Tag Archives: Fergus Ewing

Bad penny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from the Crofting Law Blog

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

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

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

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

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Bad Penny © Jarmean

Kennedy says hell will freeze over before he resigns and that the Cabinet Secretary for Crofting should stand down!

only when hell freezes over will the crofting commission convener colin kennedy resignIn an exclusive interview with The Oban Times, published today, Colin Kennedy, Convener of the Crofting Commission, said that “hell will freeze over” before he resigns. He went onto say that Fergus Ewing MSP, cabinet secretary responsible, for crofting, is contravening crofters’ human rights by not allowing access to their own share of European funds. Mr Kennedy said: “The MSP should be standing down himself“.

Mr Kennedy also made reference to alleged “cronyism within the Crofting Commission”  and to practices “within the commission that are not fair and equitable“.

The Oban Times further reported Mr Kennedy as saying there is a real crisis in the Scottish Government as it tries to cover its back and leave itself open to legal challenges that could cost it millions.

The conflict between the Crofting Convener and the Cabinet Secretary has now reached an extraordinary stage. It is clear that despite the Crofting Commission stating that they supported the Scottish Government’s stance over SRDP funding of common grazings and ‘immediate’ payment of monies to shareholders this is a view not shared by Colin Kennedy. As convener of the Crofting Commission he should be expressing the views of the Board and not his personally held views.

The Framework Document between the Crofting Commission and the Scottish Government (April 2016 – October 2018) [PDF] sets out the broad framework within which the Crofting Commission will operate and defines key roles and responsibilities which underpin the relationship between the Crofting Commission and the Scottish Government.

Paragraph 21 of this Framework Document states:-

The Convener is responsible to the Scottish Ministers and, in common with any individual with responsibility for devolved functions, may also be held to account by the Scottish Parliament. The Convener shall ensure that the Crofting Commission’s policies and actions support the wider strategic policies of the Scottish Ministers; and that the Crofting Commission’s affairs are conducted with probity.

Current activities would appear to be a breach of that on the part of the Convener.

Under Paragraph 22 the Convener has a particular leadership responsibility on the following matters:-

  • Ensuring that the Crofting Commission fulfils the aims and objectives set by the Scottish Ministers; 
  • Formulating the Board’s strategy; 
  • Ensuring that the Board, in reaching decisions, takes proper account of guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers; 
  • Promoting the efficient and effective use of staff and other resources; 
  • Encouraging high standards of propriety and regularity; 
  • Representing the views of the Board to the general public; and 
  • Promoting diversity throughout the organisation.

He does not appear to be ensuring that the Crofting Commission fulfils the aims and objectives set by the Scottish Ministers.

He does not appear to be ensuring that the Board, in reaching decisions, takes proper account of guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers (or at least he is disputing that guidance).

He does not appear to be promoting the efficient and effective use of staff and other resources. That was clear from him closing and walking out of the meeting in Brora.

He does not appear to be encouraging high standards of propriety and regularity.

He does not appear to be representing the views of the Board to the general public. He is only representing his own personal views which appear to be in divergence to those of the Board. Perhaps even “diametrically opposed”, being the phrase used by Fergus Ewing MSP to describe how Mr Kennedy’s own views compared to those held by the Scottish Government.

So again he appears to be in serious breach of the Framework Document.

In terms of Paragraph 23 the Convener shall also “ensure… that the board is working effectively”. Recent actions by him cannot mean that it is.

Section 1(3) of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 states:-

The Commission shall discharge their functions in accordance with such directions of a general or specific character as may from time to time be given to them in writing by the Scottish Ministers.

Directions have been given to Mr Kennedy. He appears to be ignoring those directions.

The seven principles of conduct underpinning public life (as identified by the Nolan Committee in 1995) are as follows:

1. Selflessness
Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or other friends.

2. Integrity
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

3. Objectivity
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

4. Accountability
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

5. Openness
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

6. Honesty
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

7. Leadership
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

The Scottish Executive took the Nolan Committee recommendations one step further with the introduction of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 which brought in a statutory Code of Conduct for Board Members of Devolved Public Bodies and set up a Standards Commission for Scotland to oversee the ethical standards framework.

The Scottish Executive also identified nine key principles underpinning public life in Scotland, which incorporated the seven Nolan Principles and introduced two further principles:-

8. Public Service
Holders of public office have a duty to act in the interests of the public body of which they are a Board member and to act in accordance with the core tasks of the body.

