A gauntlet was yesterday thrown down to those campaigning for the UK to leave the EU to lay out the thinking behind their beliefs to Scottish farmers.
The challenge was made during a meeting of Westminster’s Scottish affairs committee, in Glasgow to gather views on the forthcoming EU referendum and the impact it was likely to have on the country.
Giving evidence, NFU Scotland vice-president Andrew McCornick said that, while it was not for the union to tell its members how they should use their vote, it had become clear that continued EU membership was extremely important to many of the union’s members.
He told the committee that there had been very little evidence presented to change this view – a remark which caused committee member, Conservative MP Chris Chope, to state that it was unfortunate that UK farm minister – and Brexit supporter – George Eustice had not been allowed to come to the committee.
Chope said that this would have provided an opportunity for “the advantages that would flow from leaving the EU” to be explained to farmers.
“Well, send him up,” was the reply from McCornick, who highlighted the fact that the union is set to host a high-level debate on the referendum next week, with farm commissioner Phil Hogan speaking for continued membership of the EU.
Speaking later, McCornick confirmed that the offer was now being followed up with the aim of recruiting a top level politician, for Brexit, to put their case forward at next Thursday’s debate.
But McCornick also said that there was information to be gathered from both sides in the debate: “Not only is it important to discuss the likely scenarios for Scottish agriculture should we leave the EU, but it is also relevant to consider what we can hope to achieve from the reform agenda for Europe.”
He said that while it was believed that the majority in the industry were in favour of remaining within the EU, there was a wide diversity of views covering the whole spectrum held by individuals.
“It therefore becomes all the more important that key issues such as the future of agricultural support, access for Scottish produce to European markets, and the movement of labour are given prominence in the debate so that farmers and crofters can make an informed decision come referendum day.”
• NFU Scotland’s debate on EU membership – In or Out? The implications for Scottish food and farming – will be held in the MacRobert Pavilion, Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston, on Thursday 19 May at 6:30pm