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Supporting Scottish Agriculture

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I thank the Conservative Party for using its debating time today to raise the important issue of our rural economy. Unfortunately, although I am sure that Donald Cameron has the best of intentions, I believe that he fails to recognise what has to be the way forward for our rural economy. In the motion, he

“calls on the Scottish Government to set out its position regarding the main elements of a future support system for farming”.

No. If it did that, the Government would be ignoring what our Parliament decided on 10 January. Can you imagine the uproar in the chamber if the minister did that and decided to ignore the will of Parliament? Parliament decided, in a vote after the debate on 10 January, that the Government’s way forward would be

“to convene a group consisting of producer, consumer and environmental organisations to inform and recommend a new bespoke policy on farming and food production for Scotland”.

That has to be the way forward if we are to design a new bespoke system of rural support that has buy-in from all our stakeholders.

Indeed, the Government’s amendment today would have contained a reference to that commitment but, unfortunately, the Presiding Officer decided not to call the amendment that I lodged to the Government’s amendment, so we do not have an opportunity to vote to reconfirm Parliament’s and the Scottish Government’s commitment. I do not question the Presiding Officer’s decision. Perhaps I am assuming something, but he may have felt that Parliament did not need a vote to reconfirm what it had already decided, and I absolutely accept that. I am sure that, during his summing up, the cabinet secretary will update us on the work that he has been doing to establish that group, so that we can see that work is under way to recommend a bespoke system that will work for Scotland.

I do not wish to be unkind to Donald Cameron, but the Conservative call for the Government to outline the new system that we need is, if I may say so, a typically paternalistic approach. The Conservatives seem to want the Government to tell our producers, consumers and environmental organisations that the Government always knows best. Ignoring buy-in from our producer, consumer and environmental stakeholders, which is what we would do if we went down the route that Donald Cameron wants us to, is a recipe for failure, and that is why the call from the Conservatives must be resisted once again. Donald Cameron tried that approach during the debate on 10 January, and Parliament said no. Unfortunately, Donald Cameron repeatedly misses the point and he is back again with very much the same motion.

We will support the Labour amendment, but we must be careful not to pre-empt the work of the producer, consumer and environmental organisations that form the new group.

As I said in the debate on 10 January,

“in designing a new and bespoke system of support for our rural economy that works, the rural economy secretary has a difficult task ahead of him”— it is not going to be easy—

“and we must all make the extra effort not to create false divisions between us”,

which is what I think is happening,

“simply for party advantage.”—[

Official Report

, 10 January 2019; c 74-5.]

Even now, I call on the Conservatives to engage with that inclusive approach because, as I said in the debate in January and it is worth repeating:

“The great prize is a bespoke and successful system of rural support that will enable our rural economy” to overcome the real challenges that it faces and

“to thrive.” —[

Official Report

, 10 January 2019; c 74.]

Surely that is what we all want to see.