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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 Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

Today’s debate on this Tory motion feels a bit like groundhog day. I wonder whether members remember this:

“That the Parliament acknowledges that future policy for Scotland’s rural economy should be founded on key principles, including sustainability, simplicity, innovation, inclusion, productivity and profitability”.

That is very similar to the motion that we are debating today, but it is from a motion that was lodged by the Scottish Government and that was debated on 10 January. The motion included a proposal from the Liberal Democrats, which Mike Rumbles spoke about,

“to convene a group consisting of producer, consumer and environmental organisations”.

We debated that proposal at length, but the Tories voted against it.

The cabinet secretary, Fergus Ewing, opened that debate by saying:

“We are 78 days from Brexit, yet we still do not know what sort of Brexit we face. What is clear is that none of the Brexit options is good for Scotland’s rural economy—all are problematic for sectors such as farming, food and drink, aquaculture, forestry and fisheries.”—[

Official Report

, 10 January 2019; c 59.]

As has been said, we are now only 23 days away from Brexit and it is very clear that nothing has changed. Everyone in this chamber, whether or not they admit it, knows that the real and present threat to the rural economy—the real detrimental effect—is not some perceived inertia from the Scottish Government. The biggest threat to every sector in Scotland, including the rural economy, is being taken out of the European Union.

Brexit will damage UK agriculture, regardless of whether we come out with no deal or Theresa May’s bad deal. Our farmers have no certainty that they will have access to the European market at the end of this month. UK sheep meat exports, nearly 90 per cent of which are destined for the European market, are worth £390 million a year, and sheep farmers now face the prospect of tariffs as high as 45 to 50 per cent being forced on them. It is devastating.

Our celebrated food and drink sector, which Colin Smyth mentioned, estimates that having no deal could lead to the loss of £2 billion in sales—an estimate that is based on the UK Government’s economic projections. Fresh, chilled and perishable products including our seafood, red meat, poultry, fruit, vegetables and dairy, which attract a premium for their quality and freshness, could be delayed and spoiled due to extended customs checks.

Our red meat industry faces obliteration in the current export market due to punitive tariffs, and the problem will be exacerbated if the UK adopts a policy of low or no tariffs or checks on equivalent imports, which, ultimately, could flood the market.