Battle lines have been drawn in Scotland’s fight for greater agricultural devolution after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused UK ministers of a ‘power grab’.
Speaking at NFU Scotland’s conference in Glasgow this week, the First Minister said she was expecting a fight with Westminster over the coming months.
Though she admitted there would be areas where a UK-wide framework was appropriate, even if Scotland became independent, Ms Sturgeon said the detail of any such framework would be for the Scottish Parliament to decide and it would be ‘unacceptable’ for any power grab to take place.
She said: “I think it is important to the industry, not just to Government, that we do not lose the battle, that we make sure responsibility stays with Scotland so we can ensure the distinctive needs of Scottish agriculture are not lost in a UK-wide approach.”
Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, also warned farmers there would be an ‘almighty row’ over devolved responsibilities as the UK Government moved forward with its Brexit plans.
Although Ms Davidson argued for Scottish Parliament to be given some flexibility on agriculture, she warned against creating barriers in the UK domestic market, where 85 per cent of Scotland’s agri-exports are sent.
She said: “I think it would be foolhardy for us to place barriers within our own UK domestic market. I do not see the upside in leaving one complex regulatory regime in Brussels only to burden farmers with two regulatory regimes in the UK.
“At the same time, I think it is vital that the distinctive needs of Scottish farmers are heard and the welcome moves towards regionalisation within the EU over recent years are not stymied.”
But Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee chairman Neil Parish said Ms Sturgeon was ‘looking for battles which may not exist’.
“My view is I am happy with devolved powers going to the nations of the UK,” he added.
“However, we do not want policies which cause distortion in the market across borders.”
The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, set hares running when he suggested the UK should have a common agricultural framework in November last year.
A Scottish Government spokesman strongly rejected the idea at the time, saying it would instead seek ‘substantial additional powers’ for Holyrood as part of the Brexit talks.