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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 Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I welcome the opportunity to debate the support that we give to our farming and crofting sector, because it is an iconic industry that not only forms part of our diverse rural economy but is an integral part of our economy as a whole.

However, I must take serious issue with the motion that has been lodged by Donald Cameron, because it contains a quite astonishing and glaring omission. The one thing that Donald Cameron fails to mention is the single biggest threat to farmers, crofters, our rural economy and Scotland as a whole: Brexit.

We are only 23 days away from exit day, and we still have no idea whether we will be leaving with a bad deal or—truly catastrophic—no deal, which the United Kingdom Government belligerently refuses to rule out. That belligerence translates into recklessness—a reckless failure to give certainty on future funding arrangements, reckless inability to rule out tariffs on our most valuable exports, and a callous recklessness in refusing to give certainty to the EU citizens who live and work in our rural, coastal and island communities.

As a Government, we have made our position clear: we will continue to support faming and crofting through payment of common agricultural policy support this year and next. We have set out our proposals in the document “Stability and Simplicity: proposals for a rural funding transition period”, and we have a clear five-year plan to see the industry through the transition following the UK’s exit from the EU and beyond.

Scotland is the only part of the UK with such a detailed transition plan. Our commitment to that work is already being put into effect by the simplification task force, which first met in December 2018 and met again on 13 February 2019. In addition, through a Lib Dem amendment, we as a Parliament agreed to convene a group of producers, consumers and environmental organisations

“to inform and recommend a new bespoke policy on farming and food production for Scotland”.

The simple fact is that, while we are taking those concrete steps in Scotland, south of the border the UK Government is taking us ever closer to the Brexit cliff edge. As if the persistent threat, 23 days from EU exit, of a no-deal Brexit was not enough, we still have no clarity on a number of key issues that are affecting our rural economy now. The UK Government has said that it will continue

“to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support” until the end of the current session of the UK Parliament. We still do not know what “farm support” means. Not all pillar 2 funding is guaranteed, which puts at risk investment in forestry.

We also do not know about the position on LEADER, which is a fund that has played an integral role in empowering rural communities for more than 25 years. Last week, I spoke at an event in Parliament to recognise the massive impact that LEADER has had in our rural areas, and I opened a LEADER-funded community hub in my home city of Brechin on Saturday morning, which is one of four LEADER-funded projects in Brechin alone.

The Tory motion is shamefully silent on questions about future funding and the implications for our wider rural economy. In the two and a bit years since the referendum, we have had just one statement on the detail of the shared prosperity fund. A consultation on it was due to take place last year, but we are still waiting. What exactly will it fund? Who knows?

We also need to recognise the very real and immediate threats across the whole rural economy: farmers, fishers and seafood producers will be hit harder than anyone else. If the UK does not receive third-country listing from day 1, we will lose access to 96 per cent of our export market for lamb. If we get that listing, tariffs on sheep meat will be about 40 per cent, and we can expect the same tariff across red meats.

The EU is also a key market for seafood exports, accounting for 77 per cent of all our overseas seafood exports. The market will be particularly badly hit by non-tariff barriers, including the need for export health certificates, which would see a fourfold increase in administration for the salmon industry alone and would cost an extra £15 million a year. There is no word of that in the Tory motion.

People across our food supply chains are being forced to spend from tens of thousands of pounds to millions of pounds to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. It might never happen, but the UK Government refuses to rule it out.

Above all that, what lies at the heart of the debate is people. I am talking not only about the people who work on our farms and crofts and in abattoirs and processing, but the people who are in all the jobs that keep our rural communities going, including nurses, social care workers and hospitality workers. A large number of those workers are EU citizens. In the north-east, 70 per cent of the people who work in fish processing and 95 per cent of vets in abattoirs are EU citizens. How will our rural economy continue to function without the people who sit at its very heart?

This is not just about the economic imperative behind the movement of people: we are talking about people’s lives. I would love to hear what the Tories have to say to my family and my friends, and to the hundreds of thousands of other families who are affected by the hostile environment that its Government has created. People—many of whom have known only Scotland as their home—now have to apply for the right to stay in Scotland.