The Scottish Government’s refusal to set out a long-term post-Brexit plan is leaving Scotland’s farmers behind their counterparts in the rest of the UK, says Edward Mountain, Highlands and Islands MSP and convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
While the UK Government moves forward with its Agriculture Bill, the Scottish Government is still no further forward in providing clarity and certainty for our farmers beyond 2023.
The UK Bill offers the clearest direction yet for the future of agriculture in England, namely, ‘public goods for public money’.
Farmers will be rewarded for what they do best, producing high-quality food and protecting the environment for the next generation.
Crucially, farms will be supported over a seven-year transition period after we leave the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
English farmers now know what to expect as we leave the EU in March 2019 – they know there will be a seven-year transition from 2020 and they know what the new domestic policy will look like after 2027. While in Scotland we are still in the dark.
Scottish farmers were made to wait until June of this year before the Rural Economy Secretary, after considerable political pressure, published the ‘Stability and Simplicity’ document.
Fergus Ewing trumpeted a comprehensive five-year plan, but it lacked vision, and who has ever heard of plan with 46 questions?
There was nothing in that plan which could not have been published months before, but it suited Fergus Ewing’s political position to muddy the waters.
Farmers are already planning beyond 2023, but what is clear is our Cabinet Secretary is only looking as far as the next election in 2021.
We need the Scottish Government to set out its long-term vision for farming and the environment as soon as possible. What we do not need is more politics.
The UK Government offered to extend powers in the Agriculture Bill to the devolved administrations, thus enabling each devolved administration to create their own farm support systems to replace the Common Agricultural Policy.
The Welsh Government accepted the offer, while the Scottish Government refused. This means there will have to be a separate Scottish Agriculture Bill.
However, worryingly for our farmers, no such Bill was put forward in the SNP’s ‘Programme for Government 2018-19’.
I believe the Scottish Government is playing the worst kind of politics with farmers, which risks harming the very industry I have been involved with for 39 years.
The more indecision we have from the Scottish Government, the less time it has to pilot new agricultural schemes and fine-tune the new support system so it works for all farmers on day one. We simply cannot have another £184m CAP computer system failure.
Time is marching on, but the Scottish Government continues to dither and delay over the long-term future of Scottish agriculture. They need to get on with it or move over.
Edward can be found tweeting at @1edmountain