Above: Scottish Ministers Estates (purple) in north-west Scotland

During Portfolio Questions on Rural Affairs and the Environment in the Scottish Parliament on 13 March 2013, Lewis Macdonald asked the Government about the latest situation on Raasay (see previous posts 23 Feb, 26 Feb, 2 March and 4 March). I post this for information but feel obliged to make two observations.

1. Mr Wheelhouse confirms that he is responsible for the management of Scottish Ministers’ estates which begs all sorts of questions as to why it took a constitutency MSP to alert him to the situation on Raasay.

2. Absent among the three options that the Minister states are out for consultation, is the continuation of the existing successful sporting lease to Raasay Crofters’ Association. I predict further trouble.


Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab):

2. To ask the Scottish Government which minister has portfolio responsibility for the rural payments and inspections division. (S4O-01906)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Paul Wheelhouse): Some of the functions of the Scottish Government’s rural payments and inspections division are the direct responsibility of Mr Lochhead, as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment. Other functions are my responsibility, as Minister for Environment and Climate Change, including the management of the Scottish ministers’ estates and divisional functions that contribute to the delivery of our climate change targets.

Lewis Macdonald: Given the minister’s responsibility for the management of estates, can he tell us when the decision was made to put the lease for sporting rights on Raasay out to tender; when the decision was made to issue in November 2011 the notice to quit to Raasay Crofters Association; and how and when ministers were made aware of each of those decisions?

Paul Wheelhouse: There were a number of questions there. The first related to the lease. It was a 50-year lease, which changed hands in about 1995 to the Raasay Crofters Association. It was always known that the lease would end around November 2012, and the notice to quit was served in line with the expectations in the lease.

On my involvement in the decision, I first became aware of the issue when Dave Thompson, the constituency member, raised it with me, followed closely thereafter by Jamie McGrigor. The decision to award a contract to South Ayrshire Stalking was taken on 8 January, and I became aware of it on 14 January.

Dave Thompson (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP): I have written to all 112 residents on the electoral roll on Raasay to ask their views on community ownership. Will the minister support community ownership if that is what the people of Raasay want and, if so, how can he help?
Paul Wheelhouse: I welcome Dave Thompson’s engagement with the Raasay community in his capacity as the local MSP to hear views on the community buy-out of Raasay. We fully support community buy-outs. We welcome any interest from the community in a buy-out and stand ready to advise on the procedures and processes involved. The Scottish Government is preparing a consultation of our own on the future of the Raasay sporting rights and we are committed to helping the local community to maximise the benefits that those rights can offer its economy.

We will extend the previous lease until 1 March 2014 to allow time for a consultation to be held with the whole Raasay community on options for the future. The three options for consultation are: a non-competitive long-term lease of up to 175 years granted to the local community; a new lease advertised in the market, which would include weighting and assessment to maximise community benefit; and a community buy-out of Raasay, which would include the sporting rights.


  1. Ref. your observation 1, a Minister can’t be expected to know about every management decision taken within the area of his/her responsibility. Do you think the minister responsible for social housing knows in advance about every change of council house tenancy?

    I don’t understand your observation 2. Does the first option – “a non-competitive long term lease of up to 175 years granted to the local community” – not represent, in effect, a continuation of the present arrangement?

    • 1) of course not but the Minister is responsible for the management of the estates and so is responsible for whatever framework is (or is not) in place that permitted the civil servants to do what they did. It was entirely unreasonable for him to blame them on basis he didn’t know. He should have known that this was the way things would be done and thus take responsibility – he didn’t.
      2) no – the current arrangements are with the crofters not the community.

      • 1) I take the point about responsibility entirely but your observation was “why it took a constitutency MSP to alert him”. Anyway, as I understand it (but correct me if I’m wrong), what he said was that the decision was not taken at ministerial level. I’m not sure it’s fair to reinterpret that as saying that he “blamed” the civil servants.

        2) Fair enough but given that “the community” (as opposed to the crofters) didn’t bid, it’s perhaps unlikely that they’re going emerge in competition to the crofters now (although if they did, you’d need the judgement of Solomon to sort that one out!)

