More than six months on from voting to leave the EU, it feels as though a starting gun has been fired but no one has any idea what the next steps should be or where the finishing line actually is.
At the NFU Scotland AGM in Glasgow this week, words and soundbites flowed from the great and good of the industry, but substance was in short supply. That is not a criticism of the union or the people there, but there seemed to be a feeling that, until trade deals were done or support systems finalised, things were momentarily on hold.
As the direction of travel is awaited, however, political heavyweights such as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon begin to enter the fray. She is playing a political game, no doubt, but her calls for greater devolution for Scottish agriculture add another layer of complexity to the farming landscape at a crucial time. Whether her calls will aid Scotland or hurt the UK industry as a whole is yet to be seen.
As one commentator in Glasgow suggested, there is now a ‘turf war’ going on between Holyrood and Westminster leaving Andrew McCornick, who has taken the helm of NFUS, facing a mammoth task. The challenge for Mr McCornick and his counterparts across all UK farming unions is to make the voices of their membership heard and not be afraid to rattle the cages of Ministers when required.
The concern, and something I have witnessed at various events already this year, is some lobbyists at rural organisations seem so enamoured to be part of the political maelstrom at a time of heightened attention they are failing to put the pressure on Ministers regarding their Brexit agendas. Andrea Leadsom’s question free ride at the Oxford Farming Conference could be one case in point.
Once Article 50 is triggered farmers will need their representative bodies to be bold in their actions and not afraid to hold the political elite to account when it matters most.
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