The former committee members and clerk to Mangersta Common Grazings have expressed “profound concern about the implications for the whole crofting system, arising from actions now being pursued by the Crofting Commission”.  

The statement from the group – who were removed from office on the orders of the Commission – followed a meeting convened by the Commission to explain its position.  

Following the meeting, attendees said: “This is no longer about Mangersta or any other specific village which the Commission has intervened in.  It is about the very existence of the crofting system on any kind of viable, community basis.  

“The position of the Commission is that all money coming into a village for agricultural and environmental schemes must be distributed to individual shareholders, no matter where they live or what their contribution to the crofting life of the village is.  

“They say that these payments should be declared for the purposes of taxation – the phrase used was that they needed to be ‘taxed and cleaned up’. Individual shareholders should then be asked to make payments back into the Grazings Committee for the purposes originally intended.  

“In terms of crofting, this is completely mad and unsustainable. What Grazings Committee is going to apply for any scheme under these conditions?”.  

When shareholders at the meeting questioned the legality of the Commissioners’ proposals they were told that if all shareholders did not accept them, the Commission would not allow Mangersta Grazings shareholders to re-form a committee.  

The statement repeated the call for an inquiry into the operations of the Crofting Commission and also asked for an urgent debate in the Scottish Parliament to seek clarification on the issues involved.  

At the outset of the meeting, the chairman, William Swann, over-ruled objections to the unannounced presence of the Crofting Commission convener, Colin Kennedy, who did not participate in the discussion.

Mr Swann said that Mr Kennedy has a ‘conflict of interest’ but would not ask him to leave the meeting.    

Mr. Swann also refused to respond to questions about the legality of the Commission’s actions in removing the grazings clerk and committee members from office, replacing them with a Grazings Constable.

He said that only the Scottish Land Court could rule on that matter.  The legal advice received by the Mangersta shareholders is that there was no basis in law for the Commission’s actions.  Crofting law expert, Brian Inkster of Inksters Solicitors, who wrote to the Crofting Commission pointing out that, in his view, the appointment of a Grazings Constable in these circumstances was illegal, was again highly critical of the Commission’s conduct.  

Mr Inkster said: “The Crofting Commission has not responded with any legal argument as to why they consider their actions to be legal.

"They have simply stated that they consider their decision to be a final one and they have no authority to revisit their own decisions in these circumstances. So they appear to consider that they can do as they please with no real regard to the law and if decisions are illegal they cannot reverse them!  

“This is also self-evident from the appearance at the meeting unannounced, but with an acknowledged conflict of interest, of convener Colin Kennedy. It is stated in Paragraph 13(2) of Schedule 1 to the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 that ‘the convener must, if present, chair meetings of the Commission and any of their committees’.

"He didn’t chair this meeting, remained silent and allowed Mr. Swann to chair. Yet again, the Crofting Commission simply rips up the rule book.  

“No public body should be allowed to behave like this and now that we have a new Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for crofting, namely Fergus Ewing, he will hopefully put a stop to it.  

“If Mr. Swann considers that only the Scottish Land Court can rule on the matter then the Crofting Commission should be making an application to the Land Court under Section 53 of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 for confirmation as to the legality or otherwise of their actions.  

“Until such time as they do so, and in the absence of any legal argument to the contrary, my advice to any Grazings Committee which has been dismissed and replaced by a Grazings Constable is to treat any actions by that Constable as being null and void and carrying no legal authority.”  

The former committee members and clerk reiterated at the meeting that they could see no way forward until the Crofting Commission publicly admit their error and issue an apology for their actions.  

The statement said: “The Crofting Commission is a statutory body which must act within the law.  

“This affair has opened up issues which are fundamental to the whole crofting system and there is no confidence in the Crofting Commission, left to its own devices, to act in the best interests of crofting or in accordance with their statutory remit.

"Urgent intervention is now required”.