Crofting Commission elections

tand as a Candidate for the Crofting Commission

Fishermen may apply

An election is being held to elect Crofting Commissioners from the six crofting constituencies:

  • Shetland
  • Orkney and Caithness
  • East Highlands (East Sutherland, Easter Ross, East Inverness and Moray)
  • Western Isles
  • West Highlands (West Sutherland, Wester Ross. Skye and Lochalsh)
  • South West Highlands (Lochaber, Argyll and Bute, Arran and Cumbrae, Small Isles)

One Commissioner will be elected from each constituency and will, along with the three Commissioners appointed by the Scottish Government, make up the Board of the Crofting Commission.

Nomination forms and other documents relating to the election can be downloaded from www.cne-siar.gov.uk/electionoffice/croftingelection; obtained on request, by e- mail to elections@cne-siar.gov.uk; or from the Election Offices detailed in the Notice of Election. Completed nomination forms must be submitted by Thursday 26 January 2017.

An election will be held in each contested constituency by postal ballot, with votes having to be returned by 4.00pm on Thursday 16 March 2017.  The count will take place in the Town Hall, Point Street, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis HS1 2XF on Friday 17 March 2017 at 10.00am.

View from the Crofting Law Blog

The election nominations have been called at a time when the current Crofting Commission remains in chaos. The board is divided, the Convener is ostracised but remains in position possibly pending the outcome of a complaint made by him against Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Minister with responsibility for crofting. Vacancies for two appointed Commissioners remain unfilled.

With elections now in sight there is perhaps a glimmer of hope that they will herald in a new batch of commissioners and, as a result a new and improved Crofting Commission. However, the current Convener, Colin Kennedy, has already expressed his intention to stand again for election. He has been accused by many as the root cause of the problems that have plagued the Crofting Commission throughout its first five years of existence. So will it be a change for the better on 17 March 2017 or another 5 years of chaos, trouble and strife? That is now in the hands of the crofters who are the electorate.

The image used to encourage people to stand for election as a crofting commissioner is curiously of a fisherman. I had the following exchange about that on Twitter:-

To stand for election as a crofting commissioner you do not actually have to be a crofter as long as you have been nominated by a crofter entitled to vote at the election. So a pure fisherman, without a croft, could be a crofting commissioner.

My father was a Shetland fisherman and not a crofter. He was not even a fisherman with a croft. However, he would, I am sure, have made a better crofting commissioner than many of the crofters who hold that position today. Perhaps non-crofters being nominated for and being elected as crofting commissioners would avoid the conflicts of interest and power struggles that have plagued the current Crofting Commission over the past five years? Perhaps it would be a good thing for crofting? What do you think?

Brian Inkster

Pantomime, Farce or Tragedy?

Crofting Pantomime, farce or tragedy?

He’s right in front of you!

As news of the goings on at the Crofting Commission’s Board meeting on 14 December 2016 filtered out views thereon played out on Twitter:-

Image Credit: Dick Whittington © Hackney Empire

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

Crofting Farce

Crofting FarceIt is exactly one week since the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, walked out on a Board meeting at Brora Golf Club. The remaining Commissioners who convened a Special Meeting in his absence called on his resignation.

The Scottish Crofting Federation have expressed bewilderment that Mr Kennedy is still in place despite it being clear that he now stands alone. They have referred to his position as a farce that is getting in the way of important business.

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

The Crofting Commission board meeting last week was certainly an eye-opener. It quickly became apparent that the Convener had lost the support of his board and it came as no surprise that he left the meeting with his tail between his legs. What is astounding though is that he still has not resigned. What does it take for him to get the message?

At the Board meeting of the Crofting Commission, held in Brora last week, observers were treated to a bizarre display involving the Convener, Colin Kennedy, attempting to force his will on the rest of the board and officials. Failing in this he closed the meeting without any business being conducted and left. The meeting was re-convened with vice-convener Iain George MacDonald in the chair and normal business was resumed. Mr MacDonald issued a full and open apology for the recent debacle involving the Commission’s handling of common grazing committees.