9. Respect
Holders of public office must respect fellow members of their public body and employees of the body and the role they play, treating them with courtesy at all times.

Does the latest outburst in The Oban Times comply with these 9 principles and especially numbers 4, 7, 8 and 9?

A Scottish Government spokesman is quoted by The Oban Times as saying:-

Serious allegations about Scottish ministers were attributed to Mr Kennedy in the press following the Crofting Commission’s meeting in Brora on September 28.

The Scottish Government has requested further information from the convener in relation to these allegations and will give this further consideration, as appropriate. While this matter is ongoing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity [Mr Ewing] will continue to monitor the situation at the Crofting Commission closely.

Matters have surely today reached the point of no return. The ball is in Mr Ewing’s court.

Brian Inkster

An elective despotism is not the Crofting Commission we fought for

An elective depotisim is not the Crofting Commission we fought forThomas Jefferson said:

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.

Brian Inkster

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

Has the Convener lost his memory?

Has the Crofting Commission Convener, Colin Kennedy, lost his memory?The Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, gave an interview to Gordon Brewer on Sunday Politics Scotland by phone from the Isle of Coll. This followed on from my own interview with Gordon Brewer at the BBC studios at Pacific Quay in Glasgow.

What struck me from Mr Kennedy’s responses to Gordon Brewer’s questions was that he appeared to have lost his memory. I will look at some of those responses and explain why:-

Mr Kennedy’s assertion that the Commission have acted wholly within the law at all times and have not received legal advice to the contrary

Gordon Brewer asked:-

Are you going to stay in the post?

Colin Kennedy responded:-

I have no intention of resigning.

Gordon Brewer:-

Why not?

Colin Kennedy:-

As matters stand, I believe the commission have acted wholly within the law at all times and until such times as we have legal advice to the contrary, I will maintain my position.

View from the Crofting Law Blog on Mr Kennedy’s assertion that the Commission have acted wholly within the law at all times and have not received legal advice to the contrary

Has Mr Kennedy forgotten that he had deleted from the Crofting Commission’s website his own guidelines on “immediate” payment of funds when it was shown that the law did not insist upon that.

Has Mr Kennedy forgotten already that Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary responsible for crofting, wrote him a letter which stated that Mr Ewing saw “little merit” in and “wholly disagrees” with his interpretation of the law?

Indeed Mr Ewing referred to the Scottish Government’s position as being “diametrically opposed” to Mr Kennedy’s position. He went onto say that it was “not sustainable for the Scottish Government and one of its public bodies to take opposing interpretations of the law”.

The Board of the Commission (including Mr Kennedy) subsequently accepted and supported the Government’s position in this regard.

Has Mr Kennedy also forgotten the meeting that he and other commissioners had with Mr Ewing at Holyrood?

At that meeting Mr Ewing told Mr Kennedy that the action taken by the Crofting Commission to remove grazings committees from office was wrong, that the decisions should be rescinded and an apology given to the grazings committees in question.

Following Mr Kennedy walking out of the Board Meeting at Brora the remaining commissioners accepted Mr Ewing’s position and the apology was issued.

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, referred to it as being “disappointing” that Mr Kennedy was not a party to that apology.

Mr Kennedy being unaware that the commissioners have no confidence in him

Gordon Brewer said:-

Okay, but the commissioners have said they no longer have any confidence in you. Which is not brilliant from your point of view is it?

Colin Kennedy responded:-

I am unaware of the commissioners having said they have no confidence in me.

Gordon Brewer:-

You are not aware of that?

Colin Kennedy:-

Correct.

The Crofting Law Blog’s view on Mr Kennedy being unaware that the commissioners have no confidence in him

Mr Kennedy has been known to go into hiding but he must be on a different planet if he is suggesting that he does not know what was discussed at the Special Meeting in Brora.

It was headline news following that meeting.

Perhaps commissioners didn’t use the exact words “no confidence” at their meeting but calling on Mr Kennedy to resign is a vote of no confidence if ever there was one.

Mr Kennedy’s understanding of the Commission’s Standing Orders

Gordon Brewer asked:-

So as far as you are concerned what? The Crofting Commission is carrying on its work as per normal?

Colin Kennedy replied:-

Well I would suggest at this moment in time that the Crofting Commission conducted a meeting on 28th September which is in non compliance or in accordance with the standing orders of the Crofting Commission and therefore it would appear in my view to be ultra vires.

The Crofting Law Blog’s view on Mr Kennedy’s understanding of the Commission’s Standing Orders

Is Mr Kennedy not familiar with the Commission’s Standing Orders? Surely the Convener should be?

