Victor Clements: Now is the time to affect Brexit negotiations

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We have known for nearly nine months now that we will be leaving the European Union and that things are going to be different in the future.

Like many in Scotland, this was not my choice, but now that it has happened, I can see the possibilities. Whether they are better or worse than what we have at the moment depends to a fair extent to our own vision and our own efforts, but there is very little discussion about these things in Scotland today.

We are still talking about the things we were talking about two years ago. After nine months, it is surely time to acknowledge this new reality and to present some new ideas for discussion and let a new vision be born.

With farming, forestry and countryside management in general in Scotland we have support structures that are very prescriptive and ill-suited to the way that people want to work and develop rural businesses today.

Over the period of devolution, much of our political energy in this field in Scotland has been expended trying to bend the Common Agricultural Policy, now designed for 28 countries, to suit our own situation. We tend to adopt a compromise that fits in around the rules, and then subsequently find out that some small point of detail is capable of undoing the good intentions we initially had. The consequence of this is that no sooner has a scheme been put in place than we are looking ahead to the next one to try and improve it.

Continual churn is good for developing businesses, but not if that churn is in the bureaucracy that surrounds them. It breeds uncertainty, and undermines longer term investment. The chopping and changing is very harmful for farming, forestry and our environment. This is the structure that we currently have to work with.

With a shorter political chain, we could design simpler schemes better suited to our situation. We could integrate different activities in a way that does not tie our hands and we could set out a series of principles that can guide implementation of policy for the next 20-30 years, not simply until the next mid-term review.

We would have a gold-plating culture of our own to deal with and it would be a mistake to suggest that this does not exist. We need to counter that too, but this is a detail.

The priority is to initiate the discussion. If civil servants are not permitted to do that and third sector organisations are too fearful of government to contribute, then individuals must be prepared to do so.

The time to start doing that is now, while the sheet of paper is still relatively blank and we can affect the outcome to our overall benefit.

Victor Clements lives in Aberfeldy. He is a self-employed native woodland advisor

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