Crofting is a major part of the fabric of life in my constituency. The Western Isles are home to approximately one third of all Scotland’s crofts, with more than 6,000 island crofts spread out among nearly 300 townships. Crofting is closely connected to the way of life, the culture and even the language of the islands that I represent.
The future of crofting faces some very real challenges. The age profile of crofters is higher than the rest of the population, and there remains a difficulty in attracting new entrants, which is not helped by the occasional casually dismissive remark that crofters are “people who have a couple of sheep and a back garden”—a quote that I am sad to say is directly attributable to members on the Opposition benches.
The high levels of bureaucracy that are associated with crofting are a source of constant frustration, with a recent survey showing that 95 per cent of crofters do not see crofting as economically viable unless they supplement their income in other ways. It is therefore worth mentioning the importance of the less favoured area support scheme to my constituency, and I thank the cabinet secretary for his commitment to finding a solution that will deliver funding under LFASS at approximately 100 per cent for this year and the next two years of the scheme.
I like and respect Mr Cameron, not least for his knowledge of the subject under debate, but, in my view, today’s motion fails to take account of one other thing that is making crofters anxious. When people in my constituency say “‘S e bùrach a th’ ann!” or “‘S e brochan a th’ ann”—or worse—they are talking about Brexit and the catastrophe that is the UK Government’s handling of it. Some members have decided that the issue should not be brought into this debate, but it has added huge new uncertainties for crofting. According to a survey of crofters that was conducted in November by the Scottish Crofting Federation, 14 per cent of respondents were confident about the future, compared with 31 per cent who classified themselves as despondent, while 55 per cent of respondents were uncertain, citing Brexit and the potential knock-on effects on prices and support payments.
We can only marvel at the blame-shifting exercise that is under way in the Conservative Party’s motion. We are now only 23 days from Brexit, but we still do not know what kind of Brexit we are facing, what markets producers will be able to sell into, the rules that will govern them, whether their exports will face high tariffs or what kind of customs checks they might expect to face. However, having dragged—in Scotland’s case, the more appropriate word might be “shoved”—us on to the cliff edge of a disastrous hard Brexit, the Tories have the sheer brass neck to turn around and say that it is uncertainty from the Scottish Government that is having a detrimental impact on farmers and crofters. There is a large body of evidence that shows that Scotland’s agriculture sector would be worse off under every conceivable Brexit scenario, and I ask the members opposite who so casually dismiss those concerns to support calls from members on the SNP benches for the UK Government to guarantee that farmers and crofters will be compensated in the event of a no-deal Brexit.