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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 Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

Two months ago, we had a similar debate in an attempt to provide our crofters and farmers with an indication of what Scotland’s priorities for agriculture will be post-Brexit. We appear to be no further forward.

I cannot disagree with the Conservative motion or the Government amendment to it, although I would have hoped that the Government would use its amendment to provide more detail.

Brexit has caused the uncertainty, but the Scottish Government cannot simply wash its hands of it. It is for the Government to govern, regardless of the circumstances in which it finds itself. It is for the Government to steer the direction of travel for our farmers and crofters, and to give them the information that they need to plan for Brexit. The Scottish Government cannot simply carry on as before.

The mood of the debate so far has been unhelpful. Rather than trade insults across the chamber, the Scottish Government must use the opportunity of the debate to provide an outline of its plans.

Our current system is very biased towards production; it allows farmers who could run profitable businesses without support to receive the lion’s share of the available support. The top five recipients of single farm payments in Scotland receive more than the bottom 3,500 recipients combined. Sadly, 45 per cent of farms make an income that is equivalent to less than the minimum agricultural wage, and 23 per cent of farms make a loss. That is why the debate is also about poverty. It is arguable that those businesses offer the most by way of public good—however, they receive the least in the way of funding.

I said all that a month ago in the debate then. I want to hear what the Scottish Government has done since then, as a result of what was said. How does the Government plan to ensure that public money is used for the public good, rather than for personal gain? Our amendment sets priorities for an inclusive system that directs investment where it is most needed, tackles rural and food poverty and supports repopulation.

The Scottish Government has two opportunities to lay out its future policy, because there is to be an agriculture bill and a good food nation bill. If the Government was truly ambitious, there would be one bill encompassing both and making the connection between support and outcomes. We have fantastic and world-renowned produce, yet many of our people are malnourished. Therefore, what we want from our farmers and crofters has to be the basis of the new farming support scheme. Central to that is a good food nation bill.