Tag Archives: Great Glen House

‘Allo ‘allo ‘allo… what’s all this then?

'Allo 'allo 'allo... what's all this then?

‘Allo ‘allo ‘allo… what’s all this then?

Just when you thought events at Great Glen House couldn’t get more farcical than highlighted in my last blog post, I am afraid to say they can.

It turns out that following the Crofting Commission’s decision to appoint a Grazings Constable with the sole function of paying monies considered to be due to a shareholder they appointed into that illegal position one of the committee members that they had just removed from office!

The decision to do so was made by the Convener, Vice-Convener and Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission.

Section 47(8) of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 reads:-

If the Commission are satisfied, after making such inquiry, if any, as they may deem necessary, that any or all of the members of a grazings committee (however appointed under this section) are not properly carrying out the duties imposed on them (or that the grazings clerk is not properly carrying out the duties imposed on him) under this Act, the Commission may remove from office any or all such members or such clerk and may appoint or provide for the appointment of other persons (whether crofters or not) in their or his place.

Having removed from office the entire committee the Crofting Commission could then “appoint or provide for the appointment of other persons (whether crofters or not) in their or his place“.

Other persons” does not mean one of the same persons!

You couldn’t make it up.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Monty Python’s Flying Circus © BBC

The Chief Grazings Constable

he Chief Grazings Constable - Top Cat at the Crofting Commission

The ‘Top Cat’ misunderstands the role of a Grazings Constable

The Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, was apparently at one time a Grazings Constable.

In 2007 he responded to comments online on the BBC Island Blogging site:-

I was the grazing constable on Arinagour Common Grazing, a post with specific duties, one of which was to advise of any potential problems on the grazings. This I did on two occasions. First one was relative to your property, Second was relative to the First Port Of Coll. Both properties were on the market and for sale. My function was to alert those involved including the Crofters Commission of potential problems regarding the status of the land. I have never stated that any property was on the Common Grazing, however it is my view that various areas of the grazing are now occupied by various people.

That is not a specific duty or function of a Grazings Constable under and in terms of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993.

Perhaps this misunderstanding of the role of a Grazings Constable, from the top of the tree at Great Glen House, is why we have purported ‘Grazings Constables’ thinking their role is an investigative one. It isn’t. Other than, perhaps, the five yearly duty to report to the Crofting Commission on the condition of the Common Grazings and crofts with a share in the Common Grazings.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Top Cat © Hanna-Barbera / Warner Bros. Animation

Pressure mounts for a full investigation of the Crofting Commission

The crofting law truth is out there

The truth is out there

On this blog on 25 April 2016 I called for the Scottish Government to review the Crofting Commission’s actions in connection with ‘The Common Clearances‘ due to an alleged abuse of power within Great Glen House.

The Scottish Crofting Federation and others have backed that call. Yesterday the Scottish Crofting Federation reiterated that call on the back of apparent historical revisionism on the part of the Crofting Commission. Statements by the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, previously published on their website have been deleted and a different version of events presented by their Chief Executive, Catriona Maclean.

The uncovering of this underhand behaviour on the part of the Crofting Commission has resulted in mounting pressure for  the Scottish Government to now actually do something about it.

Uisdean Robertson, Councillor and Chair of the Joint Crofting Committee of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), has been quoted as saying on Radio nan Gàidheal that the Council have no confidence in the members of the Crofting Commission and their Chief Executive. He has said that Crofting Commissioners and the Chief Executive all need to think about their positions in light of what has gone on.

Brian Wilson, writing in The Scotsman, has said:-

The immediate question is whether the Scottish Government is prepared to back their quango’s interpretation of the law and its heavy-handed approach to enforcement.

In the short term, a rapid inquiry into why the Crofting Commission has got itself into this mess and how it can be helped out of it may seem a relatively attractive option.

It has been asked on Twitter who would carry out such an inquiry. It must be someone with investigative experience (with a team at their disposal to assist them) and who is truly independent with no association whatsoever with Commissioners, the Convener or the Chief Executive.

Also, in my view, the Scottish Government should directly involve the Scottish Land Court by submitting a reference to them under section 53 of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 to answer the questions in law that the Crofting Commission have been evading. Catriona Maclean, the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, has stated:-

The Commission is confident they are applying the law correctly but the only place this can be clarified is in the Scottish Land Court.

