Land reform, convergence uplift and the possible implications of the TTIP trade deal were top of farmers’ concerns at NFU Scotland’s General Election hustings in Dingwall Mart on Wednesday night.
Representatives from all the major parties, with the exception of Labour which didn’t respond to NFU Scotland’s invitation to attend, put forward their case to an audience of around 40 farmers.
A heated debate erupted with candidates split on whether or not the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – the proposed trade deal between North America and Europe – was a good or a bad thing.
Tory candidate Lindsay McCallum and Lib Dem councillor Kate Stephen, who was standing in for Charles Kennedy, said the deal, if correctly agreed, would offer opportunities for Scots food and drink producers.
However SNP candidate Ian Blackwood, Philip Anderson from UKIP and Anne Thomas from the Greens warned against the deal and said it could damage key sectors including the NHS.
The issue of convergence uplift was also debated with the SNP’s Ian Blackwood branding Westminster’s failure to allocate 230million euros to Scotland’s Cap budget as a “disgrace”.
Ms McCallum from the Tories said: “I agree the money should have come to Scotland. It’s one of the first issues [to address] if there is a Tory government.”
Land reform was another issue to split the candidates, with the Tories and Lib Dems sounding a warning against the Scottish Government’s proposed land reform bill.
Lid Dem councillor Kate Stephen said: “The Land Reform Bill is being rushed through and the holes in it are frightening. The rush to push this [legislation] through is not healthy.”
Ms McCallum agreed and warned the proposed changes to legislation were at risk of destroying medium-sized family farms.
Changes to succession law, which would prevent a farmer leaving the farm to a specific sibling, were contrived and would unintentionally split up family farms, she said.
The SNP’s Mr Blackwood said land reform would create opportunities but agreed that it must not include legislation which would threaten family farms.
Like other political debates on television this week, the issue of Scottish independence stirred debate with Mr Blackwood calling for full fiscal autonomy for Scotland.
“Whether you voted yes or no [in the referendum] lend us your support for the SNP so we can deliver power back to Scotland,” he urged audience members.
Ms McCallum predicted a large amount of tactical voting on May 7 and instead urged farmers to “vote for you believe in and the party whose policies work best for you”.
The north-east round of NFU Scotland’s hustings takes place on Thursday April 30 at the Lochter Activity Centre in Oldmeldrum at 7pm.