Confusion continues over precisely what the Scottish Government has and has not done in reopening, to an unknown extent, the issue of the award of shooting and fishing fishing rights for the Isle of Raasay – but they have done something, enough to mean that the crofters of Raasay will have an opportunity to remake their case.
In response to the government decision to stall, reverse or cancel the contracted award of the Raasay sporting rights to South Ayrshire Stalkers, David Cameron, Chair of Community Land Scotland, repeats his welcome for the move and goes on to say:
‘It will now be for Scottish Ministers to get the word round every department of government that they favour community empowerment as a means to drive sustainable economic development and that they never want to see a repeat of this episode.
‘Beyond that, it would be appropriate for the Scottish Government to make it clear to the people of Raasay that, if that community wants to, the Scottish Government stands ready to enable them to take further steps toward local ownership and control of their land.’
In another rambling statement yesterday [1st March], Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse said that the government was the leaseholder and had put the rights out to tender – because they are legally required to do so.
The question therefore is, what’s then been happening for the past 18 years?
The Raasay crofters have managed these rights for 18 years, apparently without the need for retendering – while the lease that had recently been awarded [and rescinded or stalled] to South Ayrshire Stalkers, was for ten years.
Wheelhouse’s handling of this matter has been well below the pass mark for competent performance. First he did a shoddy little bit of buck passing, saying that civil servants had made the tender award ‘without the involvement of ministers’ – raising all sorts of legitimate questions about just what sort of government this is.
Yesterday he told BBC ALBA that these civil servants had ‘acted in good faith’. Whoever said they had not? And why the need to say it? Can this not be taken for granted?
He went on – in yet another hapless gaffe – to say that, in the tendering process, the role of the sporting rights in the sustainability of the Raasay community had ‘slipped down the radar’ and that ministers had only recently got to know about it.
Apart from the fact that radar is a position indicator and ‘down’ is not a relevant metaphor, the Minister’s admission, that the tender process never took this issue into account in making the award, is a massive hostage to fortune.
The Raasay crofters were the long established managers of the rights. It is impossible to credit that any decision by anyone to award those rights elsewhere would not, even in passing, consider the impact of their loss on the former managers.
Wheelhouse told BBC ALBA: ‘There are some legal things we have to check because current legislation means that we have to offer open tenders. But there are some options which we are having explored by our legal director to examine whether we can take forward a let directly to the community.’
This all sounds very vague and would indicate that this newish minister remains semi-detached from his actual responsibilities.
It also continues to make absolutely no mention of the nature of the government’s legal obligations to South Ayrshire Stalkers, who had been awarded the rights and towards whom the Raasay crofters bear absolutely no ill will. The South Ayrshire group are seen very much as the innocent party and co-victim.