Tag Archives: Scottish Crofting Federation

Review highlights “notable and worrying failures” in governance within the Crofting Commission

Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, has asked the Crofting Commission to take urgent action to improve performance in crucial areas following the publication of the Governance Review [PDF] undertaken on the instruction of the Scottish Government by business advisors and accountancy firm Scott-Moncrieff.

The Scottish Government ordered the Governance Review of the Crofting Commission following the crisis of confidence in the organisation due to the inappropriate actions taken on common grazings committees and the subsequent breakdown of relationships within the Commission.

A full action plan including prioritising work to deliver the necessary improvements in the way regulatory cases and Board proceedings are managed will be delivered in response to the findings of the Governance Review.

The Crofting Commission Governance Review highlighted a range of areas that need urgent action including:-

  • Governance standards, procedures and other arrangements, at both executive and non-executive levels, to underpin effective decision-making, particularly in relation to the Bohuntin, Upper Coll and Mangersta Common Grazings cases [Note: The review did not look at the regulatory decisions themselves]
  • Arrangements for handling conflicts of interest
  • Ensuring that capacity building and development needs of Board members are met and that the necessary training is provided.

Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, said:-

This review highlights notable and worrying failures in the governance of the crofting commission which must be improved immediately. That is why I have asked the new Chief Executive to urgently prepare an action plan to take this forward.

Crofting is an integral part of Scottish rural life and it is essential that it has an effective regulator. This review, and the action plan which will follow, must help to deliver the necessary changes and ensure the commission is able to lead the crofting industry forward.

Crofting Commission Chief Executive, Bill Barron, said:-

A number of important points have been made in the governance review and we are committed to ensuring robust processes are in place to achieve a high standard of governance within the organisation.  I will be putting in place a full action plan to ensure these points are addressed, as requested by the Rural Economy Secretary.

We have already made some of the improvements recommended in the review and we are developing a comprehensive induction programme for the new Board of Commissioners following the elections in March 2017.

Continuous improvement within the Commission, and building on the recommendations from the review, will help us to create a focussed and effective organisation working to secure the future of crofting.

The Scottish Crofting Federation has welcomed the pledge by the Scottish Government to put in place an action plan to address the failures highlighted by the Governance Review. Their Chair, Russell Smith, said:-

The Governance Review of the Crofting Commission, instigated by Scottish Government at our request, has exposed many weaknesses in basic operating procedures and in how the organisation copes with extraordinary individual behaviours. The review has made it clear that a robust Commissioner appraisal process is required, to help identify and deliver ongoing training and skills development. We are particularly keen to see a rationalisation of the roles of Commissioners, establishing when they should be delegating to the executive staff or referring to other bodies that have the required expertise. Commissioners should have a strategic and advisory capacity only. It is clear that they got too involved with executive procedures that they did not have the competence or remit for.

The review team recognises the huge damage done to the reputation of the Commission by the in-fighting and particularly that the vote of no confidence in the convener did not achieve a tangible result, that is, his removal. Frustratingly, the review does not suggest how this will be resolved, though the government’s recent exoneration will open up options.

It is alarming that the review team found there to be fundamental inconsistencies and gaps in records of events that led to the breakdown of the organisation. This appears to have handicapped the review to an extent, and is telling in itself.

The list of areas for improvement is long and the minister for crofting, Mr Fergus Ewing, has instructed that an action plan to address them be put in place as a matter of urgency. This will, we hope, sort out some of the fundamental issues that allowed the near collapse of this significant organisation. We are strongly of the opinion that the purpose and role of Commissioners needs to be appraised and a clear boundary to be set between their overseeing strategy and the staff’s executive function. This seems critical to the health of the Crofting Commission.

No comment appears to have been made by the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, on the “notable and worrying failures” found whilst he was at the helm.

Mr Kennedy has, however, as part of his campaign for re-election to the South West Highlands seat on the Crofting Commission, stated to The Oban Times that his “experience prompted” him “to make representations to the Scottish Government, which included insisting an external review was required to establish what was, or was not, going on“. One would, therefore, think that the review was instigated at the insistence of Mr Kennedy!

