Tag Archives: Murdo Maclennan

Decisions “have been divisive, unacceptable and not in line with crofting law”

Scottish Crofting Federation welcomes intervention by Cabinet SecretaryIn a statement issued today the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has welcomed the intervention of rural affairs secretary Fergus Ewing MSP in his letter to Colin Kennedy, Crofting Commission convener.

SCF chair, Fiona Mandeville, commented:-

We are pleased that the Scottish Government has finally endorsed what we and others have been saying for months, that the actions of the Commission convener, and the decisions he appears to have forced through, have been divisive, unacceptable and not in line with crofting law.

While Mr Ewing’s letter is not yet in the public domain, its contents have been summarised and made public. It is clear that the Scottish Government is as concerned as the SCF and all who care about crofting. BBC’s Jackie O’Brien has seen the letter and reports that the Government’s view is diametrically opposed to Mr Kennedy’s and that it is not sustainable for the Scottish Government and one of its public bodies to take opposing interpretations of the law.

Ms Mandeville continued:-

The secretary for rural affairs has written a direct personal reprimand to the convener, who should now do the honourable thing and stand down right away.

Commissioner Murdo Maclennan’s apparent assertion after the Commission’s recent board meeting is that the board is backing Kennedy.  Does the Crofting Commission convener agree with the board? Does the board unanimously support the convener? It is natural for a board to attempt to portray a consensus, but is this really the case?

Fergus Ewing, in his letter as reported by the BBC, expresses his grave concern that policy decisions may be taken without a clear mandate from the Crofting Commission’s board. This suggests such concerns are also held by Scottish Government.

Colin Kennedy must accept the reality that it is time for him to go.

Fudged response from Crofting Commission

Fudged response from Crofting CommissionFollowing the revelation this morning that the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, has stated in a letter that he wholly disagrees with the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, over the handling of the common grazings debacle, I said that I awaited the Commission’s response with bated breath.

When it came this afternoon it was a fudged response which unfortunately but perhaps unsurprisingly did nothing to restore the faith of crofters in their regulator.

BBC Radio Scotland Newsdrive this afternoon aired a statement by Murdo Maclennan, Crofting Commissioner, who said on behalf of members (the Convener, Colin Kennedy, again conspicuous by his absence in front of the media):-

Once the letter was received the Convener convened a meeting of the Commission.

We had a full debate about it. As within every public body there are different views but at the end of the day we came to a unanimous decision on it and that has been conveyed to the minister.

So the position of the Scottish Government is one which we fully support and in a sense have never adversely had taken any adverse effect or decision regarding the Crofting Commission in relation to it.

I was then interviewed by BBC Radio Scotland Newsdrive and said:-

I can’t see how the Crofting Commission can take that view. I mean it has been made absolutely clear to them, from what I can understand, that they got it wrong and for them to think that in some sort of way that they didn’t is beyond me.

There needs to be clarity from the Crofting Commission. In light of the letter from Fergus Ewing I would have thought it would be a case of them holding their hands up in the air and saying “sorry we got it wrong, we apologise and we are going to do things to make this right and not happen again”.

But that is not what they have done or doesn’t seem to be what they have done so far.

Further comment by the Crofting Law Blog

Murdo Maclennan on one hand says that the Commission fully supports the position of the Scottish Government (i.e. that the Commission got it wrong) but on the other hand suggests that the Commission never did anything adverse to that position (i.e. didn’t do anything wrong?)!

Again this is done in a way that would not have been out of place in an episode of Yes Minister. Sir Humphrey Appleby would have delighted in the obfuscation and manipulation displayed with the almost unintelligible statement that:-

in a sense [the Commission] have never adversely had taken any adverse effect or decision regarding the Crofting Commission in relation to it.

That is I believe fairly accurately transcribed having listened to the recording on BBC iPlayer several times. Make of it what you will but my reading is a denial of wrongdoing. We may, of course, receive a Trump like retraction tomorrow that there was any meaning of the sort intended.

However, it is high time that the Crofting Commission gave crofters clarity over this matter. Crofting law may be complex but the utterings of the Crofting Commission are more complex and harder to decipher still.

The Scottish Government have told the Crofting Commission in no uncertain terms that they got it wrong. If they actually support that view then they should come out straight and admit that they got it wrong and apologise to the grazing committee members that they have wrongly tarnished and accused of wrongdoing. Unless and until they do so in clear and unambiguous terms no one can have any faith in anything that they do or say.

Brian Inkster

Ignore the law and the lawyers

Ignore the Law and the Lawyers

Hear no crofting law, See no crofting law and Speak no crofting law

I have been blogging for some time about the Crofting Commission ignoring the law.

They have done so in relation to, amongst other things:-

They have, however, this past week made a massive U-turn which could just mean they now actually accept that they did in fact completely ignore the law.

It also, unfortunately, transpired at the meeting of the Cross Party Group on Crofting on Wednesday that they are now simply ignoring lawyers who take a different viewpoint from them and/or represent crofters challenging their stance.