The relevant provisions for present purposes are:-

6.4 The Chief Executive will call a Special Meeting of the Commission when required to do so by the Convener of the Commission. A Special Meeting will also be called by the Chief Executive if in receipt of a written request stating the business of the meeting from another member of the Commission and seconded by a majority of the Commission. The meeting will be held within 21 days of the receipt of the requisition by the Chief Executive.

6.5 Where the Convener requires a Special Meeting, and considers that there is particular urgency, the Chief Executive may call the meeting without giving the
7 days’ notice normally required at 6.1 above, provided every effort is made to contact members to give as much notice as possible prior to the meeting.

These provisions were followed and a Special Meeting duly convened.

The Crofting Commission have stated:-

When the Convener left the board meeting on 28 September in Brora the remaining commissioners requested a Special Meeting. This was held in line with the Crofting Commission’s Standing Orders.

Crofting Commissioners should be commended for doing so and allowing important business that Fergus Ewing MSP had requested them to deal with to so be dealt with.

The Convener was content to abandon the scheduled meeting and not deal at all with the business of the day.

Mr Kennedy’s views on the inexplicable

Gordon Brewer:-

So right. You think that they still have confidence in you but that they have held an ultra vires meeting without you for reasons that are inexplicable?

Colin Kennedy:-

Correct.

The Crofting Law Blog’s take on Mr Kennedy’s views on the inexplicable

What can you say!

Mr Kennedy’s assertion that decisions have been based on legal advice and papers presented to the Board

Gordon Brewer pointed out:-

The substance of this is about you, they allege, that you made various determinations about things like payments in the form of edicts – that they weren’t really consulted.

Colin Kennedy retorted:-

Absolutely incorrect.

At no time under my leadership have any decisions been taken without full endorsement of the board and based on legal advice.

And if I could comment prior to those decisions as per the board minute of 15 September 2015, prior to taking any of those decisions a formal request was made to the Chief Executive to obtain legal advice to support the papers presented to the board on which the board took the decisions.

The Crofting Law Blog’s view on Mr Kennedy’s assertion that decisions have been based on legal advice and papers presented to the Board

I am unsure what the board minute of 15 September 2015 is. I have located one from 16 September 2015 but that does not appear to be of any relevance to the matter at hand.

However, has Mr Kennedy forgotten that the Chief Executive provided clear advice to the Board that they could not appoint a grazings constable where a grazings committee was removed from office?

Despite that advice the Board went onto appoint three grazings constables in three such circumstances which appears to be a contravention of the legal advice received on at least three occasions.

General comment from the Crofting Law Blog on Mr Kennedy’s memory

It would appear that when analysed Mr Kennedy’s responses in each instance are somewhat flawed. The accurate position in each instance can actually be found in the archives on this blog.

Perhaps Mr Kennedy should refresh his memory by reading through the blog before he gives his next press interview.

However, the flaws in his responses highlight a serious divide between him and the Scottish Government and one that you would think the Scottish Ministers cannot tolerate for much longer.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Sunday Politics Scotland © BBC Scotland

Few tears should be shed

WHFP - 30 September 2016The latest edition (30 September) of the West Highland Free Press contains a strong editorial concerning the events in Brora last week. It is entitled Crofting Commission: No tears for the end of the Colin Kennedy era. We reproduce it here as an important part of our archive on ‘The Common Clearances‘:-

By walking out of a Crofting Commission meeting in Brora yesterday (Wednesday) because everything was not going his own way, Colin Kennedy abandoned the convenership in the same disgracefully arrogant manner with which he has held the position for the last 15 months.  Few tears should be shed.

Last week crofting minister Fergus Ewing instructed the crofting commissioners to make a full public apology to the Lewis grazings committees which earlier this year, they summarily and possibly illegally dismissed from office.

In other words, according to the crofting minister, throughout this whole sorry affair the Crofting Commission has been completely wrong in both its legislative interpretation and procedural actions.

The commission was wrong to consider that the locally-elected grazings committees at Upper Coll and Mangersta had been constitutionally at fault.  It was also wrong to sack them.

There can be few graver charges laid at the door of crofting’s regulatory body.  Its punishment is to publish a humiliating confession of its sins, and to submit to a review of its practices by Scottish Government officials.

More than anybody else, Mr Kennedy spearheaded the assault on the grazings committees.  In doing so he at least demeaned and possibly also subverted his office.

