The letter from Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary responsible for crofting, to Colin Kennedy, Convener of the Crofting Commission, made it clear that the Scottish Government did not share the legal interpretation taken by the Crofting Commission on (a) the distribution of funds by Grazings Committees and (b) entitlement to SRDP funding by Grazings Committees.
The letter, interestingly, suggested that the wrong views on these matters were personal ones held by Colin Kennedy and did not necessarily represent the views of the Board of the Crofting Commission. Fergus Ewing, in the letter, stated:-
At our meeting you noted that the views you expressed on these issues were in fact your own and not those of the Crofting Commission Board. This was confirmed by the Crofting Commission’s Chief Executive. As it currently stands, the Scottish Government sees little merit in your views on these issues and wholly disagrees with them. Based on a thorough consideration that we have given this matter, it is clear that our own view on these important issues is diametrically opposed to your own. I am very concerned about this and also about the risk that policy decisions at the Crofting Commission may be taken without a clear mandate from the Crofting Commission’s Board.
If this is the case then although the Crofting Commission Board may not have shared Colin Kennedy’s views on the distribution of funds by Grazings Committees decisions were still made that forced or sought to force Grazings Committees to empty their bank accounts, put them out of office and replaced them with illegally appointed grazings constables. How did this happen?
BBC Reporter Jackie O’Brien said on 17 August 2016 that:-
I did speak to him [Colin Kennedy] last night. He is adamant that he has done nothing wrong. He claims that all of the decisions which have been made have been made during/since he has been Convener have been based on papers supplied by the Commission’s executive.
He has also insisted that not a single matter on this has ever had to go to a vote or at board level and he says that all decisions are taken by means of reasoned debate and consensus.
If he admitted to Fergus Ewing that the views were his own and this was backed up by Catriona Maclean, Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, then clearly decisions were not actually based on papers supplied by the Commission’s executive.
Also if these views were his own and not shared by the Board how was it that “not a single matter on this has ever had to go to a vote or at board level” and “that all decisions are taken by means of reasoned debate and consensus“?
Or has there never been a vote at board level because the decisions have already been taken by the Convener?!
Colin Kennedy has either been misleading Fergus Ewing MSP or Jackie O’Brien because the statements made by each of them do not correspond.
The inference, however, from the Fergus Ewing letter is that Colin Kennedy has been calling the shots at the Crofting Commission and that policy decisions may have been taken without a clear mandate from the Crofting Commission’s Board. If this is the case it is concerning indeed.
It is also rather ironic that the last Convener, Susan Walker, was ousted from office in a coup by certain Board members because there had been growing concern amongst her fellow commissioners over her style of leadership with it being alleged that she had assumed the role of an executive chair, rather than that of primus inter pares – first among equals. Whether or not Susan Walker was actually behaving in this way, and I have seen no evidence to suggest that she was, it would appear that her replacement, Colin Kennedy, is!
At the time it was reported that even the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, had privately criticised the way Commissioners handled the affair and she went further, with one internal note suggesting the Commission may have underplayed the level of division within their board during discussions with Government. Writing shortly after the convener’s resignation she said that, while the Commission “wanted to reassure the Minister [for Crofting] that they were keen to move forward in a united and positive way”, her own view was that there were “still differences of opinion on the merits of what happened”. In a later commentary she specified disagreement between board members which will require “a focus on healing”.
It would appear that this disagreement between board members still subsists with no sign of any healing. If anything the wound has perhaps deepened.
If the cause of this is a commissioner who dictates his views on the others and those views are “diametrically opposed” to those held by the Scottish Government then there appears to be a conflict that requires to be resolved. It may not be one that can easily be resolved without the intervention sought by many.