When Commissioner Murdo Maclennan announced that he “thought we have a conclusion” on Mangersta and there was “no grazing constable in place at the moment“, I asked how this could be when I thought that the Commission had purported to extend the appointment of the Grazing Constable (illegally appointed in my opinion and in the opinion of others) for a further six months from and after 6 June 2016.

Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, interjected that:-

there is no constable at present, the case is over and the people of Mangersta will be advised.

I questioned why they had not advised the solicitor acting of this (i.e. me) and she responded:-

We have been in correspondence with the people of Mangersta and that is who we will respond to.

I pointed out that they had been in correspondence with a solicitor representing former members of the (unlawfully in my opinion) removed grazings committee and they should be responding to that solicitor.

There then appeared to be a reluctant acceptance that I might hear from them!

Astounding.

The Crofting Commission appear to think they can simply bury their ignorance of the law by taking a U-turn and not responding to questions raised by a solicitor concerning that ignorance of the law. The fact that they have acted contrary to the law remains and they do require to answer outstanding points in correspondence that sits unanswered on the desk of their Chief Executive.

They still need to answer, amongst other things:-

  • Where in law it is stated that the Crofting Commission cannot revisit its own decisions.
  • Where in law it is stated that the Crofting Commission has the power to appoint a Grazings Constable when they remove members of a grazing committee from office.
  • Where in law it is stated that the Crofting Commission can extend the appointment of a Grazings Constable.
  • Why the Crofting Commission is ignoring its own guidelines on the investigation of financial irregularities.

Perhaps they do now accept, given that U-turn, that nowhere in law is any of this stated and therefore they are unable to answer my questions. They should, if that is the case, at least have the dignity to say so.

I will let you know if and when the Crofting Commission deign to respond to me.

Brian Inkster

Yes Crofting Minister

Yes Crofting Minister

James Hacker: You said yourself how important these select committees are. I cannot be seen to mislead them.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: You will not be SEEN to mislead them.

How the Crofting Commission played out their sudden and surprise U-turn on the question of ‘The Common Clearances‘ would not have been out of place in an episode of Yes Minister. Sir Humphrey Appleby would have delighted in the obfuscation and manipulation displayed by the Crofting Commission in Holyrood on Wednesday night. However, like Sir Humphrey, the Crofting Commission is not immune to making miscalculations or outright blunders.

It was the first meeting, since the latest Scottish Government was formed, of the Cross Party Group on Crofting within the Scottish Parliament.

It was the first time, since allegations of abuse of power within the Crofting Commission over ‘The Common Clearances‘ were made, that the Crofting Commission would meet eye to eye with politicians and other crofting stakeholders in a public forum.

In the preceding week or two damning revelations had been made of historical revisionism and flouting the will of Parliament on the part of the Crofting Commission. This was on top of votes of no confidence against them, the Convener of the Crofting Commission attending meetings despite a clear conflict of interest,  a Crofting Commissioner resigning and calls for the Scottish Government to investigate the whole matter.

It looked like the Commission would be in for a very rough time at the Cross Party Group meeting.

They knew that and had to do something quick and decisive to limit the damage being caused to them and that could be wrought on them at that meeting.

Nothing like a massive U-turn, with an attempt to dress it up in other ways, to achieve that.

So Crofting Commissioner, Murdo Maclennan (the Convener, Colin Kennedy, was conspicuous by his absence), announced to the Cross Party Group that he “thought we have a conclusion” on Mangersta and there was “no grazing constable in place at the moment“.

On being pressed for clarification on certain elements of this the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, elaborated that:-

there is no constable at present, the case is over and the people of Mangersta will be advised.

So case closed and no further discussion on that then. Please move along ladies and gentlemen.

When the removal of the Upper Coll common grazings committee from office was mentioned that, of course, could not be discussed as it was subject to on going proceedings in the Scottish Land Court.

The third committee that the Crofting Commission have evicted from office was not mentioned at all, other than briefly by me when Commissioner Murdo Maclennan insisted that I declare my interests. I think that perhaps backfired on him as the Commission would rather pretend that episode never happened as there has, to date, been no publicity surrounding it.

So one case conveniently closed, one sub judice and one we can simply forget about. Thus nothing really to talk about.

The extra gloss on this being that new guidelines were being produced by the Commission and all would be well when these were issued and followed. My criticism of this approach is already well known. You have to get the law right first before you write guidelines about how to follow that law. The Commission’s viewpoint is that their interpretation of the law will follow “in due course”. Perhaps this is because their latest massive U-turn means they actually now accept the law to be as I have been setting it out to be on this blog for some time!

The U-turn is great news for the shareholders in the Mangersta Common Grazings and the former members of their grazings committee. It is a vindication of the position correctly maintained by them throughout.

It leaves the Crofting Commission with egg on their face however they try to dress it up. The Emperor’s New Clothes remains a theme, in so far as the Commission is concerned, post the Cross Party Group meeting.

In my next blog post I will reveal how the Crofting Commission not only ignore the law but lawyers who write to them concerning it. In a subsequent blog post I will explore the significance of the latest U-turn by the Crofting Commission and the possible repercussions thereof.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Yes Minister © BBC

Update – 2 July 2016: Ignore the law and the lawyers