If one thing was certain following Mr Ewing’s intervention before Wednesday’s meeting in Brora, it was that Colin Kennedy could no longer stay on as convener.  All that remained was the manner of his leaving.  It could have been gracious or it could have been petulant.  It was of course the latter.

The remnants of the Crofting Commission was left to compose its letter of apology.  Once that task was completed, before dusting itself down and attempting to resume normal and responsible service, it must tie up another loose end from Mr Kennedy’s convenership.

The commission should instantly remove its constable, Colin Souter, from Upper Coll.  The imposition of Mr Souter on that part of Lewis was a grossly insulting over-reaction.  He should never have been sent there in the first place.

In the words of the Scottish Crofting Federation’s Fiona Mandeville, Constable Souter “has no place in crofting, is aggravating bad feeling and is standing in the way of democratic process”.

Colin Souter’s continuing presence on the east side of Lewis is reminiscent of the Highland authorities’ response to the 19th century land war.  It has no place in the 21st century.

Colin Kennedy was elected to the Crofting Commission by the crofters of the south-west Highland constituency.  He was then elected to the convenership by his fellow commissioners following their vote of no confidence in the government-appointed chair, Susan Walker.  He is walking proof of the fallibility of democracy.

But if free votes have bad outcomes, they can also correct their mistakes.

If Mr Kennedy hangs around, stands and is re-elected by the voters of Lochaber, Argyll and Bute, Arran and Cumbrae and the Small Isles next March, that will be their right and their responsibility.  We hope, however that the crofters of the south-west Highlands have enough decency and sense to choose an alternative.

Other commissioners should and doubtless are taking long hard looks at their positions.

They have all been complicit, to one degree or another, in this fiasco.  Murdo MacLennan was returned from Lewis with the biggest vote of all.  For all of his experience and affability, Mr MacLennan has not defended the crofters of his own constituency from his convener’s excesses.

If, as we have often suggested, the size of the Western Isles crofting constituency was property respected and it had two or three elected commissioners, Colin Kennedy might have found some opposition within the commission’s ranks – and the grazings committees of Upper Coll and Mangersta might not have been dragged through the mire.

As things stand, Murdo MacLennan is the only Western Isles representative on the Crofting Commission.  In this important instance, however reluctantly and for whatever reasons, he has failed his voters.  If he also stands for re-election, he might not expect many voters from Upper Coll next spring.  Whether or not the crofters of the rest of Lewis stick with him is their decision.  We suggest that it is time for a change there also.

It may not be his worst offence, but Colin Kennedy’s Crofting Commission has given ammunition to those who will suggest that crofters are incapable of managing their own affairs.

Crofters themselves can refute that charge.  Six months from now they will once again be asked to vote for crofting commissioners.

In the elections of 2012 the turnout was low.  In both the Western Isles and in Skye and the West Highlands, only half of crofters bothered to vote.

That turnout should increase significantly next spring.  Crofters everywhere know by now how much is at stake.  The least they can demand of their commissioner candidates is that they refrain from mounting concerted attacks on grazings committees.

Souter to step down “as soon as possible”

Colin Souter was about to escape the life in a goldfish bowl he had created for himself as grazing 'constable' at Upper Coll.

Colin Souter was about to escape the life in a goldfish bowl he had created for himself as grazing ‘constable’ at Upper Coll.

The Crofting Commission announced today that Colin Souter is to step down as Grazings ‘Constable’ at Upper Coll  on the Isle of Lewis “as soon as possible”.

The official statement reads:-

The Crofting Commission confirmed today that it has written to shareholders of Upper Coll Common Grazings to advise that the grazings constable will be stepping down as soon as possible.

The move follows the submission of a report from the constable, which was considered at a special meeting yesterday.  The report will also be circulated to shareholders.

In the letter, the Commission encourages shareholders to work together in appointing a new grazings committee in line with crofting legislation.

This follows on from the direction given to Commissioners by Fergus Ewing MSP last week. The decision was made by Commissioners at a Special Meeting in Brora yesterday in the absence of the Convener, Colin Kennedy, who had walked out on the earlier convened meeting that morning.

Mr Souter’s appointment was seen by me, and others as illegal. Ironically a report by the executive of the Crofting Commission to their board also considered this to be the case.

Mr Souter was also criticised for taking on an investigative role and seeking to find some sort of fault at Upper Coll rather than assuming the role of grazings clerk with the day to day management function that goes with that role.

He sought to impose the views of a minority on the majority. He liked to report his ‘findings’ on a regular basis to the press.