It was, of course, as a result of the alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission whilst Mr Kennedy was in charge that I and the Scottish Crofting Federation, amongst others, called on Fergus Ewing to instigate a review into goings on at Great Glen House.

As far back as April 2016, I stated:-

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.

In May 2016 the then Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Fiona Mandeville, referring to a meeting held in Ullapool to discuss the common grazings crisis said:-

The meeting was unequivocal in its opinion of the Crofting Commission’s conduct. As well as a vote of no confidence in the Commission, the meeting thought that it would be appropriate for the convener of the Commission to stand aside whilst an investigation is carried out into the summary dismissals of grazings committees and the internal procedures of the Commission that has led to this debacle. The Scottish Crofting Federation fully supports this.

Then in June 2016 the Scottish Crofting Federation reiterated its call on Scottish Ministers to intervene in the crofting common grazings debacle and to instigate an external examination of the Crofting Commission, following revelations of a cover-up. Fiona Mandeville then said:-

We reiterate our petition that the Scottish Ministers intervene and ensure that an impartial examination of the Commission’s recent conduct is carried out by a competent external body.

This is extremely disappointing. It seems that the only way to deal with this is through an external audit of the Commission’s behaviour over the common grazings. And we do mean a full audit.

Also in June 2016 Brian Wilson writing in The Scotsman 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.

In September 2016 the West Highland Free Press called for decisive Ministerial intervention in the crofting crisis. Their editor stated:-

As crofting minister Mr Ewing has a duty to be open and transparent in the exercise of his responsibility.  He is not just another interested observer.

He also has a duty to the crofting community to ensure that its governing body adheres to best practice and does not trample crofters into the ground.

The West Highland Free Press have also, of course, repeatedly called on Fergus Ewing to remove Colin Kennedy as Convener of the Crofting Commission. They were of the view that “more than anybody else, Mr Kennedy spearheaded the assault on the grazings committees“.

So, no, it was not Colin Kennedy who asked for the Governance Review. But it was his actions that were certainly behind the call by the many who did want to see such a review and are not surprised at all by its findings. I will consider those findings in some detail in future posts on this blog.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Commission on the Rocks – Cartoon © A concerned crofter

New SCF Chair

Russell Smith - Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation

Russell Smith – Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation

With recent news of crofting commissioner appointments and a new CEO at the Crofting Commission it should also be noted that just before Christmas a new chair was appointed to the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF).

At their board and council meeting on 16 December 2016, the SCF said thanks to the out-going chair, Fiona Mandeville, who stepped down on completion of her two year tenure. Fiona handed the role to Russell Smith, a crofter from Bonar Bridge in Sutherland.

Mr Smith commented:-

The Federation has achieved a great deal in the past two years, not least the pledges made by the SNP in their manifesto and confirmed recently by the Cabinet Secretary for crofting, Fergus Ewing MSP. The pledges mirror the ‘Five Actions for Crofting’ published by the SCF just before the election.

We have brought crofting very much back on to the Scottish Government agenda with the promise from them to modernise crofting law and make it more transparent, understandable and workable in practice. This will be no mean feat but the law needs to be made to work for crofters not for lawyers. We have won a substantial improvement in the Croft House Grant Scheme and await the government’s action to re-introduce the Croft House Loan Scheme.

Scottish Government will also explore mechanisms to make more publicly owned land available to new entrants, a long running campaign of the SCF, and have promised to introduce a new entrant’s scheme for crofting and to explore the creation of new woodland crofts. At last the National Development Plan for Crofting we asked for is closer to becoming a reality.

So, yes, we have achieved a lot, but there is still much to do. With the prospect of leaving the European Union, one of the few certainties is that support to agriculture and particularly to crofting will have to be fought for. Being the only organisation solely dedicated to representing crofters means that SCF will have to fight hard to avoid being marginalised by big farmers in other parts of the country. Crofters need to stand together under one banner so that our voices can be heard.

Only one commissioner re-stands for election

crofting commissioners leave the sinking ship?

Is there something telling about so many of the crofting commissioners not standing for re-election?

It had been expected that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) would announce the candidates for the Crofting Commission Elections 2017 on Friday 27 January.

