Government distances itself from crofting body in payments dispute

Cottages on the Applecross peninsula with stormy skies in the background.
Cottages on the Applecross peninsula with stormy skies in the background.
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Calls for the overhaul of the Crofting Commission have intensified after the leaking of a letter in which Rural Affairs Minister Fergus Ewing told its convener that the Scottish Government’s interpretation of the law is “diametrically opposed to your own”.

The Commission and its convener, Colin Kennedy, have been criticised for insisting grazings committees – elected bodies which run the affairs of crofting villages – are obliged to distribute agricultural and environmental grants to individual tenants, including absentees, as personal income.

Two grazings committees in Lewis which refused to comply were disbanded by the Commission and replaced by Grazings Constables, an arcane procedure held by many experts tobe illegal.

Critics, including the Scottish Crofting Federation, have voiced fears that the Commission’s position could lead to a collapse in crofting, while experts on crofting legislation have questioned whether its actions have any basis in law.

The Scottish Government has been criticised for failing to intervene in the dispute. Former Scottish Office Minister Brian Wilson said it was “untenable for Ewing to make damning comments in private while doing nothing in public”.

Mr Wilson called for the removal of Mr Kennedy, claiming the Crofting Commission has abused its powers and “visited an extraordinary level of anxiety and confusion upon crofting communities”.

Mr Ewing wrote to Mr Kennedy: “As it currently stands, the Scottish Government sees little merit in your views and wholly disagrees with them. Based on the thorough consideration we have given to this matter, it is clear that our view on these important issues is diametrically opposed to your own. I am very concerned about this and also about the risk that policy decisions at the Crofting Commission are made without a clear mandate from the Crofting Commission’s board”.

He adds: “It is not sustainable for the Scottish Government and one of its public bodies to take opposing interpretations of the law.”

A Government spokeswoman said it was “committed to working constructively” with the Commission.