The Stornoway Gazette, has revealed that Murdo Maclennan, Crofting Commissioner for the Western Isles, is pleased to now be free to publicly declare his position on the common grazings crisis in the Western Isles after the shackles applied, when he confirmed a declaration of interest, were finally lifted.
In the online article Murdo Maclennan admits that the past few months have been difficult as both Mangersta and Upper Coll have endured very public struggles. He is quoted as saying:-
It has been very difficult for me being unable to give my opinions on the ongoing matters in Mangersta and Upper Coll but now my declaration of interests have been lifted.
It is important to say I was being held back by these declarations, but I can speak now.
The Constable (Mr Colin Souter) installed in Upper Coll should complete his work as quickly as possible and the move to have a new committee in Upper Coll should happen as quickly as possible.
I would hope despite all that has happened that there can be a drawing of a line under it to move forward together, and like all committees, we will need to work with the commission for the benefit of crofting in the future in these areas.
There are lessons learned on the commission side absolutely. In terms of Mangersta I have asked why it has taken six years to resolve? That will be open and transparent to everyone. The way matters were handled and whether a grazings officer could intervene at an earlier stage to bring communities together.
The Stornoway Gazette article points out that last week at the Board meeting at Brora Golf Club Mr Maclennan led a motion, which was seconded and agreed by officials, calling for the resignation of the Crofting Commission’s Convener, Colin Kennedy.
This followed Mr Kennedy walking out of a meeting after he refused to accept Mr Maclennan’s withdrawal of his declaration of interest.
It goes on to quote Mr Maclennan as saying:-
I had sought to represent publicly the Western Isles crofters involved by asking for the papers and being able to take part in the discussions later on in the meeting,
But I was denied that by the convener and after taking advice from the officials present, my position was sustained, that I could have access to the papers which led to him closing the meeting.
The board did continue to meet and we had a full day of business. I did move that the board state, through a motion, in my opinion it was the convener’s position to retire due to the situation. This was seconded and also received the unanimous vote of the board.
It is a question of accountability and responsibility for all that has gone on in the past six months.
View from the Crofting Law Blog
It is good that Mr Maclennan no longer has a conflict of interest and is able at last to take an active role in important issues concerning his own island community.
It is also heartening to see that he was instrumental in leading the motion calling for the convener’s resignation.
Mr Maclennan says that the grazings ‘constable’ Colin Souter should complete his work as quickly as possible and the move to have a new committee in Upper Coll should happen as quickly as possible.
However, what work does Mr Souter have to complete? I don’t think the majority of shareholders at Upper Coll want him to complete anything for them anymore.
In the case of Mangersta the ‘constable’ there was removed very swiftly indeed. Should the same not happen at Upper Coll?
What move needs to be made to have a new committee in Upper Coll? Is that not in effect all done and dusted by the actions taken by the shareholders themselves some weeks ago?
It looks like the Commission is unnecessarily prolonging the agony for the crofters of Upper Coll.
Colin Souter should step down immediately, without any further delay, and let the crofters get on with it themselves.
That happened in Mangersta. There is no good reason why it cannot and should not happen in Upper Coll.
The six crofting commissioners (including Mr Maclennan) who now oppose Mr Kennedy should ensure that this happens without further delay and preferably by close of play tomorrow at the latest. This would demonstrate that the shackles have well and truly been lifted.