However, apparently, due to the large number of nominations received just before the deadline of Thursday, names of the candidates could not be released until Monday 30 January. And on Monday we discovered that those candidates are:-

East Highlands (East Sutherland, Easter Ross, East Inverness and Moray) 

  • Rod Mackenzie, Teanroit, Beauly.
  • Archie MacNab, Orsay, Old Inn Croft, Blairninich, Ross-shire.
  • John Ferme McMorran, Keepers House, Balnacoil, Brora, Sutherland.

South West Highlands (Lochaber, Argyll & Bute, Arran and Cumbrae, Small Isles)

  • Ronnie Campbell, 5 Bohuntin, Roy Bridge, Lochaber.
  • Colin Niall Kennedy, Croft No2, Arinagour, Isle of Coll
  • Catherine Mackinnon, Cul a’Bhile, Bohuntin, Roy Bridge.
  • Billy Neilson, 27 Cruachan Cottages, Taynuilt, Argyll.
  • Uilleam Smith, 2 Caledonian Road, Inverness.

West Highlands (West Sutherland, Wester Ross, Skye & Lochalsh)

  • Jonathan James Hedges, Caravan, Rossal, Rogart.
  • Stephen William Love, 13 Sand Passage, Laide, Wester Ross.
  • Mairi Mackenzie, Torran, Loggie, Lochbroom, Ullapool.
  • Peter O’Donnghaile (Donnelly), 5 Camustianabhaig, Portree.

Western Isles

  • Alasdair MacEachen, 15 Aird, Balivanich, Benbecula.
  • Iain Maciver, 23 Laxay, Isle of Lewis.

Only one nomination was received for Caithness & Orkney and also Shetland. Thus each candidate for those two constituencies is automatically elected and no election will take place.

Caithness and Orkney

  • Cyril  Annal, Stensigar, South Ronaldsay, Orkney.

Shetland

  • Andy Holt, North House, Papa Stour, Shetland.

So only one of the existing elected crofting commissioners is standing for election again. That is the controversial convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy. All other existing elected commissioners have clearly had enough of the many problems that have beset their tenure in office. Much of which Colin Kennedy has received the blame for.

Thus the following commissioners will all vacate office following the elections:-

  • Marina Dennis – East Highlands
  • Ian George Macdonald – West Highlands
  • Murdo Maclennan – Western Isles
  • Arnold Pirie – Caithness and Orkney
  • Kathleen Sinclair – Shetland

There will be continuity in respect of one of the appointed commissioners, David Campbell, having already been appointed by the Scottish Government to serve a second term as a commissioner.

It is also interesting to note that Colin Kennedy’s seat (South West Highlands) is the most hotly contested one with five candidates fighting it out for a spot in Great Glen House.

The Scottish Crofting Federation welcomed the high number of nominations for the Crofting Commission elections citing it as a very positive sign for crofting. Their Chair, Russell Smith, said:-

The number of people willing to stand as candidates for the forthcoming Crofting Commission elections is very heartening. It shows that crofters care about the survival of crofting and the Crofting Commission. There is a resilience within the crofting community and the will to move on.

It is very positive that so many have stood to be counted in the Highland constituencies, especially in the South West. The Western Isles have 2 candidates but it was disappointing that Scottish Government did not take the opportunity to create further constituencies in such a large area. Orkney has relatively few crofts now so it is perhaps no surprise to have only one nomination but it is disappointing that Shetland only put forward one candidate when it is has so many well-worked crofts.

But we have enough candidates to run an election and to form a new Commission with crofter representation. That is what this is all about. We now need a good turnout to vote on 16th March, and await the Scottish Government to make the remaining appointment.

Brian Inkster

Crofting Commission dodge answering questions

Dodging Bullets at the Crofting Commission

The Crofting Commission can stop your questions by simply not answering them!

The Cross-Party Group on Crofting has been waiting patiently on answers to 18 questions that they posed to the Crofting Commission. These were originally sent to the Crofting Commission in July 2016 then modified and sent in October 2016.

