Highlands & Islands

'Underpants test' claim over Crofting Commission post

A croft
Image caption Last month, crofters elected members to the commission board for the first time

Securing the post of convener at the newly-formed Crofting Commission has been likened to having to pass "a Saltire underpants test".

Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott made the accusation in criticism of the Scottish government's decision on how the appointment will be made.

Ministers will consider a recommendation from civil servants.

Labour and the Tories have also attacked the move. The government said the process was open and transparent.

The Crofting Commission met for the first time on Monday following the first elections to its board.

Crofters have told BBC Alba of their concerns that the public agency's nine commissioners - six of them elected by crofters - would not be choosing a convener among themselves.

Patrick Krause, chief executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, said that this decision questioned Environment Secretary Stewart Stevenson's commitment to democracy within the commission.

He said: "Clearly the minister doesn't have enough confidence in the commission to allow them to choose their own convener.

"Elsewhere we have heard of the spread of democracy through the Arab Spring.

"Is it not time to allow democracy to apply in crofting and to have a Crofting Spring where the commission can be allowed to make its own decisions?"

'Seems high-handed'

Tavish Scott, MSP for Shetland, said that he would be writing to Mr Stevenson.

He said: "This is a terrible decision and is consistent with the command and control being exercised by the SNP government on a whole range of issues.

"They won't make an appointment unless they are sure the person passes the Saltire underpants test.

"Why do they not trust the people who have been elected by the crofters to make the decision?"

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon said: "Given that this was the first time that commissioners were chosen with a mandate from their own communities, it seems high-handed of the minister to appoint the convener himself.

"If the nine commissioners were allowed to choose from among their own number the convener would have the confidence and respect of the others. That might not be the case if the appointment is made by the minister."

Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, said that the process had an inherent unfairness in it.

She said: "To choose the convener in this way, weights the process towards the three commissioners already chosen through the public appointments system.

"The minister should allow the commission to choose its own convener."

'Not true'

Western Isles SNP MSP, Alasdair Allan, said that the move did not undermine the commission.

He said: "There must be a tie between the commission and the minister because it is a public body.

"The minister has a choice among all the members.

"If the six members chosen by the crofters are unhappy with what the government or the commission is doing they will not be slow to say that."

He added: "There is a majority of crofters' representatives so it is not true to say that this is an attempt to control the commission."

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson said that he would be discussing the matter with Mr Stevenson when parliament resumed, but that it was appropriate that the first convener was chosen through this process.

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