Leading figures in the Scottish farming and food industries will be launching a high-profile campaign at the Royal Highland Show next Friday to make the case for rural Scotland remaining part of the UK.
The farmer-led campaign group, which has adopted the name Rural Better Together, says rural Scotland lacks a voice in the independence debate because organisations such as NFU Scotland have to remain apolitical.
“Many farmers share the concerns of other people around Scotland about independence,” said Lib Dem MEP George Lyon, who chairs the campaign group. “They also have particular questions about next year’s referendum that the nationalists are simply not addressing.”
Leading farmers supporting the campaign, include two Aberdeenshire former vice-presidents of NFU Scotland, Peter Chapman and Maitland Mackie, chairman of Mackie’s ice cream, and prominent Angus arable and fruit farmer Willie Porter.
Lyon said the group aimed to raise the profile of the “no” campaign in rural areas and give rural Scotland a voice in the debate. The group is sending out 30,000 leaflets setting out the case for Scotland remaining in the UK and roadshows are planned throughout Scotland later in the year.
“I believe that Scotland is better off as part of the UK and the UK is better with Scottish farmers at the heart of our rural economy,” said Lyon.
The majority of farmers in Scotland, he claims, are against independence but are unwilling or unable to speak out.
“It is essential that the voices of farmers and food producers are heard during the referendum debate,” he said.
“We need a strong voice for those who share the view that the needs of our food and farming sector are best served by a strong Scotland remaining part of a strong UK.”
Lyon said Scotland enjoyed the best of both worlds at present with a huge home market of 63 million people and a devolved Scottish Government with responsibility for implementing agricultural policy.
Chapman said the whole question of independence was causing great uncertainty. Even if it was decided to go ahead, an independent Scotland’s application for membership of the European Union could be vetoed by Spain. It also seemed increasingly unlikely that Scotland would be granted immediate membership which would jeopardise the vital support which farmers received from the EU.
“As part of the UK, we benefit from a big home market and our ministers have the power to shape the UK’s negotiating position in Brussels,” he said.
“Many farmers I speak to share my view that we don’t want to put these things at risk.”