The apology is very welcome and shows the other Commissioners do have integrity. However, the apology should have come from Mr Kennedy, along with his resignation speech, both because he is the spokesman for the Commissioners and because he has been the chief antagonist in the whole affair. Mr Kennedy has been very destructive for crofting and for the Commission, and it is time to put an end to this sorry episode.

There is much to be done in crofting development and in rural issues, especially with the uncertainty over the effect of the European referendum. Mr Kennedy is standing alone now, his position is a farce and he is getting in the way of important business. It is time for the Commission, as a body, to have him removed.

Image Credit: Farce of Nature © Aleks Ortynski

Crofting Commission must “swiftly resolve” Common Grazings Crisis

Fergus Ewing MSP wants Crofting Commission to "swiftly resolve" Common Grazings crisis

Fergus Ewing MSP

The Press & Journal has published a statement by Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, following his meeting last week with Crofting Commissioners. He said:-

During the meeting, I stressed the Scottish Government’s commitment to working with the commission to ensure it delivers an effective service for crofting, especially ahead of the crofting elections next year.

I also emphasised the need to swiftly resolve the current situation regarding common grazings committees, and made clear my view on what the commission’s board needs to do to restore equilibrium. The forthcoming elections for new commissioners add impetus to the need to draw a line under the current episode. I look forward to hearing how the commissioners intend to proceed.

The Commissioners are meeting in Brora on Wednesday, 28 September, to decide how to proceed.

Grazings ‘Constable’ must stand aside or be removed

Upper Coll Grazings Constable, Colin Souter, must stand aside or be removedThe Scottish Crofting Federation has written to the cabinet secretary for crofting, Fergus Ewing MSP, expressing deep concern that crofters’ democratic rights are being flouted by a constable appointed, perhaps illegally, by the Crofting Commission.

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

The majority of shareholders of the Upper Coll grazings have voted, yet this constable, whose legality of appointment is refuted by lawyers, is completely ignoring them. The shareholders have demanded that the constable, Colin Souter, who was appointed by the Crofting Commission, stands down so that they can reinstate a democratically elected grazings committee. Why is he still there?

Democracy is the very foundation of grazings committees. A lack of democratic procedure by the removed Upper Coll committee is something that the constable has been trying, unsuccessfully, to find evidence of. The shareholders have the legal right to elect their own committee and Souter is standing in their way. He must stand aside or be removed.

Judging by the press releases Souter issues, he clearly has misunderstood the role of a grazings clerk, or that of an appointed constable fulfilling the duties of clerk – were his appointment legal. He seems to be either completely out of control, or under the control of the Crofting Commission, an organisation that has lost all credibility. In addition Souter and his masters are attempting to undermine the viability of crofters’ collaborative enterprises by questioning their entitlement to SRDP and registration for VAT. Are they trying to bring to an end 130 years of crofting? The only recourse is for the Scottish Government to take control of the situation and to remove him.

This incredible situation is extremely harmful, not only to the crofting community of Upper Coll, but to crofting itself. We can understand that the Scottish Government is reluctant to interfere with a democratically elected Commission, but this constable is not democratically elected, claims to be independent of the Crofting Commission who appointed him, and is flouting democracy. There is nothing to stop the Scottish Government from doing the right thing, and it must do it now.

Crofting is about People

Crofting is about PeopleThis is a guest post contributed by a concerned Upper Coll Villager:-

I keep on asking how they could have sacked a committee, three of whose members had only been on it for 9 months. They had not been on any of the previous committees. How could they have had time to be responsible for anything?

I have been puzzled at the lack of public support from other villages, apart from the night in Stornoway Town Hall, but I have had it said to me several times that they have all done the kind of things for the good of the community, and for which we had previously been praised, and now they fear themselves being targeted. They have done precisely the same kind of things we are now being chastised for. VAT, small donations, foregoing share of feus in favour of our hospice. Ridiculous.

Crofting is not about a few sheep or a few cattle, it is about people and keeping people in our crofting areas. No one can make any kind of a living off crofting in our area. Nevertheless it is an important mechanism for maintaining “community” and all that means. Over half the townships don’t have a committee as a result of loss of “community”. The Commission instead of encouraging the ones which do exist are hounding them.