  1. Where in law it is stated that the Crofting Commission cannot revisit its own decisions?
  2. Why did the Crofting Commission chose to remove three grazings committees instead of work with them to improve things, if things needed improvement?
  3. Why were grazings shareholders not given the chance to elect a new committee when the Crofting Commission removed their committee, instead of moving straight to the appointment of a grazings constable?
  4. Does a removed committee have a right of appeal to the Crofting Commission?
  5. 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?
  6. Where in law it is stated that the Crofting Commission can extend the appointment of a Grazings Constable?
  7. Why is the Crofting Commission ignoring its own guidelines on the investigation of financial irregularities?
  8. Does the Crofting Commission maintain that all funds in a grazings bank account have to be disbursed immediately (including SRDP grants, as Mr MacLennan stated is the bulk of funds in the CPGoC)?
  9. If there are 3 levels of accounting as outlined by Mr MacLennan (examination by external qualified person such as local retired bank manager, prepared by qualified accountant on information supplied, full forensic audit), what are the thresholds at which each is required? Do they apply to balance or income? Who decides what is appropriate (given this was the reason Mr MacLennan gave for the Upper Coll grazings committee being removed by the Crofting Commission?)
  10. Why did the convener of the Crofting Commission involve himself in every one of these three cases and committee removals? Is this the job of a convener?
  11. Did the convener of the Crofting Commission declare his interest in the cases when the commissioners made their decision to move to removal?
  12. Does the Crofting Commission consider value for public money when pursuing cases?
  13. Mr MacLennan emphasised that the Crofting Commission were obliged to act as a shareholder had made a complaint. This does not square with the Commission’s dealings relating to other regulatory matters. We are aware of complaints made by shareholders with regard to absenteeism and neglect of crofts that go many years without commission action so it would be good to know why you are so diligent in pursuing grazings committees with such rigour. Has there been a policy change to target this type of regulatory issue (as there was previously with absentees)?
  14. Following the letter written to the Convener by Fergus Ewing concerning disbursement of common grazings funds to shareholders and SRDP funding there were mixed messages issued to the press by Commissioners. It appeared that the contents of the letter was supported but the Commission (or perhaps certain Commissioners) still thought they had done nothing wrong. Those two statements do not sit well next to one another. Can the Commission clarify their actual stance on the letter in clear terms for the benefit of this Group.
  15. Can the Commission explain why they have been questioning SRDP funding for and VAT Registration by Common Grazings?
  16. The Commission appear to be supporting their ‘constable’ Colin Souter and his behaviour at Upper Coll. Do they actually support a ‘constable’ who is having meetings with 4 shareholders and making decisions affecting 42 shareholders when 26 out of those 42 have signed a petition calling for his removal?
  17. Will the Commission advise the Group what remit was given to Constable Souter and why he appeared to be acting in an investigatory role rather than as an actual clerk.
  18. The latest revelation appears to be matters being decided by Commissioners via ‘brown envelopes’ rather than at board meetings. Can the Commission enlighten us further on this?

There were, in addition, two questions specifically posed to the Crofting Commission via the Cross-Party Group on Crofting by Iain MacKinnon on 1 November 2016:-

I would like to draw your attention to a letter by Colin Kennedy published this month in the Scottish Farmer. In the letter he draws the Scottish Crofting Federation’s attention to ‘the commission mole’ at the time of the ‘Susan Walker debacle’. Presumably he is referring here to the anonymous commissioner quoted by the West Highland Free Press when information was leaked to the paper and other media outlets about a letter signed by five commissioners – including Mr Kennedy – calling a meeting to discuss a potential vote of no confidence in Ms Walker. Mr Kennedy told the Scottish Farmer this month:

‘I can assure the SCF that prior to my becoming convener, the mole was identified and the information was provided to the appropriate persons to take the matter forward.’

At the Cross Party Group on Crofting’s meeting on 15th September last year, Jean Urquhart asked Mr Kennedy about the leak to the press.

He was unable to give her an answer and did not identify any ‘mole’ on that occasion. However, the then chief executive of the organisation was able to respond and this is noted in the minutes as follows:

‘What is being done about the fact that there was a leak to the press from a commissioner, which is a breach of the code of conduct?

