Scottish independence would hurt farmers, warns Paice
SCOTTISH rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead has dismissed claims farmers will be left worse off by independence as ‘scaremongering’.
Speaking exclusively to Farmers Guardian, the Scottish National Party (SNP) MSP said previous UK Governments had let Scotland down and independence would avoid ‘past mistakes being repeated’.
But critics, including UK farming Minister Jim Paice, said Scottish farmers would be hindered by independence.
It comes as Holyrood finalises the details of Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum.
Mr Lochhead said his party wanted to build on the ‘positive experiences’ of devolution and ultimately get a ‘better deal’ for the country’s farmers.
“At long last our farmers feel their distinctive needs are being taken into account and they are being listened to by a Government on their doorstep,” he said.
“When animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth impacted, the Scottish Government was able to offer quick and effective financial support, whereas the UK Government in London washed its hands of the problem and turned a deaf ear to our industry’s pleas.”
He said ‘scaremongering about border control and red tape’ were ‘out of date’ and Scotland could be a ‘powerful ally’ supporting the rest of the UK when there was a common interest in Brussels.
“The message is we don’t want past mistakes to be repeated. Scotland receives the lowest level of Single Farm Payment in these islands, as well as the lowest level of rural development funding across the whole of Europe.
“These stark statistics underline why we need a stronger voice speaking up for Scotland’s farmers and crofters in Europe.”
But Mr Paice slammed Mr Lochhead’s stance, adding Scotland on its own would be one of the smallest states in the EU with ‘virtually no clout’, as opposed to Scotland in the UK, which carries a large voting participation.
He said: “Does Richard Lochhead really want to sit around the table as a state with the same amount of votes as Latvia?
“Or does he want to sit as part of a major block of votes when discussing important agricultural policy such as the CAP.”
Scottish Labour and Conservative politicians echoed Mr Paice’s comments and Aberdeenshire farmer Maitland Mackie said independence would be a ‘tragedy’.
“There is a romantic image that we would be better off by ourselves,” said Mr Mackie.
“But Scottish producers would become foreign suppliers in 90 per cent of the current market. And they have to think about our beef premium and what will happen to that if there is a border created.”
But Isle of Mull beef and sheep farmer Bert Leitch dismissed any border-related issues as ‘scare stories’.
He said: “It’s not as if we are going to have a big fence across the border.”
How would Scotland fare in the voting stakes if it was its own member state?
Member states are weighted according to population size meaning the bigger the population, the more votes it has.
If Scotland went it alone it would, according to Jim Paice, be on the same level as Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia with four votes. The UK has 29 votes.
- Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom: 29 votes
- Spain and Poland: 27
- Romania: 14
- Netherlands: 13
- Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary and Portugal: 12
- Austria, Bulgaria and Sweden: 10
- Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia and Finland: 7
- Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg and Slovenia: 4
- Malta: 3
With the debate heating up, how do farmers feel about devolution and Scotland’s push for independence?
“I do not think Scotland’s independence will have a great impact on the rest of the farmers in the UK, because we will all be governed by the EU. But if Scotland created a border and we had to get certificates for moving seed potatoes or livestock, for example, this would be very inconvenient on both sides, and definitely not benefit Scottish farmers.”
Mark Lazonby, manager of a 1,620-hectare (4,000-acre) farm on the Lincolnshire Wolds
“It would be much better if we all stayed as one country with a bigger voice and impact in Europe. I can not see how devolution would benefit farmers and it would just add another area of management.
We need to pull together. How can we guarantee we will get the same treatment? There are many questions left unanswered and no guarantee anyone will profit. For me, it is a step backwards.”
Colin McGregor, a contract arable farmer in the Scottish Borders
“It is up to the Welsh to decide on the way forward. There are some differences between British and Welsh policies and we should have more power.”
Emyr Jones, FUW president
“It has been good for Scotland. I speak to farmers in Cheshire who do not have support like we get from the Scottish Rural Development Programme and the calf subsidy scheme. If we did not have these then we would definitely see a reduction in livestock numbers. The SNP also abolished all the road and bridge tolls which has been a saviour of the west coast guys who rely on those bridges. It also works the other way when we need to get fodder to the west coast.”
James Brown, finishes 2,000 beef cattle in North Lanarkshire