Farmers have been failed by a lack of leadership on Brexit from both the UK Government and the Scottish Government, says Mike Rumbles, MSP for the North East of Scotland and Scottish Liberal Democrat spokesman for the rural economy.
I am sure I am not alone in thinking that during times of great change and uncertainty, good leadership can be the difference between success and failure.
For Scotland’s rural communities, the situation with Brexit is dire. Many key industries in our rural economy must plan months and years in advance for investment and there is no clear signal coming from either the UK or the Scottish Government about what the future holds.
Good governance and leadership is needed to provide confidence and certainty, particularly in the agricultural sector where failing to deliver on issues like seasonal workers, access to continental markets or appropriate regulation could effectively cripple businesses.
This week alone it has been reported that the demand for lamb, for example, could half under a no-deal Brexit.
The sheep sector is absolutely essential in Less Favourable Areas and it is not an industry which can bounce back overnight if farmers and crofters are forced to significantly reduce their output.
Similarly, the NFUS stated this week that the UK Government’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of the Scottish agricultural sector, with visas available for only a quarter of the 10,000 workers required to maintain the soft fruit industry alone.
It will only be a matter of weeks before fruit producers have to make the hard decisions about how much they will be able to harvest this season, if they cannot find the hands to help.
No matter what your voting preference is, it can hardly be said that those in power at the moment have provided anything resembling ‘good leadership’.
Our political parties, both in Westminster and in Edinburgh, are embroiled in in-fighting, political posturing and party politics.
Brexit is only part of the turmoil. Members of Parliament on all sides face de-selection by hardliners if they fail to toe the ‘party line’.
This week, seven Labour moderates have resigned over concerns with their leader’s record on Brexit and anti-Semitism, and three Conservative MPs defected to their newly-formed Independent Group shortly after.
Meanwhile in Scotland, the SNP Government has been forced to dance to the tune of their fellow nationalists in the Green Party for its 2019/20 budget to scrape through.
Now more than ever, our rural communities need good leadership. Both our Governments have utterly failed to deliver that.
Contingency planning for no-deal should have begun straight away and steadfast reassurances about the future of rural support should have been provided as soon as the dust settled in 2016.
It is not too late, however.
Ministers must set out a clear timetable for fair funding, which stretches far into the next decade.
There should be flexibility built into the proposed immigration framework to allow immediate access to seasonal workers from abroad and our Government must go back to the drawing board and take this opportunity to design a system of support which better reflects the needs and strengths of Scotland’s rural industries.