Scotland’s farmers will have their views fed into the special commission chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin which will oversee the devolution of further powers to Scotland promised during the run-up to the independence referendum.
And with just over a fortnight for responses to be submitted, NFU Scotland was this week involved in a short, sharp consultation with members across the country on some of the major issues – many of which had provoked key discussions at the referendum meetings organised by the union earlier in the year.
Clare Slipper, the union’s parliamentary officer, yesterday said that the Smith Commission was working to a tight schedule:
“It aims to publish the results of this wide-ranging consultation with a set of proposals in a white paper by 30 November, with draft clauses laid down in a new draft Scotland Bill by 25 January.”
She said that with the NFUS being amongst the bodies asked to contribute its views, the union wanted to draw together a consensus of opinion from the farming community to be presented before the end of October.
“We want to hear about how farmers feel further devolution could help, or hinder, them individually, their families, their businesses and communities in years to come.”
Slipper said that as well as views being gathered at regional board level, a number of sector meetings had been planned to gauge opinion.
“However, although the time-scale is tight for the consultation, we feel that the issue is likely to be ongoing and the surge in political awareness which farmers showed throughout the referendum debate is likely to maintain momentum well into the future.”
Early indications were that a number of themes were likely to crop up. Chief amongst these was the issue of representation at the top table during EU talks on the Common Agricultural Policy and other farming-related issues:
Slipper said: “NFUS has considered cabinet-style decision making whereby ministers from each part of the UK meet to discuss defined agenda points, with a rotating chairmanship.”
She added that this would ensure that communications between the different regions of the UK were improved and that different views were effectively transmitted before the country’s joint stance was put forward during negotiations.
She added that the union would also be seeking views on the process and timescale members wanted to see for resolving the thorny issue of internal convergence – as well as on a wide range of issues which included funding of the levy boards, trade relations and export promotions.