An elective despotism is not the government we fought for.
This week the Scottish Crofting Federation called the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, a deluded despot. Perhaps they are now thinking that an elective despotism is not the Crofting Commission they fought for.
An elected Crofting Commission (6 out of the 9 commissioners – with the other 3 being appointed) was introduced by the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010. The Scottish Crofting Federation supported this move. Before that all commissioners of the Crofters Commission were appointed.
At the time the then environment minister, Stewart Stevenson, said:-
The Scottish government wants to give crofters a voice to determine their own future and these first ever Crofting Commission elections is a solid step down that road.
The Scottish government believes crofts that are occupied and worked can be the biggest contribution to the sustainable economic growth and development of our crofting communities. Having an effective regulator is a vital part of achieving that aim.
The first Convener of the new Crofting Commission was Susan Walker who was appointed by the Scottish Government. At the time some thought that process should have been delegated to the commissioners themselves.
Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, said:-
Clearly the minister doesn’t have enough confidence in the commission to allow them to choose their own convener.
Elsewhere we have heard of the spread of democracy through the Arab Spring.
Is it not time to allow democracy to apply in crofting and to have a Crofting Spring where the commission can be allowed to make its own decisions?
Tavish Scott, Shetland Liberal Democrat MSP, said:-
This is a terrible decision and is consistent with the command and control being exercised by the SNP government on a whole range of issues.
They won’t make an appointment unless they are sure the person passes the Saltire underpants test.
Why do they not trust the people who have been elected by the crofters to make the decision?
Mary Scanlon, Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP, said:-
Given that this was the first time that commissioners were chosen with a mandate from their own communities, it seems high-handed of the minister to appoint the convener himself.
If the nine commissioners were allowed to choose from among their own number the convener would have the confidence and respect of the others. That might not be the case if the appointment is made by the minister.
Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, said:-
To choose the convener in this way, weights the process towards the three commissioners already chosen through the public appointments system.
The minister should allow the commission to choose its own convener.
Alasdair Allan, Western Isles SNP MSP, said:-
There must be a tie between the commission and the minister because it is a public body.
The minister has a choice among all the members.
If the six members chosen by the crofters are unhappy with what the government or the commission is doing they will not be slow to say that.
There is a majority of crofters’ representatives so it is not true to say that this is an attempt to control the commission.
Some commissioners were not too slow to show that they were unhappy and organised a coup against the incumbent convener. They then insisted that they should elect the new one. The minister responsible for crofting at the time, Aileen McLeod, allowed them to do so and Colin Kennedy was duly elected.
The result has been clear for all to see. It could not have been foreseen by the representative bodies and MSPs who called for this democratic process at the outset. In light of what has happened a future crofting minister might think twice about allowing commissioners to choose a convener themselves.
Fergus Ewing MSP, cabinet secretary responsible for crofting, has instituted a governance review of the Crofting Commission. Whatever the outcome of that review it should at least attempt to avoid despotism ever appearing again within the Crofting Commission.