The Scottish Farmer today gives space for Colin Kennedy, Convener of the Crofting Commission, to tell them about his “crofting crusade!”. This follows hot on the heals of a huge press offensive on his part over the past week with appearances/articles in Sunday Politics Scotland, The Oban Times and BBC Radio Highlands & Islands.
The story is the same: He is right and everyone else is wrong.
He has again stressed that his sole motivation is:-
to uphold crofting law, and defend the statutory rights of ordinary crofters
He has, however, again rounded on the Scottish Government and the cabinet secretary responsible for crofting, Fergus Ewing MSP, with The Scottish Farmer reporting Mr Kennedy as:-
bluntly accusing him [Mr Ewing] of perpetrating a cover-up of ScotGov’s historic role in a quagmire of maladministration.
He labours on about his views on the illegalities of common grazings obtaining SRDP funding which, as has been pointed out many times before, is not any business of the crofting regulator but a matter for the Scottish Government, the EU and crofters.
Mr Kennedy claims that:-
The commission has taken legal advice from Sir Crispin Agnew QC and it is my understanding that a grazing committee does not merit claiming subsidies, as only individual shareholders with grazing rights are eligible, provided that they comply with the provisions of the legislation for such activity.
Does Mr Kennedy have the approval of the Board of the Crofting Commission to discuss in public this legal advice obtained by the Commission? If not he is breaking that code of conduct again that he was keen to discuss on BBC Radio Highlands & Islands. This is, of course, true in relation to much that he has said over the past week.
Obtaining such a legal opinion was probably outwith the remit of the Crofting Commission in any event. It is understood that Mr Kennedy was instrumental in having it obtained. It is further understood that whilst the Board may have considered this legal opinion when produced they did not use it as a base for any decisions made.
The Scottish Government stated that it “wholly disagrees” with the views on SRDP funding held by Mr Kennedy. This would appear to include the legal opinion that he still clings to.
Those views, like his ones on VAT registration, were potentially all about depriving crofters of funding and had nothing to do with upholding crofting law and defending the statutory rights of ordinary crofters.
Mr Kennedy again showed the huge divide between himself and the Crofting Commission Board and the fact that he was not in fact supporting decisions taken by the Board such as accepting the Government’s position on SRDP and disbursement of funds.
Mr Kennedy proceeded, in his interview with The Scottish Farmer, to attack the former Upper Coll Grazings Committee stating that they:-
have a lot to answer on behalf of shareholders.
Mr Kennedy’s position in such circumstances is completely untenable.
On the subject of Colin Souter, the grazings ‘constable’ at Upper Coll, Mr Kennedy denies any involvement in his appointment or that he is “his man“. He points the finger on Chief Executive, Catriona Maclean, for the appointment “without reference to the agreed board process“.
However, Freedom of Information requests reveal evidence that Mr Kennedy’s version of events may be one painted through rose tinted glasses. His memory again may not be serving him well.
A document produced by the Crofting Commission states:-
Following the Board meeting on 9th May the Convener, Vice Convener, and CEO met by phone to agree who should be appoint4ed [sic] to the post of Grazings constable in the Upper Coll Common Grazings.
So Mr Kennedy was very involved in the selection process.
The selection committee considered four potential candidates for the job and concluded that:-
Mr Souter has experience in working with crofters and grazings committe4ss [sic] through his time in the Police. An ex-chief inspector and force negotiator who comes from south Usit [sic] Mr Souter has both the skills and experience to deal with this matter and therefore he was selected to be appointed constable.
So Mr Kennedy was in fact party to and appointed Mr Souter to the post in question.
There is also evidence of direct communication between Mr Souter and Mr Kennedy. For example an e-mail from the former to the latter on 24 May 2016 which reads:-
In looking to progress a meeting with the shareholders at Upper Coll, in the near future, I wanted to ensure the venue was appropriate and given you’ve been out there, I wondered if you had an idea on the best venue option and perhaps a secondary one, if circumstances require?
No evidence was produced from the Freedom of Information request as to whether or not recommendations were given by Mr Kennedy to Mr Souter on the comfort of the chairs at possible venues in Upper Coll. But this exchange does prove that there was indeed direct communication between the two as previously suggested on this blog.
Furthermore Mr Kennedy was taking a direct interest in matters by requesting to see minutes of meetings held by Mr Souter at Upper Coll, all as disclosed from information obtained through Freedom of Information.
Mr Kennedy in discussion with The Scottish Farmer refers to the whole grazings committee issue being “a can of worms” but stressed that to his knowledge it was only a problem specifically on Lewis. He is reported as having “quipped“:-
as previously stated in the board room things are often done differently in Lewis.
What about in Lochaber? Has Mr Kennedy also forgotten about the grazings committee he and his fellow commissioners put out of office there? Has he forgotten about how instrumental he was in ensuring the appointment of a grazings ‘constable’ there who would do his bidding?
It has, however, been commented on before that Lewis appeared to be a particular target for the convener. It is unclear why. But perhaps that will eventually come out in the wash.
Mr Kennedy is quoted by The Scottish Farmer as saying:-
But now I’ve put my head on the block in trying to get to grips with the truth. I know people are queuing up to get me out but I am not letting this rest. I’m not going to jump, so I will probably be pushed. If that happens my solicitor is standing by.
That solicitor will have a difficult hill to climb. The evidence seems to me to be firmly stacked against Mr Kennedy and has been since my first blog post on ‘The Common Clearances‘. Subsequent events and revelations from Freedom of Information requests has just fortified that position.
Mr Kennedy’s version of events, as given to the press this past week, appears to show a selective memory with many gaps to fill. I and others who post comments attempt to fill those as best we can on this blog.