Whilst Mr Souter claimed he was independent from the Crofting Commission it was clear that they were working hand in hand and indeed, on the face of it, Mr Souter was simply a Commission puppet.

The vast majority of shareholders at Upper Coll will be relieved by this latest news.

However, they may not be celebrating just yet. At least not until they see how long “as soon as possible” turns out to be.

A new committee has already been elected by the shareholders and the Crofting Commission would do well to simply accept that committee rather than insisting on further procedure, possibly involving Mr Souter, to achieve the very same end result.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Police Academy © Warner Bros

 

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

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

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

Dramatic happenings in the world of crofting this morning in Brora.

The Crofting Commission were holding their board meeting in Brora Golf Club. It started at 9.30am this morning. On the agenda, amongst other things, was their meeting with Fergus Ewing MSP last week when they were in effect given a direction to apologise for dismissing three grazings committees from office. It was fully expected that this apology would be forthcoming after the meeting and would have to be made by the Convener, Colin Kennedy.

The BBC initially reported that:-

The Crofting Commission’s convener has walked out of a meeting at which the body was under pressure to make a public apology in a long-running row.

Colin Kennedy had earlier in the meeting refused to allow a commissioner to withdraw his declaration of interest in the dispute about common grazings.

When officials told him he had to accept the request, Mr Kennedy closed the meeting and walked out.

It would appear that the remaining commissioners then convened a Special Meeting which was posted on the Crofting Commission’s website as starting at 10.15am. They resumed the business of the day without their Convener who has been known to go into hiding before today.

An updated report from the BBC on the resumed meeting states that:-

Commissioners passed a motion calling on Colin Kennedy to stand down after he walked out of a meeting in Brora, Sutherland, earlier on Wednesday.

They have also issued a public apology for how the commission handled its dispute with the crofters.

It is understood that this apology was issued, in the Convener’s absence, by Vice Convener, I. G. MacDonald. Clearly that was the responsibility of the Convener but one that he evaded.

This apology has now been issued in writing by the Crofting Commission. It reads:-

The Crofting Commission wishes to apologise for the way it has handled recent grazings committee cases.

Three unprecedented cases have been considered by the Commission under Section 47(8) of the Crofting Act and resulted in committees being put out of office.  The decisions taken by the Commission have created a poor result for everyone involved.  The actions taken in these cases did not enable communities to work together for the benefit of crofting and in fact have had an adverse impact on the crofting community.  The Commission acknowledges that the recent decisions have caused prolonged uncertainty and anxiety not only for the three communities involved but for all crofters, and for this we are sorry.

The Commission continually seeks ways to ensure it is delivering in the best interests of crofters and will ensure that any lessons learned from the cases can inform future procedures and decision-making.  We will also continue to engage with Scottish Government to look at greater flexibility in crofting legislation.

The Crofting Commission will continue to work alongside stakeholders to develop good practice guidance for grazings committees.  We would like to reassure crofters that as the regulator of crofting, our main focus continues to be securing the future of crofting through effective regulation and we look forward to working constructively with crofters, grazings committees and crofting stakeholders.

Scottish Crofting Federation chair, Fiona Mandeville, said:-

Surely now the convener will do what he should have done weeks ago – stand down and let the people who genuinely care about crofting get on with their work. So much time and energy has been wasted during this inexcusable debacle. We have had enough of Kennedy and want to see the back of him. By his action in walking out from the board meeting today and refusing to meet the Minister’s request for an apology, we take it that he has finally abdicated.

We welcome the Commission board taking this decisive action at last and look forward to working with them to rebuild trust in the Commission and to developing strategies for crofting, taking up again all the positive initiatives which had been set aside while Kennedy was in control.

We also naturally welcome the apology issued by the board after the convener’s departure.

It is little wonder after these latest developments that his fellow commissioners have now decided enough is enough. The board had appeared split in their loyalties towards him but they have clearly realised that it is time for them to unite under the stewardship of a new convener and seek to heal the damage done as a result of ‘The Common Clearances‘.

There have been repeated calls over a number of months from crofters and from the Scottish Crofting Federation for Colin Kennedy to resign. Those calls have been ignored by him. Now his fellow commissioners are calling on him to do the same thing.

Will, however, Colin Kennedy accept the motion and stand down? Does he have any option? If he doesn’t will Fergus Ewing have to intervene?

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Brora Golf Club

 

Scottish Farmer confused over Common Grazings Crisis

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

They think that:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Inkster

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

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.