        • He said that “It is regrettable that the original decision to award the sporting rights contract was made without ministerial involvement.” I interpret that as blaming the civil servants unfairly for a situation he had responsibility for. It is standard practice that Ministers take responsibility for matters within their departments.

          • I didn’t realise these were the exact words of what I referred to earlier. You could debate the nuances endlessly but I think the worst he’s guilty of is claiming that he (or another minister) personally would not have made that decision (as to which I agree we can’t be sure at all). But it doesn’t shade over into blaming the civil servants.

            I hold no brief for the SNP but there’s no need to over-egg what is undoubtedly a political embarrassment for them (and a text book case of minsiterial responsibilty) by accusing them of things they’re not guilty of.

  2. Interesting, although if the buyout (including the sporting rights) happens, then perhaps there may not be trouble ahead. Akin to the phrase that “the best” need not be the enemy of “better”.

    • Wrong to be bouncing community into a buyout they have never displayed any interest in – especially on the back of incompetent management by Ministers.

  3. Wheelhouse continues to avoid the question of whether the protocol on management of DAFS estates is still operational. Has it been binned or was it ignored? If followed, then the decisions referred to – i.e to terminate local lease and to go for the highest bidder – would certainly have gone to the Minister.

    Andy is absolutely right about Raasay and community ownership. Raasay is a very small community which takes on many responsibilities. The state has been its crofting landlord since 1923 and that is how people have repeatedly indicated that they want it to stay. The attempts to link community ownership with the sporting lease fiasco is reprehensible, and solely designed to cover the backs of those responsible.

    In the only instance where crofting tenants of a DAFS estate set out to achieve community ownership, West Harris, the Scottish Government put every obstacle in their way, leading to long delays and unnecessary costs. Why is Raasay alone being pushed in that direction?

    • You could also mention in this context Rum where the Scottish Government gave away £1.2m worth of public assets belonging to SNH to a community which a study previously commissioned by the SG for the purpose concluded was NOT capable of managing them. The justification for handing over the assets anyway was a “Business Case” prepared by SNH showing how much money they’d save not having to maintain them in the future.

      That apart, picking up on Brian’s comment above (are you THE Brian Wilson?) (1) what obstacles did the SG put in the way of West Harris (the use of the word “every” suggests more than one); and (2) why do you conclude Raasay is being “pushed” in the direction of community ownership when that is only one of the options out for consultation?

  4. Victor Clements

    I think the Minister is trying to over- compensate to try and make amends, but in doing so, he appears to be creating further complications. Interesting the fuzzy boundaries between responsibilities at SGRPID. I think that each was expecting the other to be looking out for this sort of thing. It is not difficult in getting in to a fankle over these things if your mind is obviously elsewhere.

  5. Andy,

    It’s good to hear that you no longer support communities being pushed in to community ownership. A notable change in your position from September 2012.


    • That is an utter misrepresentation of my position. What I and many others were seeking to do in September 2012 was open up what was (and remains) a closed shop and to allow those who wished to (who wished to) to become a member. No-one would have been pushed to do anything and the consequence would not have been community ownership but would have continued as charitable ownership. I do wish you would desist from making such inaccurate allegations.

  6. Brian makes the point – and it is worth repeating – that the Estates Charter would have precluded this type of event if Ministers subsequent protestations are to be taken at face value.. What has happened to it? Does it still exist? Has it been replaced by another regime of the current Ministers’ choosing – if so what does it say? if it exists and is extant why was it ignored? All of these questions and a few besides can only be answered by Ministers because only they have the powers to alter or replace the previous protocol. Why did Wheelhouse not answer Claire Baker’s question? All the excuses, obfuscation and attempts to pass the buck aside, what were Ministers doing – or not doing? Why not answer ‘yes’ to the question…… ( reproduced below) ? After all they believed so ‘strongly’ in ‘community management of land’ that six weeks elapsed before they dropped their ‘best value’ excuse and substituted it with their ‘knew nothing’ routine – contrary to all the evidence.