While a newspaper claimed their was leak by a Commissioner, as Accountable Officer the CEO has carried out an internal investigation which found no evidence that any Commissioner had breached the code of conduct by leaking information on the matter to the press.’

I would like to hear from the Commission’s representative at the meeting how they reconcile these two statements and to ask again, in light of Mr Kennedy’s claim: what is being done about the leak to the press; and who was the ‘mole’ as described by Mr Kennedy in his letter to The Scottish Farmer.

Six months after the first questions were put to the Crofting Commission their Interim Chief Executive, Bill Barron, addressed them at the Cross-Party Group meeting at Holyrood on 25 January 2017 by stating that he didn’t intend to answer them but would like, instead, “to focus on the future“. He wanted to “draw a line under the rows of last year“. He acknowledged that “things had been done wrong” but there was “no merit in unpicking all of that“.

Mr Barron may have missed the fact that some of the rows of last year continue into this one.

He stated:-

Some of the specific issues raised in your questions have already been clarified by the Commission.  For example, we have confirmed that we agree with the Scottish Government’s position that there is nothing in the CAP rules that prevents the Scottish Government approving an SRDP application made by a grazings committee, and that we agree with the Scottish Government’s position regarding immediate disbursement of funds.

These, however, are two points that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, still appears to be taking issue with and possibly still taking a contrary position on compared to his fellow commissioners and the official line of the Crofting Commission. This is all contrary to the doctrine of collective corporate responsibility. Indeed it is interesting to note that following the departure from the Crofting Commission of their former Convener, Susan Walker, Colin Kennedy, then Vice Convener, stated [PDF: Board Minutes – 13 May 2015]:-

I am sure that I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that today we are all equal with collective responsibility. In fact we are all Conveners, working together for the betterment of the Crofting Commission.

However, his publicly opposing views to that of the board clearly conflict with that statement.

The Guide for Board Members of Public Bodies in Scotland [PDF] states:-

While Board members must be ready to offer constructive challenge, they must also share collective responsibility for decisions taken by the Board as a whole. If they fundamentally disagree with the decision taken by the Board, they have the option of recording their disagreement in the minutes. However, ultimately, they must either accept and support the collective decision of the Board – or resign.

Colin Kennedy was not in attendance at the Cross-Party Group meeting on Wednesday night. He has only attended one meeting out of the five that have taken place since the start of the current Parliamentary term.

At the meeting in Holyrood on Wednesday night the Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Russell Smith, asked Bill Barron if Colin Kennedy was still Convener and was still chairing Board meetings. Bill Barron answered both questions in the affirmative. Russell Smith then asked if the Board was working as it should to which Bill Barron replied “it is not easy but it is getting its work done“. How well, under the circumstances, it is getting its work done is, however, very debatable.

On the points raised by Ian MacKinnon the response from Bill Barron was:-

The same [i.e. not answering the questions] holds for Iain MacKinnon’s questions about a leak to the press, which was investigated by the previous CEO in 2015. Colin Kennedy’s more recent public comments about this appear to have been made in a personal capacity, but I can confirm that the Commission has no plans to re-examine this matter. Instead, my priority is to look forward to the upcoming elections and to prepare to give the best possible support to the new Board.

So it is all about looking forward and not looking back. However, you sometimes have to look back to learn from your mistakes before you can move forward and avoid making the same mistakes again.

Perhaps the Scottish Government’s review into the governance of the Crofting Commission will reflect more on the mistakes of the past and what needs to be done to prevent a recurrence of them. The Cross-Party Group on Crofting was advised on Wednesday by Gordon Jackson, Head of Rural Business Development and Land Tenure at the Scottish Government, that this review will be published “shortly“.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: The Matrix Reloaded © Village Roadshow Pictures, Silver Pictures and NPV Entertainment

Crofting Law whilst in Milan

Crofting Law whilst in Milan

The dome in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, Italy

It is over a week since my last blog post. Not because it has been quiet in the world of crofting law but because I’ve been away in Milan. I didn’t quite escape crofting law whilst there as I had a meeting where a translator turned my crofting law advice into Italian. I hope nothing was lost in translation. Not sure what the Italian is for souming!

