Weather the least of RHS worries on referendum day

The livestock lines remain the core business of the Royal Highland Show. Picture: Jane Barlow
The livestock lines remain the core business of the Royal Highland Show. Picture: Jane Barlow
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The organisers of the Royal Highland Show, which begins its four-day run at Ingliston on Thursday, are invariably twitchy whenever the weather is mentioned. But they need not be worried with the forecast that this Thursday there will be big clouds overhead.

These clouds will be either lovely, white, fluffy efforts that will soon blow away to provide wall-to-wall sunshine, or they will be dark and rain-laden and are likely to deliver a plague of locusts on those below.

That is the weather equivalent summary of the political contributions to the In/Out/Shake It All About referendum vote that also takes place on Thursday.

Earlier this year, when the Prime Minister made the announcement on when the vote would take place, he was criticised by the First Minister, who complained that Scots might be suffering from a little voting fatigue in the wake of recent elections and the 2014 independence referendum.

Nicola Sturgeon did not specifically mention concern that this week’s vote might clash with the opening day of Scotland’s largest outdoor event but, for all we know, that might well have been in her mind.

At the time of the In/Out referendum announcement, the show organisers were quick to pooh-pooh any suggestion that it would affect the attendance, quickly pointing out that exhibitors and visitors could either get a postal vote or do their democratic duty before or after a day at the Highland.

But what the show directors did not allude to was the effect the clash could have on the political input to the first day of the show.

READ MORE: RHASS appoints new chief in build-up to Highland Show

Show day Thursday in recent years has witnessed considerable battles over the relative powers of Holyrood and Westminster, as well as whither or not on Scottish independence.

It is perhaps more accurate to describe these differences of opinion as running skirmishes with the show organisers colluding with the political minders and devising devious routes through the showground to ensure the main protagonists did not bump into each other resulting in an embarrassing face-to-face battle.

Regardless of the path taken, the first day at the Highland Show was often awash with political verbiage.

However, this year, the politicians will be in limbo on the big referendum issue on the first day at the show, as the outcome of the plebiscite will not be revealed until the following day.

It is too much to expect that the politicos and farming leaders will be silenced altogether as there are other pressing items still on the political agenda.

But the big issue as to whether this country will be in or out of Europe in the future hangs like a cloud over many of those under debate.

The long-running CAP saga will still be aired by NFUS and by the recently appointed rural economy minister, Fergus Ewing. There is still some way to go to ensure that last year’s payments are completed without even contemplating the computer’s capacity to deal with the 2016 subsidies.

The minister might well be quizzed if his government will continue with the current agricultural support system if the Brexiters win. With the First Minister already admitting her government is considering options for life outwith Europe, such a question would be highly pertinent even if it made spending £180 million on the computer system a complete waste of money.

Another regular discussion point raised by politicians at the Highland show is the need to reduce red tape in the industry, but here again any attempt to discuss this prior to the referendum vote being known could be redundant as some optimists believe exiting from Europe will allow the removal of almost all regulation.

About the only political issue that will not be influenced by the outcome of Thursday’s vote is the on-going tussle between landowners and their tenants. This is the agricultural equivalent of the Hundred Years’ War and will carry on through all the writing of the secondary legislation in the land reform act.

If all the above creates a “what if” air on Thursday, spend your time down at the livestock lines. There the core business of showing top-quality livestock remains, as it has always been and always should be.

Admittedly the decisions on which cattle beast or sheep end up top of the line, weighed down by red rosettes, is subjective and allows the ringside experts and the non-winners loads of opportunity to moan and voice their own views.

That part of Highland Show life is not directly affected by being In or Out.