I have been told of one committee that has been disbanded until they see what the outcome of our situation is. They don’t want to be made personally responsible or be targeted the way our committee has been. They are all waiting to see what happens to us. This is no longer about Upper Coll but about the whole essence of what constitutes a “live” crofting community.

It is very difficult at times to remember the precise details of events of years ago. As the ”constable” has our minute book we don’t have our memory jogger.

The Gearraidh Ghuirm road construction, our esteemed constable seems to have placed such emphasis on, was to help the new householders get good access to their houses, as the village, whilst encouraging and accepting applications in an area of moorland, which was so useless it hadn’t even been fenced, made it quite clear to the purchasers, while they were getting the fues cheaply, the responsibility for the road was theirs and theirs only.

In a spirit of helpfulness, as was the case with the football and recreational facilities, we had enabled to happen, and for which again we are now many years later criticised, the village facilitated it by making application to the Council for money from it’s Unadopted Roads budget. The cash was provided by the Council and the feu holders. The village’s contribution was mainly “in kind”, material from the gravel pit we have developed ourselves over the years. Our ‘constable’ seems determined to find fault and tries to say by looking at our cashbook accounts of EIGHT years ago that we caused shareholders financial loss. Rubbish and now we have a street of houses, on what was useless ground, and up to 20 children … and we are now being hammered for being resourceful in enabling that to happen.

Now that our great ‘constable’ has highlighted what was a beneficial local practice which we all benefitted from, is there going to be pressure on the landlord to put a stop to it? I hope not, but him poking his nose in could very well have that effect.

I have seen the immense strain this has so unfairly placed on the former committee. Their families, who are not used to being under this kind of legal and media focus are completely perplexed by it all. I feel personally insulted on behalf of myself and the others of us whose forefathers created this village, that these people have demeaned all we have done for so many years, which led us to being widely recognised as a forward looking and well run grazings village.

Ivor Matheson and his ally Kenneth Macleod, who has not one facility for his cattle on his wife’s croft and is dependent on common grazings, have much to answer for. Those in authority who didn’t throw out their nonsensical complaints but used them to enable them to peddle some weird agenda have much more to answer for.

A Concerned Upper Coll Villager

Image Credit:-

Registers of Scotland ‘click your croft’ photography competition 2014.

Heather Gray of Shetland won with her photo ‘Hentin Totties’, which shows a family of all ages working the land.

The competition, run in association with the Scottish Crofting Federation and the Crofting Commission, set out to explore what this traditional way of life means to crofters in 2014.

Miss Gray said: “I suppose my main inspiration for the photo is family. Seeing the extended family from grannies to toddlers coming together and helping out with the yearly crop – it just makes you smile.”

Crofting VATgate

Hector the Inspector - HMRC Taxman - Crofting VATgate

Who is the VAT Inspector?

In his letter to shareholders at Upper Coll the grazings ‘constable’, Colin Souter (who was illegally appointed in my view, and in the view of others including, ironically, the Crofting Commission themselves) stated:-

Following receipt of legal opinion from Queen’s Counsel, the position of Grazings Committees being able to register for VAT as trading entities in order to reclaim VAT has come under scrutiny. The dialogue with HMRC regarding VAT status remains ongoing and once concluded, I will be able to advise on the outcome.

Why and how on earth was Colin Souter in receipt of legal opinion from Queen’s Counsel on the question of whether common grazings committees could be VAT registered?

A suggestion on this blog that Colin Souter may have instructed the Opinion was met with this response from Mr Souter:-

I should also point out that I have never sought legal advice from Queen’s Counsel in any context, since being appointed as Grazings Constable.

I then asked:-

Perhaps you can enlighten us as to how you came to be in “receipt of legal opinion from Queen’s Counsel” as stated in your letter to the Upper Coll shareholders?

Mr Souter has yet to answer my question.

So who instructed this legal opinion, who paid for it and why?

How did Colin Souter come to be in possession of it and why?

In his dialogue with HMRC is Colin Souter trying to stop VAT registration at Upper Coll Common Grazings and if so why?

It can only be assumed that the attempt to stop VAT registration of common grazings probably lies at the door of the Crofting Commission. Would this not be how a grazings ‘constable’ appointed by them would be in possession of such information?

