A YEAR on from the launch of the Rural Better Together (RBT) campaign at the Royal Highland Show in 2013, the group this year focused on the beef market, claiming that independence could see this sector lose out on a “UK dividend” which had been worth more than £200 million over the past four years.
Speaking at the show, former MEP and head of the campaign, George Lyon, said that using Quality Meat Scotland figures, the Better Together campaign had concluded that Scottish farmers currently benefited by around £200 a head over Irish cattle of similar type and quality when sold on the UK market.
Lyon said that this figure varied between £66 in 2011 and £203 in 2013 and attributed this crucial difference to the fact that while top cuts of Scottish beef could be sold at a premium, the lesser cuts could expand their market and still attract the British premium.
He stated that this was one example of the “best of both worlds” advantage of remaining in the UK.
A former NFU Scotland president, Lyon said that the benefits of free access to the big home market could not be clearer.
He said: “As part of the UK, Scottish farmers also benefit from a big trade promotion network that is working to open new markets for beef and other products around the world.
“But we still sell the lion’s share of our meat in the UK market.”
This issue was taken up by Kelso beef farmer Keith Redpath, who recently joined the campaign. He said: “The figures show that you do not have to be a genius to work out that turning 90 per cent of our home market into foreign customers would see us lose the advantage we enjoy as part of the UK.
“Customers in the UK pay a premium for Scottish beef that, as often as not, is sold with a made in Britain label. Staying within the UK family is the best and only way to guarantee the market advantage we currently enjoy.”
Also speaking at the show, Alistair Darling, head of the overall Better Together campaign, said that the question of European Union membership was important for all farmers and questioned why they would want to risk a spell outside the EU as an independent Scotland negotiated its way back in.
Commenting on the likelihood of an in/out referendum by the UK government, he said that there was no certainty one would even take place as it was dependent on the result of the next UK election.
Darling said that even in the event of a referendum there was little likelihood of an “out” result with all three party leaders committed to staying in.
He added that a poll carried out in the immediate wake of the recent European elections, which had seen numerous Ukip and other Euro-sceptics elected, had shown even then that the majority were still in favour of remaining within the EU.
“It’s another case of better together and, as is the case in Scotland, when it comes to the crunch most people will realise the real benefits of being part of a larger family.”