Following 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?)!
@CroftingLaw translation=everyone on board has different opinions but we agree. We accept Ministers letter but we were right + will carry on
— Crabbit Crofter (@CrabbitCrofter) 17 August 2016
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.