Manifesto challenges Scotland’s politicians to deliver for farmers and crofters

NFU Scotland’s Manifesto for Scottish Farming puts farming, food and the well-being of Scotland’s rural economy at the centre of the debate ahead of the forthcoming Scottish Parliamentary elections on 5 May.

The Union’s programme of regional hustings is already underway and, for the first time in the Scottish Parliament’s 17-year history, a national Rural hustings event will take place at the Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston on Thursday (7 April at 7pm).

The Union’s manifesto maps out more than 40 bullet points that it will be looking for new MSPs to address if they are to drive forward the industry and the rural economy. These wide-ranging points cover the future of support and its delivery systems; land reform; a stronger, fairer food and drink supply chain; appropriate environmental and land management systems; a crofting system fit for the 21st century; a genuine commitment to tackling red tape and improved connectivity across all of Scotland.

Speaking at the Manifesto launch, NFUS President Allan Bowie said: “It is 17 years since devolution changed Scotland’s political landscape and rural affairs and agricultural policy have now become ingrained within Scottish political life. Indeed, those politicians from all parties who addressed our rally at Holyrood in early March spoke passionately about the importance of our farming and food sectors.

“Unfortunately, recent TV debates involving political leaders barely touched the issues that are important to those who live and work in Scotland’s countryside. We need this manifesto and Thursday night’s landmark national Rural hustings event to change that and bring rural matters into sharper focus.

“With 85 percent of Scotland’s land actively managed and farmed, and agriculture the biggest employer in rural areas, these elections come at an unprecedented time for our industry. In the past four years, extreme volatility means that farm incomes have halved while the value of Scotland’s food and drink sector has soared.

“Farmers and crofters are the backbone of the good story about Scotland as a land of food and drink but there is a clear disconnect and success is not being shared. Primary producers are rightly proud of what they do but they deserve a fair reward for the risks they carry every day as they go about their business of putting food and drink on our tables.

“In the next parliamentary term, we need Scottish Government to look at how we can deliver fairer supply chains; help farmers better manage price volatility; encourage new tendering for local produce here at home; tap into the massive potential for inward investment to add value and, along with others, drive forward exports of Scottish produce. Success in these areas is key to growing our agricultural output.

“With returns from the market place hammered in recent years, the delivery of CAP support to the sector remains hugely important and lessons from this year’s debacle must be learned, and quickly. Within the timeframe of the new Scottish Parliament, we will begin negotiations on the shape of the CAP from 2020 onwards. Faced with a shrinking budget, the need to focus precious resources on productive and active producers will be heightened.

“The new Scottish Parliament also has the ability to unlock the shackles that are placed on farming, helping it in its role as the biggest driver of the rural economy. Key to that will be a mind-set change and the need for Scottish Government to adopt a fresh ‘can do’ attitude. The way we address the devastating floods that hit Scotland at the start of the year must be the start. Working with partners, we need to look differently at the way we manage our rivers to the benefit of farmers and the wider community.

“That tips into the Scottish Government’s approach to regulation. Time and time again, we have heard warm words about needing to do more to tackle regulation that have rarely translated into action. Indeed, Scottish Government gold-plating of CAP greening rules have placed our producers at a competitive disadvantage.

“There is scope for a new approach to regulation that will make a genuine difference at farm level – such as only updating farm maps once a year or the need to electronically tagging sheep when they leave the holding of birth. We need delivery of Brian Pack’s ‘Doing Better’ report on red tape to be a Scottish Government priority in the next few years.

“That ‘can do’ attitude could include starting with a clean slate in relation to complex crofting legislation, simplifying the rules around common grazings and developing a framework that is fit for the wants and needs of modern-day crofting.

“And if we want thriving rural communities in every part of the nation, then improved connectivity for all is essential. All parts of Scotland deserve functioning road systems, ferry services and air links and the fact that too many people in Scotland’s countryside continue to have an unacceptable level of broadband service and mobile signal must be remedied in the next parliamentary term.

“NFU Scotland has enjoyed close and positive links with Scottish parliamentarians across the political spectrum throughout the lifetime of the current parliament. When our new crop of MSPs sit down at their desks in Holyrood in May, we believe this manifesto provides them with a robust, ambitious list of action points that will take Scotland’s rural economy forwards.”

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