However, the Crofting Commission have yet to set out any legal argument with reference to statute or case law to show that they are applying the law correctly. I am strongly of the view that they are not. My detailed legal reasoning to them on this has gone unchallenged other than for them to say that once they make a decision that is final and cannot be changed by them!

If the Crofting Commission are so confident that they are applying the law correctly they should have nothing to fear by making a reference to the Scottish Land Court to confirm that. As they clearly do not wish to actually be found out to be in the wrong (the same is true of the decrofting debacle that resulted in unnecessary ‘remedial’ legislation at huge expense to the taxpayer when a Section 53 reference could easily have resolved the issue) the Scottish Government should advance that reference or insist that the Crofting Commission do so.

The truth is out there and it is in the Scottish Government’s hands to find it.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: The X-Files © Ten Thirteen Productions, 20th Television, 20th Century Fox Television

No let up on the Common Clearances crisis whilst on holiday!

No let up in the Common Clearances whilst in Morocco

Could I really escape the presence of the Crofting Commission in Morocco?

I have been in Morocco on holiday for the past couple of weeks. The run up to getting away and being away has meant a lull in reporting by me on The Common Clearances.

The last time I was in Morocco coincided exactly with the Scottish Government’s one week consultation period on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. A bill that arose from the Decrofting Debacle unnecessarily and unjustifiably created by the Crofting Commission. Notice a theme?

I spent that week writing detailed submissions and drafting a better (in my view) bill for the Scottish Government and submitting it to them from Marrakech. A civil servant was to later tell me that my intervention was unhelpful. No doubt the same view is taken in the corridors of Saughton House and Great Glen House over my comments on The Common Clearances.

But it has been said that we provide a clear and understandable source of information at the Crofting Law Blog, something that you cannot get from the Crofting Commission (see ‘A Happy Crofter‘).

I decided, this holiday in Morocco, to actually have a holiday. Now I am back a quick look at the internet tells me there has been no let up in the Common Clearances crisis. As far as I can glean, so far, since I last blogged:-

  • The Crofting Commission held a meeting in Lewis with shareholders of the Mangersta Common Grazings which was chaired by Commissioner William Swann but “marred by a menacing presence” in that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, turned up unexpectedly to observe proceedings despite having declared a conflict of interest.
  • Members of the ousted Upper Coll Grazings Committee applied for an interim interdict against the appointment of the Grazings Constable at Inverness Sheriff Court and that was refused.
  • John Finnie MSP has asked questions about the situation in the Scottish Parliament which have been answered in a fairly neutral manner by Cabinet Minister Fergus Ewing MSP.
  • Further parliamentary questions have been asked by John Finnie MSP and Rhoda Grant MSP about the issue with answers anticipated to be given by Fergus Ewing MSP on 23 June 2016.
  • Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting federation, has written about ‘The Spirit of the Law – The inexplicable case of a public body confusing legal dogma with good sense’.
  • It was reported on Radio nan Gàidheal that another grazings committee has been put out of office by the Crofting Commission, this time on the Scottish mainland.
  • It was also reported by Radio nan Gàidheal that a grazings committee in South Uist has put themselves out of office to avoid any difficulties that may be encountered with being regulated by the Crofting Commission.
  • Commissioner William Swann has resigned from the Crofting Commission.
  • Propaganda about ‘the role of grazings committees in representing shareholders’ has been published by the Crofting Commission.
  • The former and ousted Convener of the Crofting Commission, Susan Walker, has written in the West Highland Free Press about the situation.
  • The Upper Coll Grazing Constable (illegally appointed in my view) has issued a letter to the press.

I will try to catch up on all of these developments on this blog in some detail, and share my thoughts on each, over the coming weeks. Do let me know if I have missed anything.

I also have to tell you on this blog about Inksters’ new and enhanced crofting law team (you may have read about that elsewhere before now).

So keep an eye on the Crofting Law Blog over the next few weeks for, as the ‘Happy Crofter‘ put it, an “invaluable source of information that [is] virtually impossible to find anywhere else”.

Brian Inkster

Update – 13 June 2016: The Crofting Law A-Team

Update – 14 June 2016: ‘A Menacing Presence’

Update – 15 June 2016: Common Grazings and the Spirit of the Law

Update – 16 June 2016: Crofting Commissioner Resigns over situation the Scottish Government and Crofting Commission need to sort out

The Common Clearances

Crofting Clearances

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.

Brian Inkster