Last time I was away from the UK I commented that there was ‘no let up on the common grazings crisis whilst on holiday‘. Much the same this time around. Especially due to the fact that the ‘twa Colins’ (as they have become known in the comments section of this blog) are, somewhat incredulously, still in post.

Colin Souter, the Grazings ‘Constable‘ of Upper Coll, still seems to hold that ‘position’ despite the Crofting Commission announcing over three weeks ago that he would be stepping down “as soon as possible“. Why has he not stepped down or been stepped down?

Colin Souter has been uncharacteristically quiet during that period. Whereas Colin Kennedy, Convener of the Crofting Commission, has been uncharacteristically vocal. My last blog post looked at his  crofting ‘crusade‘ as revealed in The Scottish Farmer. A week later and The Scottish Farmer have published a letter from Colin Kennedy which starts with an attack on the Scottish Crofting Federation, rambles on a bit and is cryptic in places but seems to be blaming the  former Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, for everything that everyone else has been blaming him for. I will look at that, and the further breaches of the code of conduct by Mr Kennedy arising therefrom, in a future blog post.

Kennedy is the renegade commissioner who is breaking almost all, if not every, ethical standard expected of public office holders. The Editor of the West Highland Free Press wondered a couple of weeks ago how Kennedy had still not received his P45. Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, writing in the Press & Journal around the same time expected this “Ozymandias with delusions of grandeur” to have been toppled by now.

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, referred to Kennedy’s behaviour as “disappointing” and hinted at the powers the Scottish Ministers had to remove him. Since then he has gone on a personal tirade against those very ministers, his commissioner colleagues and commission staff. How has he been allowed to go on like this? Who is in control? What message does this send out to crofters and the general electorate? Where and how will it all end?

I referred earlier to “former” Chief Executive, Catriona Maclean, because her replacement on an interim basis, Bill Barron, started work at Great Glen House on Monday. I will also look at that in more detail in a future blog post.

However, how can this new interim Chief Executive be expected to effectively operate an organisation where the Convener has gone renegade? Where that convener does not have the support of the other commissioners, the Scottish Ministers, any of the crofting representative bodies or the vast majority of crofters? Could the role be any more of a poisoned chalice?

What else happened over the past week? Well:-

  • The closing date came and went for applications for the two appointed Crofting Commissioner posts.
  • Top search terms leading people to this blog were “Colin Kennedy Crofting Commission” and “the Marquis & Marchioness of Stafford”. I have previously drawn comparisons.
  • Comments on the blog took on a Star Trek theme making a change from Star Wars analogies. The Dark Side have become the Klingons it would appear 😉
  • Revelations of baboon-a-grams being advertised on the Isle of Coll emerged. We are searching the News of the World archives for more on this story which just might eclipse the Convener’s Throne for amusement value.
  • It would appear that back issues of the News of the World, Press & Journal and Oban Times also hold other interesting stories about the Isle of Coll. We will see what our research turns up.
  • Crofting road shows will be taking place to inform crofters about the Crofting Commission  elections and other crofting issues.
  • The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has launched a call for written evidence to help inform its short, focussed review of priorities for crofting law reform.
  • Crofting Election Regulations have been put before the Scottish Parliament but these make no changes, as previously mooted, to the six constituency boundaries.

A week is clearly a long time in crofting law!

More detail on some of these stories  will appear in future blog posts. Do subscribe to this blog by inserting your e-mail address in the box in the top right of this page and press ‘Subscribe’. You will then receive the latest blog posts directly into your mail box as soon as they are published. You don’t want to miss that baboon-a-gram story 😉

Brian Inkster

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

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

Sunday Politics Scotland: Chaos on the Croft

Sunday Politics Scotland - Crofting Commission Crisis - Gordon BrewerSunday Politics Scotland on BBC One Scotland this week looked at the crisis in the Crofting Commission.

Presenter Gordon Brewer introducing the topic said:-

Now Chaos on the Croft.

The body responsible for protecting and regulating Scotland’s crofting is embroiled in some dramatic internal politics of its own.

As Len Cooksley reports pressure is increasing on the head of the Crofting Commission to resign after the Scottish Government became involved.

