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Scotland votes 'No' - what does it mean for UK farming?

Last week’s Scottish independence referendum galvanised voters like never before and pitched neighbour against neighbour.

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Alex Salmond resigned as First Minister following the ‘No’ vote
Alex Salmond resigned as First Minister following the ‘No’ vote

Scotland voted ‘No’, Alex Salmond has gone and his dream of independence is over – for a good few years at least.

 

So, back to business as usual as the future of the union forged more than 300 years ago is once again secure?

 

Hardly. Because while last Thursday’s ‘No’ vote – a comprehensive 55 per cent to 45 per cent in the end – came as a huge blow to Mr Salmond and his many supporters, the extraordinary independence referendum debate has changed UK politics forever.

 

The ‘No’ vote comes with the promise from all the main UK parties of new devolved powers for Scotland and, with that, the prospect of additional devolved powers for the rest of the UK, too.

 

An almighty political row lies ahead in the coming months as the brief consensus forged by the three UK parties ahead of the poll has been replaced by bitter wrangling over the pace of devolution and exactly what it should entail in Scotland and elsewhere.

 

One thing we do know for sure is things will never be the same again.


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Devolved powers

Devolved powers

Farm policy in Scotland is already largely devolved, including considerable flexibility over implementing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

 

But one of the biggest implications of extra devolution, according to Scottish farm chiefs, could be Edinburgh’s ability to use extra taxation powers to, hopefully, benefit farmers, other rural businesses and, indeed, consumers.

 

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association chairman Christopher Nicholson said the tenanted sector could benefit from devolved fiscal powers to ensure taxation policy does not hinder the letting of land.

 

NFU Scotland’s vice-president Allan Bowie said: “While we do not know yet the extent of any extra taxation powers coming Scotland’s way, the macroeconomics will be just as important as some of the smaller stuff.”

 

Scotland’s voice

But as they were seeking to digest the implications of the vote the morning after, Mr Bowie and NFUS chief executive Scott Walker stressed how the debate had given Scotland its voice.

 

Even though much of rural Scotland tilted towards the ‘No’ side, there was no doubt the referendum captured voters’ interests.

 

Mr Bowie said he hoped this positive engagement with politics would continue in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

 

“To see our members get more engaged in politics has been very positive. It is something everyone has said they want galvanised and moved forward on as we move away from the referendum decision.

 

“The onus now is on everyone – the political parties in Scotland and across the UK – to work together to deliver on the promises which were given during the campaign.

 

“A feeling did come out from our membership during the debate that there was a lack of understanding from Westminster and we do things differently in Scotland.”

 

CAP and other spending issues

In the run up to the vote, the three UK party leaders controversially pledged to maintain the current Barnett Formula, under which funding is allocated to the devolved governments.

 

Scotland has always fared well out of the formula, which even its originator, Labour peer Lord Barnett, has described as a ‘terrible mistake’.

 

The pledges on Scottish spending have raised concern elsewhere in the UK, notably England, which currently comes out worse from the allocation.

 

David Moon at the University of Bath’s Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies, said David Cameron’s drive to give English MPs a greater say over English laws could complicate spending settlements within the UK because of the pledge to retain the formula.

 

“Under this formula, any change in English spending per head will alter spending per head in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland,” he said.

 

Mr Bowie said NFUS would now push hard for the UK Government to accept the ‘principle’ that Scotland is entitled, under the latest CAP reform, to a bigger share of UK funds, ‘and for other money we feel should be pushed back to Scotland’.

 

Last year, UK Ministers turned down Scotland’s request for a bigger share of CAP funding Scotland claimed was justified by a move to an area payment basis under the reformed policy.

 

Scotland currently has the third lowest area payment in Europe, although on a per farm basis it comes out well.

 

Had it been independent during recent CAP negotiations, it would have benefited from a €1 billion (about £850 million), increase in direct payments, Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead argued.

 

Following the vote, Mr Lochhead said: “This result does not change our commitment to rural affairs and we will continue to look at how we can agree the best deal for Scotland when the recently-agreed CAP comes under review and during the next round of CAP negotiations in a few years’ time.”

 

EU representation

EU representation

The NFUS chief Mr Walker said he hoped one of the key changes to come out of the referendum campaign would be greater recognition of Scotland’s needs by UK Ministers in Brussels.

 

This reflects a perception in Scotland that UK Ministers have sometimes failed to adequately represent its needs.

 

Mr Walker said: “There are huge differences in the agricultural make-up and profile of Scotland, Wales and Ulster, and these need to be reflected in the views which are taken forward at EU level.”

 

Perthshire beef and sheep farmer Jim Fairlie said giving the country its own voice in Europe was one of the main reasons he voted ‘Yes’.

He said: “When it comes to negotiations in Europe, Richard Lochhead will still not be able to sit in on them and put forward Scottish priorities.

 

“The food and drink sector is hugely important to Scotland and we know it is not as important to Westminster.”

 

Mr Fairlie said he was personally ‘gutted’ Scotland voted ‘No’, but added the referendum had galvanised the country. He said campaigners would continue to lobby Westminster Ministers to make good on their last minute promises to devolve more powers to Scotland.

 

Midlothian sheep and deer farmer John Goffin, who was a new entrant to the sector last year, said he hoped the political shake-up which ensued would provide an opportunity to develop Scottish agricultural policy, rather than ‘just reacting to the CAP’.

 

He said: “As a new entrant who does not qualify for subsidies, I want to see more policy aimed at increasing returns to ensure profitable businesses, developing new markets for sheep and beef and to help us differentiate ourselves from our competitors.”

 

UK and world trade

Scottish independence would have had significant implications for trade of agricultural products with the rest of the UK, and the rest of the world, particularly in light of the outstanding questions over EU membership and currency.

 

Jim McLaren, chairman of Quality Meat Scotland, said the referendum outcome brought to an end a period of uncertainty about Scotland’s place in the UK.

 

He said: “We now move forward with renewed focus on the exciting future for our industry. Our red meat industry is worth more than £2bn to Scotland’s economy and the appreciation of the quality of our brands by customers south of the border has played a huge part in the growth of our industry.”

 

The fall out from the referendum includes a fierce debate about devolution in the rest of the UK, particularly England where there is a split between moves to give English people more votes on English issues and give more power to the regions.

 

South Lakes MP and Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron said the referendum had brought the possibility of devolving more powers from Westminster to communities such as Windermere.

 

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