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.
Image Credit: Yes Minister © BBC
Update – 2 July 2016: Ignore the law and the lawyers