Sunday Politics Scotland - Crofting Commission Crisis - Crofter and tractor

Len Cooksley:-

Scotland has nearly 20,000 crofts overseen by the Crofting Commission.

After suspending two local grazing committees on Lewis on the grounds of financial missmanagement it was forced into a u-turn.

There were claims the commission were both heavy handed and may have acted illegally.

Now the Scottish Government’s got involved. It called on the commission and its convener, Colin Kennedy, to apologise.

Last week Mr Kennedy walked out of a commissioners meeting. Those that remained issued that apology and then passed a vote of no confidence in Mr Kennedy.

The First Minister gave her take on events in parliament earlier this week.

Sunday Politics Scotland - Crofting Commission Crisis - Nicola Sturgeon MSP - First Minister

Nicola Sturgeon MSP:-

I note that crofting commissioners have unanimously called on the convener to resign.

The Scottish Government have requested further information from the convener in relation to last week’s events.

While the Government would not ordinarily intervene in the internal operations of an independent statutory body the legislation does give Scottish Ministers power to act if required.

Len Cooksley:-

MSPs are watching developments with interest.

Sunday Politics Scotland - Crofting Commission Crisis - Tavish Scott MSP

Tavish Scott MSP:-

There is no doubt that there has been a fall out amongst commissioners and that has been caused by the behaviour of the convener of the Crofting Commission.

What this organisation needs now is a new convener, a reconstituted board and the ability to get back what it is meant to do and that is work for crofters right across Scotland.

Len Cooksley:-

We understand Mr Kennedy has no plans to resign but would make no further comment.

The implication is clear: either he jumps or he’ll be pushed.

Gordon Brewer:-

Well earlier I spoke to Brian Inkster who is a lawyer and blogger specialising in crofting matters.

Sunday Politics Scotland - Crofting Commission Crisis - Brian Inkster - Inksters Solicitors

Gordon Brewer asked:-

Well the crofting commissioners have no confidence in their leader. He won’t resign and the Scottish Government is threatening to get involved. What on earth is going on?

Brian Inkster answered:-

Well it all goes back to December time last year when they decided to put out of office a grazings committee in Lewis. The first one was Mangersta and then subsequently into 2016 they put out two other grazings committees: one in Upper Coll and the other in Lochaber.

Gordon Brewer:-

Right but what I don’t understand is that Mr Kenedy the man who is the commissioner is accused of issuing edicts on things like payments over common grazings and peoples backs are up about this. But how can he do that surely the commissioners have to decide to do this.

Brian Inkster:-

Well the commissioners should be deciding to do it. It looks as though he has been instrumental in pushing these issues forward.

There were three sort of main issues I suppose.

The first one was payment by grazings committees to shareholders in common grazings of monies that had come into grazings funds. His argument was that these monies had to be paid out immediately. So there would be immediate payment to the shareholders and if monies were required back to maintain the common grazings they would issue a levy onto the shareholders.

Nowhere in the law did it say that these immediate payments had to be made and indeed it just didn’t make any kind of logical or common sense approach to deal with it in that way.

Subsequently there were two other issues.

One was that he was seeking to stop common grazings committees receiving SRDP funding – which is really grants from the governmnet to assist in the maintenace and improvement of the common grazings.

And latterly there was an issue around VAT registration where it was being said that common grazings could not be VAT registered whereas historically they always have been.

Gordon Brewer:-

Right, now, what happened? At some point the commissioners had a vote of no confidence.

Brian Inkster:-

That was just over a week ago in Brora. That was on the back of Colin Kennedy walking out of a meeting. He closed the meeting and walked out on the basis that the commissioner for the Western Isles said he was no longer declaring an interest in the Western Isles cases which he had previously done and was now wanting to vote on any issues concerning the Western Isles.

Sunday Politics Scotland - Crofting Commission Crisis - Brian Inkster and Gordon Brewer

Gordon Brewer:-

On the face of it you would think that if the commissioners have no confidence in him he has to go but he doesn’t does he because he was elected?

