This is a guest post contributed by a concerned Upper Coll Villager:-
I keep on asking how they could have sacked a committee, three of whose members had only been on it for 9 months. They had not been on any of the previous committees. How could they have had time to be responsible for anything?
I have been puzzled at the lack of public support from other villages, apart from the night in Stornoway Town Hall, but I have had it said to me several times that they have all done the kind of things for the good of the community, and for which we had previously been praised, and now they fear themselves being targeted. They have done precisely the same kind of things we are now being chastised for. VAT, small donations, foregoing share of feus in favour of our hospice. Ridiculous.
Crofting is not about a few sheep or a few cattle, it is about people and keeping people in our crofting areas. No one can make any kind of a living off crofting in our area. Nevertheless it is an important mechanism for maintaining “community” and all that means. Over half the townships don’t have a committee as a result of loss of “community”. The Commission instead of encouraging the ones which do exist are hounding them.
I have been told of one committee that has been disbanded until they see what the outcome of our situation is. They don’t want to be made personally responsible or be targeted the way our committee has been. They are all waiting to see what happens to us. This is no longer about Upper Coll but about the whole essence of what constitutes a “live” crofting community.
It is very difficult at times to remember the precise details of events of years ago. As the ”constable” has our minute book we don’t have our memory jogger.
The Gearraidh Ghuirm road construction, our esteemed constable seems to have placed such emphasis on, was to help the new householders get good access to their houses, as the village, whilst encouraging and accepting applications in an area of moorland, which was so useless it hadn’t even been fenced, made it quite clear to the purchasers, while they were getting the fues cheaply, the responsibility for the road was theirs and theirs only.
In a spirit of helpfulness, as was the case with the football and recreational facilities, we had enabled to happen, and for which again we are now many years later criticised, the village facilitated it by making application to the Council for money from it’s Unadopted Roads budget. The cash was provided by the Council and the feu holders. The village’s contribution was mainly “in kind”, material from the gravel pit we have developed ourselves over the years. Our ‘constable’ seems determined to find fault and tries to say by looking at our cashbook accounts of EIGHT years ago that we caused shareholders financial loss. Rubbish and now we have a street of houses, on what was useless ground, and up to 20 children … and we are now being hammered for being resourceful in enabling that to happen.
Now that our great ‘constable’ has highlighted what was a beneficial local practice which we all benefitted from, is there going to be pressure on the landlord to put a stop to it? I hope not, but him poking his nose in could very well have that effect.
I have seen the immense strain this has so unfairly placed on the former committee. Their families, who are not used to being under this kind of legal and media focus are completely perplexed by it all. I feel personally insulted on behalf of myself and the others of us whose forefathers created this village, that these people have demeaned all we have done for so many years, which led us to being widely recognised as a forward looking and well run grazings village.
Ivor Matheson and his ally Kenneth Macleod, who has not one facility for his cattle on his wife’s croft and is dependent on common grazings, have much to answer for. Those in authority who didn’t throw out their nonsensical complaints but used them to enable them to peddle some weird agenda have much more to answer for.
A Concerned Upper Coll Villager
Registers of Scotland ‘click your croft’ photography competition 2014.
Heather Gray of Shetland won with her photo ‘Hentin Totties’, which shows a family of all ages working the land.
The competition, run in association with the Scottish Crofting Federation and the Crofting Commission, set out to explore what this traditional way of life means to crofters in 2014.
Miss Gray said: “I suppose my main inspiration for the photo is family. Seeing the extended family from grannies to toddlers coming together and helping out with the yearly crop – it just makes you smile.”
I agree with the writer that other villages have been quiet when it comes to public support for Upper Coll, but I am relieved that he/she has acknowledged the reason behind it – we are all worried about the irrational behaviour of the Commission and fear being targeted for support of Upper Coll or Mangersta.
My own township is out of office just now and there have been whispers about setting up a committee over the summer, but the uncertainty caused by the Commission is the only reason we haven’t held a coinneamh baile.
My own feelings are that, unfortunately, this appears to be exactly what the current Convener/Commission want; do away with the communal working, make it as difficult as possible for townships and long-term end up with common grazings broken up into apportionments and active crofters doing their own thing.
The entertaining post about the Convener’s Throne provided light relief. But there is an underlying story the Commission and government would do ill to ignore especially in light of the courageous act by Upper Coll shareholders to elect a new committee.
A grazing committee is a democratic institution. The shareholders are voted onto the committee and the committee has a duty to look after the interests of the shareholders. To avoid challenges of acting as a colonial power and wielding that power unfairly and unjustly the Commission had to demonstrate the committee they removed was so disastrously failing to look after the interests of shareholders they had no option but to remove this important democratic institution.
We have been offered nothing from Mr Souter or the Commission to explain which part of the crofting acts gives the Crofting Commission power to give a grazings constable (even if legal) powers to act as an investigative officer against numerous previous committees going back 9-10 years. Nor have the Commission and the Illegal Grazing Constable explained why they are conducting investigations into many matters that did not form part of the original complaints.