    Claire Baker: Can I ask whether the Scottish Government still adheres to the principles in the estates charter that the then Scottish Executive established in 2002?
    Paul Wheelhouse: Clearly, the Scottish Government believes very strongly in community ownership of assets and community management of land. I want to put that on the record today.
    The Scottish Government will take all steps that we can to ensure that the community in Raasay has a full consultation on the future of the sporting rights on the island. We want to ensure that the whole community has an input into that decision— hence the decision, as I explained to Rhoda Grant, to allow at least a year for the community to arrive at a solution. We hope that the matter will be carried by consensus in the community.

  7. Andy,

    Your explanation (which I have heard before) does not sit well with your tweets during the Gigha parliamentary debate. It was clear to all who saw them that community ownership was, in fact, the motivation for and objective of, your campaign.


    • Well they would be wrong to think that as is evidenced by the practical actions that were the substance of the campaign.

  8. Andy,

    I fail to understand how any person reading those tweets could have come to any other conclusion, particularly because they were made in the middle of the Applecross campaign. It was perfectly clear that ownership was somewhere on your agenda.


  9. Andy,

    I posted a further comment yesterday to this thread but it is no longer present so I assume you deleted it. That is rather disappointing. It was an entirely reasonable comment and the only justification for deletion must surely have been the fact that I attacked your position. It’s your web site, and you are entitled to delete comments at will; but doing so in such circumstances undermines the credibility of your site and the debate you say you wish to encourage.

    If you were confident of your position on Applecross, and comfortable with the justification for that campaign, I can’t imagine you would find it difficult to defend. In the circumstances, you offer above the rather lame comment that the “practical actions” of the campaign demonstrate its motivation; in fact, your tweets were part of those practical actions, and they demonstrated that community ownership was, in fact, the motivation behind your campaign.


    • I have not deleted any comments from you. If I do I always say that I did. I only approved it a matter of minutes ago though – so maybe it is now published? Of course community ownership was a possibility but only a possibility if and when the Applecross Trust were to agree to end the closed shop approach to membership. Even then, it would only happen if the membership agreed. MAny people have different motivations for joining a campaign and these motivations will all find expression at some time during it. The key aim always was simple – to open up membership – an aim that i think will be successful in the medium term.

  10. I know why Elidh is so fixated on Applecross and have looked back at those tweets during the Gigha debate on 4 October. The only two that appear relevant are
    The latter makes clear that if membership of the Applecross Trust and Mount Stuart trust were to be open to anyone (as the Memorandum and Articles of Association of both companies made clear) then both estates could in effect be owned by the community (by virtue of folk living in both places being members of the company that owns the two estates). But that would be up to the folk themselves – some would choose to join and others not to. That is exactly the same position as most community owned estates elsewhere – folk are free to join or not to. There is no question of “pushing” the community to do anything – merely of giving them the opportunity to become an active participant in the future of the land in their community.
    This is very different to Raasay where the legal means already exists for community ownership (via Transfer of Crofting Estates (Scotland) Act 1997 or the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003) and where the issue of community ownership has arisen only because Scottish Ministers want to appear to be making amends for a controversial management decision.

    • So in light of these tweets and that last comment, I presume you’re now rowing back on your earlier statement (above, March 15, 2013 at 6:45 pm):-

      “the consequence would not have been community ownership but would have continued as charitable ownership”

      • Nope – as things stand (or would have stood had membership applications been accepted) charitable ownership would have continued. If and when that might have changed (to community ownership or anything else) would have been up to the membership.

        • So who are the “we” referred to in the tweet:-

          “If we succeed in opening up membership of Bute & Applecross, we can increase community ownership by 20% overnight.”

          You can’t be referring to the communities of Bute and Applecross because you are not a member of either.

          • The “we” is all those who applied for membership who, if they had been successful would have opened the door to the possibility of community ownership – one possible outcome among many.

  11. So how does that square with “increasing community ownership overnight”?

    • “Overnight” was obviously used for dramatic effect but it would (were it to happen) happen on a defined date – overnight in common parlance. I don’t intend to indulge you in a long discourse analysis of 5 month old tweets.

