YES campaigners claimed that the sweeping election gains made by Ukip and other anti-EU parties in the European elections was a key reason for farmers to vote for Scottish independence at a debate on Monday night.
However, with the election results still fresh in everyone’s mind, the very same backlash against the established parties across Europe was also held up by the Better Together camp as supporting their stance.
Speaking at the meeting in Perth organised by NFU Scotland, SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing said that the result of the European elections could have “very serious consequences” for farming in the UK: “Obviously the main platform of Ukip is to take the country out of the EU – a move which most farmers in this country might view as being disastrous.”
She indicated that, protest vote apart, there would be little doubt that the major UK parties would end up “pandering” to the people who voted for Ukip – making an in-out referendum on the EU inevitable.
“And that would be the key moment of uncertainty for Scottish farmers” said Ewing, who went on to add: “The only way Scottish farmers can be certain that they will remain within the EU is to vote for independence.”
However, speaking for the Better Together camp, Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said that there was no certainty that an independent Scotland would have an easy ride getting into the EU in the first place – or that a good deal would be gained on agricultural measures:
“There is no guarantee of automatic entry into the EU if Scotland becomes independent and there will have to be some tough negotiating with 28 other member states, none of whom will be willing to see their own farmers disadvantaged by a better deal for Scotland,” he said.
On the results of the European election, he said that the growing evidence of Europe-wide dissatisfaction with EU moves towards closer integration meant that there was considerable appetite for change across the continent:
“All along the UK government has proposed a re-negotiation of the terms under which the EU operates – and the rise of eurosceptics across Europe makes it obvious that others feel the same way,” he said.
“So now when the UK pushes for a re-negotiation of terms it won’t be going against the grain of thinking in the rest of Europe, it will be working with it.”
He said that once new, less restrictive, terms of operation were agreed there would be les antipathy to the EU and the UK would subsequently “happily vote to stay within the EU” – a move which he said would secure the best deal for farmers.
However, there was an expression of frustration from the audience over how much time and effort was going into the whole debate on the independence issue.
“I’m pretty sure that most people will already have decided which way they will vote,” said Angus farmer, James Porter, “and the continuing rammy over whether we’ll be better off one way or the other is a waste of time which could be much better spent on addressing real issues.”