However, for all his illegal investigations Mr Souter has found no disastrous actions by the deposed committee would justify the draconian and colonial power exercised by the Crofting Commission. Some mistakes. Some misunderstandings. Though many if not all of them by previous committees, not the one that was removed. But those same mistakes and misunderstandings can be seen in almost every township committee. So what is the Commission going to do? Order gratuitous, unasked-for investigations into them all? Order them all to audit accounts? Sack them all? It must be seen to act fairly.
Meanwhile, the Illegal Grazing Constable has seriously failed in two duties:-
1 He does not appear to have made any comment on any of the breaches of the grazing regulations by the complainers. Anyone who bothered to listen to the audio of the meeting will know the Upper Coll complainers are in serious breach of the grazing regulations and show persistent defiance of the power of the democratically elected grazing committee with regard to; the souming versus the actual numbers of stock being kept by the complainers with almost 10 times more than permitted; keeping a bull on the common grazings which is not allowed for under an individual shareholder’s souming; leaving rubbish on the common grazings, with 100s bales of silage and ring feeders stored on the common grazings to the detriment of the rights of other shareholders; disregard for grazing schedules set by the grazing committee to protect improved parks resulting in poaching and damage of grazing to the detriment of the interests of other shareholders.
If the Illegal Grazing Constable is going to wield a whip he could at least wield it fairly and chastise everyone he believes guilty of breaching the grazing regulations. The way the Crofting Commissioners deliberately ignored the complainers’ breaches during the initial meeting, and Mr Souter’s list of misdemeanours by the grazing committee alone, not those of the complainers, show neither have made any attempt to deal with the complainers’ breaches of regulations. This shows how biased this attack has been
2. Since he was appointed Mr Souter has either completely failed to apply for relevant grants and so failed in a primary duty to protect the interests of shareholders. Or he has applied and completely failed in his duty to consult with shareholders before doing so. Which is one of the main complaints he has against the disposed committee and clerk!
So this is a sackable offence based on the Crofting Commission’s reasoning for sacking the grazing committee. He has either disastrously failed to look after the interests of shareholders. Or he has disastrously failed to consult with shareholders. Either way you lose Mr Souter.
The shareholders have shown they have majority democratic support for reinstalling a new committee. And getting rid of the Illegal Grazing Constable, with 26 out of 42 = 62% supporting this by petition. If the Crofting Commission obstinately persists in keeping this Illegal Grazing Constable in the face of a democratic desire by a crofting township to take back control of its own common grazings management then Commissioners are sending us this bleak message:-
They have no interest in strengthening the crofting system and supporting grazing committees to learn and get better at making the system work. They are only interested in wielding colonial power. And so they have no place in the Crofting Commission. And we ask: What are they doing there? Apart from collecting their salary of course. Increasingly it looks like this is all that motivates them.
For what its worth, I too agree with the writer.
Its all part of the bigger picture yet to be accepted by a few,
it is fight or flight,
On the Island of Coll, our friends and neighbours dare not have been seen talking to us, we were in effect being isolated from everyone, and the only people we ever spoke with were family and very close friends from off the island. Coll too was once a vibrant community but in recent years, or perhaps I ought to say in the last years we lived there, where once we were welcomed to community events, now we were not welcome, the attitude of many of the villagers was to the effect that we should just move away and give Colin Kennedy, the convener what he wants.
Divide and conquer one might say, was how it was done.
In Donald MacSween’s last paragraph, in my opinion he has it in one..after all it is easier to fight one as opposed to fighting many together, and please note that this type of scenario is seen on the mainland too,
with crofting townships being targetted.
It might be worth considering that perhaps the Convener does not act alone, though it would not surprise me if he was,
If we take out the Ex policeman and the high flying ,( who sails close to the wind and takes everything rather too personally), lawyer, we are left with the Crofting Commission and the Landlords, ie; the Scottish Ministers,
and the lack of response from Fergus Ewing MSP..and/ or others called upon, must be making one wonder just what the agenda is,
Security of Tenure, is not an issue to a landlord/landowner who wants everything you have and more..with or without the procedure of law.
Crofting is about people, that is true..the land however, is a different matter..money is made from land..whether that means buying, selling, building on or sticking huge wind turbines on it..and in that scenario, people do not matter.
Fundamentally we have to understand why this has come about, we all know historically every crofting community has issues with nepotism, bigotry, bias, favoritism plus many other issues and I believe the Commission is trying to root that out. But we can all see this is absolutely not the way to do it. The first job is to fundamentally change the Grazing Committee Rules which are light years out of date.
I am sure we all have many ideas, for example the following should be considered:-
1. All shareholders automatically are committee members unless they write to the commission to explain exceptional circumstance why not………why should a few people be responsible for the many and this would delete the old issues of nepotism etc
2. A percentage of income from SRDP or any other income stream to be kept by the committee for repair, insurance, licenses and other expenses.
3. At the yearly AGM when the accounts are explained and bank detail etc discussed a vote will be taken – if all members at satisfied or if not then the committee must submit the accounts for audit.
Other items which are completely ridiculous like posting notes on fence posts and telegraph poles regarding pending committee activities are way past there sell by date. I remember aged 8 to 14 reading them when I did not have bike or car, really nothing else to do…………there is a system called texting, lets get with the times.
Out this bùrach surely there can be a vision that is inclusive for all and bring back Esprit de Corps of the crofting life style!
all members where a