Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has launched his biggest campaign yet to bring back the £160 million of convergence funds which he believes the UK Government wrongly appropriated back in 2013.
Speaking in Holyrood on Wednesday (October 25) he told fellow MSPs he intended to seek cross-party support in the bid which he calculated would be worth £14,000 to each and every hill farmer over a six year period.
Mr Ewing said: “To me this issue is simple and straightforward. It is a matter of right and wrong. Failure to return monies to the people who are owed it – hill farmers and crofters are undeniably in the latter category."
If these funds are not allocated, Mr Ewing said Scotland would have the lowest average rate of support per hectare.
“Our farmers will receive less than their counterparts doing the same vital hard work in other parts of the country,” he said.
“Michael Gove (Defra Secretary) has committed to further discussions. I welcome this but different messages seem to be given to different audiences. What we need is clarity about the UK Government’s intentions."
Background: What are convergence funds?
The last CAP Reform included measures to at least begin to standardise farm payment across Europe.
Many of the Eastern European Countries, who only joined the EU in the early 2000s, had far lower per hectare Single Farm Payments than member states which had joined earlier.
Achieving complete parity in one move would have been too expensive so it was decided that any member state receiving less than 90 per cent of the average would see the gap closed by one third by 2019 thus achieving a minimum of 196 euros per hectare.
Rather surprisingly the UK qualified for this uplift but only because the Scottish average rate was very low.
This was due to the high proportion of poorer Region 3 land in the hills and uplands.
This meant the UK qualified for £190m of payments over a six year period.
Scottish Government backed by industry bodies expected the money to come to Scotland because the rest of the UK was above the threshold but the coalition government of the time decided otherwise and Scotland was only allocated £30m with the balance going to Wales, England and Northern Ireland.
Thus began a political row which remains unresolved.