Scotland’s agricultural sector is hugely important to the country as a whole and to our rural economy in particular. Farmed produce makes a significant contribution to our food and drink success story, which reached record turnover levels in 2018.
Farming also helps to shape our landscape, which helps to make Scotland a destination of choice for many international visitors.
The First Minister will have heard the very worrying comments from a United Kingdom Treasury adviser that the agriculture and fishing sectors are of “low value”. The 6,000-plus people who work in those sectors in my area do not consider their work to be of “low value”, and those of us who trust the quality of their produce on our supermarket shelves also do not consider our food producers to be of “low value”. International markets prize the value of Scotland’s food and drink.
Many people in my constituency and the wider Scottish agricultural sector are deeply worried about the messages that are coming from Westminster about their sector. I am sure that the First Minister is concerned about where the UK Government’s priorities lie when it negotiates post-Brexit trade deals. Is the First Minister, like me, coming to the conclusion that the UK Government will do nothing to support our food producers and that its Brexit project will yield no benefits for the many farmers and fishermen who have put their trust in the UK Government? What does the First Minister suggest that we do to protect them?
This is a really important issue. The comments that were reported in the press were utterly deplorable and are not endorsed by this Government. We highly value our agriculture and fishing sectors. If the comments tell us anything, it is that the promises that were made to farmers and fishermen during the European Union referendum by Tory Brexiteers were empty promises.
By contrast, the Scottish National Party is getting on with delivering benefits for our farmers and crofters. We said that we would get the UK Government to return the convergence funding to Scotland’s farmers, which we did, and we said that we would pay the first instalment before the end of March, which we will. This week alone, convergence payments worth £86.2 million were made to more than 17,400 farmers and crofters, which rights a historical wrong.
Unlike the Tories, this Government will deliver on its promises, and we will continue to use our powers to protect the interests of rural Scotland.