Nagging fears that Scottish agriculture is about to become embroiled in a political tug-o-war between Westminster and Holyrood were confirmed in Glasgow yesterday when Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson addressed NFU Scotland’s annual meeting.
“An almighty political row is about to break out over whether Holyrood or Westminster should be running agriculture in Scotland,” she told farmers from every corner of the country.
“I don’t see it as a binary choice. Increasingly, we are moving towards a system of shared power in the UK.”
Ms Davidson insisted her party was keen to get the best deal for farmers and claimed she wasn’t trying to use agriculture as a leverage to other political means. However she did go on to criticise the SNP’s proposals for a “differentiated” deal within the UK, and their plans to leave the UK altogether.
And while she said it was vital that the distinctive needs of Scottish farmers were heard, and moves towards regionalisation within the EU over recent years were not stymied, she said there was no upside to leaving one complex regulatory regime in Brussels, only to burden farmers with two regulatory regimes within the UK.
“Since the Brexit debate, we have been guilty sometimes of treating the European single market and our own UK domestic market as if they are exactly the same. They are not,” she said.
“Leaving aside all the emotional and historical arguments for the Union, the reality is that the UK is a highly integrated economic unit of which Scotland is a part and upon which our prosperity depends and where fully 85% of Scotland’s agri-exports go.”
On immigration she acknowledged that between 5,000-15,000 seasonal workers from the EU are employed in the Scottish agricultural sector at any one time.
“And as regards the Scottish Government, I would like to see their own efforts increase to ensure Scottish products are available across the world,” added Ms Davidson.
“Currently, we have one Scottish Development International office in the whole of Latin America. As we get ready for Brexit, I think we should be doing more to ensure that we are ready to take advantage of such emerging markets.”