Brian Inkster:-

He was elected and there is nothing in the law that says if the commissioners have a vote of no confidence he must go. One would imagine that if all the commissioners are against you, if the Scottish Crofting Federation, NFU Scotland, MSPs across all cross parties and the press are all saying it’s time to go you would think what is the point of clinging on here.

Gordon Brewer:-

The Scottish Government has threatened to become involved. What can they do?

Brian Inkster:-

In terms of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993, Scottish Ministers have the power if they consider that a commissioner is unable or unfit to exercise the functions of a member or unsuitable to continue as a member they can then remove a member from office.

Gordon Brewer:-

Now, Brian Inkster, just to give us a little sense of what the background to this is because it is quite complicated. But is the issue underlying all this the use of land and the fact, for example, wind farms wants to come in or housing wants to come in and it is about whether the common ground is allocated to the community the funds from it or to individuals.

Brian Inkster:-

It is linked to the funds that come into a common grazings. On a common grazings, especially as you mentioned wind farming, so in recent times the potential for larger sums of money to come into a common grazings exists. And it is linked to the distribution of those monies and there was an insistance on the part of the convener that those monies had to be paid out as soon as it was received. That there was no ability to hold onto the money to use it to spend on improvements within the common grazings. The Scottish Government said that was not the correct view in law.

Gordon Brewer:-

Alright, we will have to leave it there. Brian Inkster thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Brian Inkster:-

Thank you.

Gordon Brewer:-

Well earlier I spoke to Colin Kennedy. He is the Crofting Commission boss who is in the middle of all of this controversy. I spoke to him on the telephone from Coll.

Sunday Politics Scotland - Crofting Commission Crisis - Colin Kennedy - Convener Crofting Commission

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.

Gordon Brewer:-

But the Scottish Government has said it has the power to get involved. If they do get involved and say you have to go you will have to go won’t you?

Colin Kennedy:-

That will be the case, yes.

Gordon Brewer:-

So just to be clear on that. If the Scottish Government says look given that your commissioners have voted no confidence in you we don’t think you can stay in post you will have to resign.

Colin Kennedy:-

That may be the case.

Gordon Brewer:-

Why are you so determined? You walked out of the meeting didn’t you, the other week? Why have you fallen out with all of the commissioners?

Colin Kennedy:-

No I didn’t walk out of a meeting.

I formally declared the meeting closed in light of an advancement by a commissioner supported by the deputy accountable officer that they had obtained information from the standards commission which I requested sight of prior to determination which failed to materialise.

Accordingly given the nature of the business at hand I had no alternative other than to formally close the September meeting of the Crofting Commission prior to my departure.

Gordon Brewer:-

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:-

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.

Gordon Brewer:-

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

Colin Kennedy:-

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.

Gordon Brewer:-

So right. If they still have confidence in you why would they do that?

Colin Kennedy:-

I couldn’t comment on what they do at informally constituted meetings.

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.

Gordon Brewer:-

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:-

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.

Gordon Brewer:-

Alright Colin Kennedy we have to leave it. Thank you very much for joining us.

Colin Kennedy:-

Thank you.

N.B. For a limited period (29 days) you can watch this episode of Sunday Politics Scotland on iPlayer (at about 54 minutes in)

Image Credits: Sunday Politics Scotland © BBC Scotland

Kennedy stays in post and seeks legal advice

Colin Kennedy stays in position as Convener of the Crofting Coimmission and seeks legal adviceYesterday we heard that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, had told the BBC that he had no plans to resign.

Today we learn that he has also been speaking to The Scottish Farmer. Their front page main story reveals:-

I am currently taking legal advice and it is inappropriate for me to comment at this stage.

All I will say is that, despite all the flak, I am staying in my position as convener, and not resigning.

In the past week Mr Kennedy has provided statements to The Herald, BBC and The Scottish Farmer asserting that he is going nowhere. That appears to be many more statements than he has ever made to the press as convener on behalf of the Crofting Commission in over a year in that position.

With no support from fellow commissioners, the Scottish Crofting Federation, National Farmers Union Scotland, MSPs of all political persuasions, the press and the vast majority of crofters it would appear very clear that he no longer has a mandate to continue in that position.

All the legal advice in the world won’t change that simple fact.

Brian Inkster