Calls for greater democracy in the newly-formed Crofting Commission have been backed by Shetland’s representative. Kathleen Sinclair from Scousburgh says any one of the six commissioners who were recently elected to the crofting body should act as its chairman.
Last week isles MSP Tavish Scott criticised the Scottish government for failing to allow crofting representatives to choose their own leader. He said the SNP authority’s decision to appoint a chairman, rather than have one democratically elected, demonstrated a “domineering” interference.
Mrs Sinclair said on Wednesday she agreed with those views. She also criticised the government for allowing a delay of eight weeks to unfold before getting the commission’s convener appointed to his or her post.
Although the new commission is largely made up of elected commissioners, there are still three appointed representatives on the board even before the convener is put in place.
She said: “I think maybe what the commissioners thought was that the convener would be appointed there and then, but that’s not the case. They are going to appoint the convener within eight weeks.
“Just now all our questions are going to the chief executive and until you have a convener I think the whole committee is not really complete.
“My personal view is that the convener should be one of the six commissioners that have been elected by the crofters because they’re the folk who ken the practicalities involved in crofting. You have ones who ken about the rules and regulations but I think you need to have ones that ken about the practical side as well.
“I have just spoken to a couple of the other commissioners and I think they would be in agreement with that. If you’re a crofter there are immense rules and regulations, foreby the crofting rules and regulations, with government schemes.”
The new commission replaces the old, similarly named Crofters Commission, and enjoys extra powers designed to ensure crofting lands are occupied and worked on, or made available to those who want to croft.
The first task the new commissioners face is to approve a formal crofting commission interim plan which has been designed to set out the necessary rules and regulations surrounding the crofting sector. Mrs Sinclair said they had six months to put their input into that and put it back to the minister for approval.
One possible bone of contention within the plan concerns the assignation of crofts to people looking to take on small holdings.
Mrs Sinclair said guidelines currently stipulated that the commission had final say over assignation. She would rather see leeway on that rule.
Commissioners must also decide whether area assessors who maintain a link between the commission and crofting communities should be retained. Mrs Sinclair said they were “very valuable”.
She reiterated her desire to see more young people coming into crofting, insisting it was crucial to get younger folk interested in the sector if crofting was to survive in the long-term.
“Crofting doesn’t make a lot of money. Most folk have to do a full-time job and come home to it. I know a few here that are doing a good job and I think any regulation has to support them. If it’s going to continue you must have young folk coming on. I would like the regulation to be more supportive of crofters.”
Some of the issues considered important down south are not considered important in Shetland. She said there was no problem here with absenteeism in crofts, although that could rear its head in other crofting communities.
One issue that may well be affecting other areas, however, is the question over windfarms. Asked for her view on the Viking Energy project, which was approved by the Scottish government last week, she said she was keen to gather opinions from the crofting community.
“I would be open to hear from any crofters regarding their views and concerns,” she added.