Taking the bull by the horns

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The ferocious row engulfing the Crofters Commission is escalating after the chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF), Fiona Mandeville insisted the commission, who received a vote of no confidence at an SCF meeting, have ‘lost all sense of reason.’

The Crofters Commission this week appointed a constable to replace the Grazings Committee of Upper Col who were removed from their positions last month.

A move which hasn’t sat well with Ms Mandeville who is leading calls for an urgent meeting with the new Minister.

She said: “The behaviour of the Crofting Commission is causing widespread resentment and bewilderment in the crofting communities. We are all completely dismayed that the body that is supposed to be promoting the interests of crofting is instead behaving so negatively and harmfully. It seems to have lost all sense of reason.”

In addition to the dismissal of the Upper Coll Grazings Committee, Mangersta Grazings Committee were also removed by the Crofters Commission.

“We understand that there may be other sacked grazings committees,” said Ms Mandeville. “The Commission has to be reined in and held to account.

“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with the new Minister for crofting as soon as she or he is in place and will call for a full external inquiry.”

The SCF held a meeting in Ullapool last Friday which was attended by fifteen people , including the deposed grazings officials, crofters and others where a vote of no confidence in the Commission was passed unanimously.

Ms Mandeville went on to say: “The meeting was unequivocal in its opinion of the Crofting Commission’s conduct.

“As well as a vote of no confidence in the Commission, the meeting thought that it would be appropriate for the convenor of the Commission to stand aside whilst an investigation is carried out into the summary dismissals of grazings committees and the internal procedures of the Commission that has led to this debacle. The SCF fully supports this.”

The Crofting Commission are scheduled to meet shareholders in both Upper Coll and Mangersta on Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 May.

At these meetings the current situation in each township will be explained and the Commission will work with shareholders to find the best way forward.

Members of the former Mangersta Grazings Committee have issued a statement welcoming the news that the former tenant, whose activities led to the disbandment of the Common Grazings Committee, has withdrawn all of his financial claims.

Following recent publicity, the individual – who had sought a personal share of grants paid to the village while he was an absentee tenant between 1994 and 2012 – said in a letter to the former Grazings Clerk that he was withdrawing “any and all claims … with immediate effect”.

The Mangersta statement reads: “We welcome the withdrawal of these demands and sincerely hope it will bring all of this to an end.

“We repeat our call for an inquiry into the workings of the Crofting Commission and particularly the guidance they have sent out, in response to events in Mangersta and Upper Coll, on financial management by Grazings Committees.

As is now widely appreciated, these have extremely damaging implications for the whole crofting system”.

Crofting law expert, Brian Inkster, has now written to the Crofting Commission informing them of the development and asking them to reinstate the Grazings Committee and clerk without delay. Mr Inkster had previously described the Commission’s conduct in replacing the Committee with a Grazings Constable as “unreasonable” and “illegal”.