Who wields the axe at the Crofting Commission?
Following the revelations of the Upper Coll Common Grazings Committee being removed from office by the Crofting Commission in a “dictatorial, vindictive and unjustified“ manner there came news that this was not an isolated incident. The Mangersta Common Grazings Committee has also been removed from office by the Crofting Commission. Members of the now defunct Grazings Committee have referred to the Crofting Commission’s behaviour as “erratic, overbearing and contradictory”. They have called on an inquiry into this “appalling” situation.
The facts surrounding the Mangersta ‘sackings’ related to payment of monies to an absentee crofting tenant who had returned cheques sent to him. On any reading of the situation, as disclosed in the press this past week, the actings of the Commission and their Convener appear almost beyond belief.
The only cheep so far on any of this from the Crofting Commission is a blog post which they state to be a reminder on the ‘The Rights of Crofters and the Duties of Grazings Committees and their Grazings Clerks‘. This ‘reminder’ is unfortunately misleading and inaccurate. It is recommended that crofters don’t follow it but seek independent specialist advice.
Donald Macsween (a crofter in Ness on the Isle of Lewis) has blogged on the “nonsensical” and “totally impractical” stance by the Crofting Commission on the financial management of grazing funds. He makes some very astute and sensible points. Ones that appear to be lost on the powers that be in the crofting regulator’s HQ at Great Glen House in Inverness. I am likely to return to this topic on a future dedicated blog post covering it in some detail from a legal point of view.
Scottish Labour’s candidate for Na h-Eileanan an Iar/Western Isles, Rhoda Grant, has backed calls for a full inquiry into the workings of the Crofting Commission and the reinstatement of Upper Coll Common Grazings Committee.
Mrs Grant has issued a letter to the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, in which she refers to the removal of the Upper Coll Common Grazings Committee as a “sorry episode”. She states that this is:-
symptomatic of a much wider problem with the Crofting Commission which has gained an unwelcome reputation for its high-handed, overbearing attitude towards good people doing their best to hold crofting together.
Mrs Grant goes on to say:-
The whole system of crofting tenure is in a very parlous state and it needs the support of a regulatory body which acts firmly and fairly in the crofting interest. Instead, we have a bull-in-the-china shop approach which is undermining the work of well-run crofting villages, for reasons that seem to be random rather than for any consistent, coherent reason.
The Crofting Commission is a creature of statute and nobody is empowered to behave as a law unto himself. There must be an urgent inquiry, relating to Upper Coll and also more generally, to find if the Commission has acted beyond its powers and whether its recent behaviour is consistent with the interests of the crofting community.
The Editorial in this week’s West Highland Free Press brands the Crofting Commission’s actions at Upper Coll as “high-handed, insulting and wrong”. It states:-
Every single one of the eight commissioners should be aware that this crisis is now their responsibility. They must take it upon themselves to resolve a serious situation before suffering the ignominy of ministerial or even legal intervention.
Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, has asked:-
What on earth is going on? How many others are there who have been intimidated and bullied into submission under threat of removal?
He has gone on to state:-
It is clear that there has to be a review by the Scottish Government of how the commission works and what its objective is.
The Scottish Crofting Federation yesterday issued open letters to the Crofting Commissioners and to the Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. They call upon the Crofting Commission to make a public statement on what is behind their actions. They request the Scottish Government to carry out “a full review of the situation as soon as possible before the damage is irreversible”.
It has been stated that “crofters are so intimidated by the Crofting Commission that they will not speak out publicly“. Now that some crofters are actually beginning to do so hopefully more will tell their stories. From what I can see this is the crofting worlds equivalent of the ‘Panama Papers‘. There is likely to be many more revelations on the actings of the Crofting Commission surrounding ‘Common Clearances’ and other crofting issues.
In 1883 a Royal Commission (The Napier Commission) was set up by Gladstone’s Liberal Government. Its purpose was ‘to inquire into the conditions of the crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland’ and everything concerning them. This came on the back of The Highland Clearances and ‘The Battle of the Braes’ where the Braes crofters stood up against the 50 policemen brought in from Glasgow following the loss of their hill pasture on Ben Lee and a rent strike in protest. The Report by the Napier Commission resulted in the first Crofters Act in 1886 providing security of tenure for crofters.
130 years after security of tenure was given to crofters a new form of clearance is happening in the Highlands and Islands: The clearance of common grazings committees by the Crofting Commission. They are wielding power in an unjustified and brutal manner reminiscent of landlords from the nineteenth century. We are about to see I believe ‘The Battle of Great Glen House’ (this time perhaps fought with paper and ink rather than stones) and the Scottish Government must now institute an inquiry into the actings of the Crofting Commission and everything concerning them.