We are already aware that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, was of the view that common grazings should not receive SRDP funding. This very alarming notion (an issue that did not concern the crofting regulator and/or its convener in any way) was firmly quashed by Fergus Ewing MSP.

It is therefore not a giant leap to think that the Crofting Commission and/or their Convener might be behind this attempt to stop common grazings being VAT registered.

If that should prove to be the case it is scandalous.

Questions regarding whether crofters should be VAT registered or not have absolutely nothing to do with the Crofting Commission. It is a matter between crofters and HMRC.

Public money should not have been spent on the opinion of Queen’s Counsel on such matters. If that has happened Audit Scotland should be investigating the issue. Another one for them to add to the growing list for their next visit to Great Glen House.

But more significantly why is the Crofting Commission and/or their Convener intent on depriving crofters of income? First it was SRDP funding. Now it appears to be VAT.

Under and in terms of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 the Crofting Commission has as one of its functions:-

promoting the interests of crofting

On their website the Crofting Commission state that it:-

regulates and promotes the interests of crofting in Scotland to secure the future of crofting.

This statement links through to a general leaflet on crofting that states:-

The Crofting Commission is working to secure the future of crofting by creating and promoting a well regulated crofting system that positively contributes to the sustainability of rural communities.

By seeking to deprive crofters of SRDP funding and now, possibly, VAT the Crofting Commission cannot be said to be promoting the interests of crofting, securing the future of crofting or positively contributing to the sustainability of rural communities. Quite the contrary.

If Commissioners are acting in such a way, completely contrary to the functions that the Crofting Commission was established to carry out, then those commissioners responsible have no place in that organisation. They should be ashamed of themselves.

They are clearly “unable or unfit to exercise the functions of a member” or “unsuitable to continue as a member”. As such the Scottish Ministers may remove them from office under and in terms of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993. There have been repeated calls over recent months for such action to be taken but if ‘Crofting VATgate’ does fall at the door of the Convener and/or any other Commissioners then this surely is the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

Fergus Ewing MSP, as Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity with responsibility for Crofting, should immediately launch an investigation to get to the root of ‘Crofting VATgate’, publicise his findings for the benefit of crofters and take appropriate and decisive action against those responsible.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Hector the Tax Inspector © HMRC

Lacklustre response by Crofting Commission

Lacklustre response from Crofting CommissionThe Crofting Commission eventually got around, on 24 August 2016, to issuing a public written statement regarding the letter from Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for crofting, to Colin Kennedy, Convener of the Crofting Commission. It states:-

A special meeting was held by the Board on the 21 July to consider the Cabinet Secretary’s letter to the Convener. The Board unanimously agreed that the Crofting Commission support the Scottish Government’s position on CAP funding and disbursal of funds by common grazings committees.

The Convener, Colin Kennedy, has written to the Cabinet Secretary confirming the Board’s agreement.  At the Commission’s Board meeting on Wednesday 17 August, draft guidance for grazings committees was considered and the Commission is planning to engage with stakeholders to discuss the guidance.

The Crofting Commission continues to work constructively with the Scottish Government and is committed to securing the future of crofting.

So nothing there we didn’t know already! And nothing to clarify the confusing mixed messages issued on the Commission’s behalf by Commissioner Murdo Maclennan in English and in Gaelic immediately following the board meeting on 17 August.

Or does this clarify the position without explicitly saying so?

With no add-ons like we got from Murdo Maclennan does this mean there is no qualification to the support given to the letter from Fergus Ewing (i.e. the Crofting Commission are not actually saying that they think they did the right thing but are still supporting his letter – instead they are simply unequivocally supporting his letter and therefore admitting that they got it wrong completely?)

However, we shouldn’t have to be drawing inferences from statements issued by the Crofting Commission.

They knew there was confusion caused by Colin Kennedy’s statement to Jackie O’Brien on 16 August and Murdo Maclennan’s statement to the media on 17 August. In both cases the message was in effect  that “we’ve done nothing wrong but we support the letter from Fergus Ewing”. Is this or is this not the position of the Board of the Crofting Commission? Or are they split on this point?

I have asked the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, to clarify the matter, for the avoidance of any doubt, for readers of this blog. I will let you know her response should I receive one and am not simply ignored again.