Politicians and crofting law experts have commented on the crofting conflict centred on Upper Coll.
Scottish Labour’s candidate for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Rhoda Grant, has backed calls for a full inquiry into the workings of the Crofting Commission and the reinstatement of the local Grazings Committee.
In a letter to the Commission’s Chief Executive, Catriona MacLean, Mrs Grant states that the Commission’s actions in Upper Coll run counter to local democracy and adds: "It is my understanding that this committee has carried out the wishes and instructions of the Commission and complied with all requirements, so in my view they should not have been removed from post".
Mrs Grant said: "I believe that this sorry episode is symptomatic of a much wider problem with the Crofting Commission which has gained an unwelcome reputation for its high-handed, overbearing attitude towards good people doing their best to hold crofting together".
Meanwhile, crofting Law expert, Brian Inkster, agreed the situation “highlights a worrying trend concerning alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission”. Mr Inkster says the decision was apparently blamed on the failure of the Grazings Committee to produce “audited” accounts. Instead their accountants had produced unaudited financial statements.
The Crofting Commission’s own Common Grazings Regulations Template does not promote the need for audited accounts and indeed their guidance on financial matters states: “A grazing committee shall undertake an annual independent scrutiny of their financial accounts. The committee should satisfy themselves that the level of scrutiny is proportionate to the value of monetary transactions.”
It has also been pointed out by Mr Inkster that the Crofting Commission Guidance on Common Grazings Regulations states: “The Commission will not get involved in any matter relating to alleged financial impropriety. This is potentially a civil and/or criminal matter and should be dealt with by the relevant authorities.”
Mr Inkster says that “on any view, therefore, the actions of the Crofting Commission in this instance are extraordinary and it should be of grave concern to all crofters and to the Scottish Government that the Crofting Regulator is behaving in this way”.
Earlier, the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) called on the Crofting Commission to explain its “extraordinary” decision. “This is a very alarming incidence for crofting ,” SCF Chief Executive, Patrick Krause, said. “We are not in possession of all the facts that have led to the Crofting Commission taking the extraordinary step of dissolving a grazings committee, which is something unprecedented as far as I know.
“So SCF’s concern is directed towards the broader issue of what this says for decision-making within the commission and what this does to the relationship between crofters and the regulator.
Mr Krause continued, “The press made us all aware of the grievance raised by the Lewis Upper Coll grazings committee against the convener of the commission, Colin Kennedy, a few weeks ago.
“Whatever is actually behind their decision, it is a staggeringly clumsy exercise in public relations. We are struggling to maintain, and to form new, grazings committees as it is.”