  12. Dramatic effect. Defined date. Common parlance. Right.

    BTW, the age of the tweets is irrelevant. To claim they don’t merit “a long discourse” because they’re 5 months old rings hollow in the mouth of someone who wrote “There is a PhD to be written exclusively on this” about a letter written 14 years ago.

    But in conclusion, by your own standards, you would have to agree with Paul Wheelhouse if he tweeted:-

    “Raasay – we could increase community ownership by 6,000 hectares overnight”


    • No. Scottish Ministers are in a completely different situation. If some folk on Raasay could “join” as a “member” of “Scottish Ministers” then yes but that is not what would be on offer. If he tweeted that it could be increased by 100,000ha overnight that would be more acceptable as he would not be picking on Raasay alone of the Scottish Ministers’ estates

  13. Oh! Like you didn’t “pick on” Applecross and Bute alone of private estates!

    Trying to make a distinction that folk can’t become a member of the Scottish Ministers is another of your ridiculously irrelevant distractions you’ve scraped off the bottom of the barrel to try to deflect attention away from the central fact here that, with Land Action Scotland, you were leading a charge to offer solutions to communities that hadn’t asked for them. Yet you’ve got the effrontery to criticise the Scottish Government for doing EXACTLY the same thing.

    Except at least the SG has the excuse of having a central role in Raasay.

    Just as we’d perhaps think more of Paul Wheelhouse if he’d said “Whilst in no way wishing to distract from my responsibility as the Minister, or attempting to imply the fault is anyone’s but mine, I would say that the decision was not mine personally …” perhaps we’d respect Andy Wightman a bit more if he had the humility to say something like “If there’s one thing I learnt from the Land Action Scotland campaign last year, it is that change has to come from within …” instead of just denial, pettifogging distinction, denial, denial …

    • Have you any idea how difficult it is to make changes from within?
      Impossible in some cases- and I’m talking about minor changes to do with honest dealings and a bit of respect, not community ownership of an estate.

    • I and all who took part are very proud of the Land Action Scotland campaign last year. I have no need for your respect and I have no intention of indulging your enmity.

  14. Andy,

    My original point was that your position on the extent to which communities can be pushed in to community ownership has moderated since September 2012. That is to be welcomed but it seems extraordinarily difficult for you to accept that lessons were learned (as indeed they ought to have been) from Applecross.

    It was not acceptable for the residents of Applecross to be “bounced” in to community ownership, any more than it would be for the residents of Raasay (or anywhere else). As those tweets indicate, such ownership was indeed the hope and the motivation for the whole campaign.

    On another note, your attempt (first sentence of your earlier post, March 17 12.18 pm) to divert attention away from your ill-considered and unsuccessful campaign does you no credit. It is notable that on the two occasions where I have debated the Applecross campaign with you at any length you have done so, presumably to deflect attention away from the shallowness and vanity of your argument. It marks you as a poor debater (at best).


    • My position has not moderated at all. I find it remarkable how people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the Applecross campaign can pontificate at great length as to what it was all about. One tweet does not define hopes and motivations. Those of us who were actively involved are very proud of the action and yes, we did learn lessons which we will be applying to the next action.

      Delighted to hear that I can now add shallowness, vanity and poor debating skills to my other epithets of pettifogging and denial! Please remember that courtesy is one of the rules of engagement for those submitting comments. It might also be beneficial to others in this comment thread if you declared your interest in this matter.

  15. Andy,

    I consider my comments to be entirely courteous, relevant and professional; unlike many of your comments, and the way in which you conduct yourself in debate.

    Are those of us questioning your tactics and your reasoning “pontificating”, or are we contributing to the debate? I realise that it would make for an easier life if everybody agreed with you, but debate is healthy and should be encouraged.

    I wait with trepidation for news of your next “campaign”.


  16. I have temporarily deleted the last three comments from Reiner Luyken. i do not know the background to these allegations and this blog is not a place to conduct the ongoing dispute there appears to be between two parties neither of whom is the subject of this blog post. I will be away for a few days and have decided, reluctantly, to switch on pre-moderation for all comments. As I may not have access to the internet it may be a week before any comments can be approved.

  17. Comments on this post are now closed.