Farmers need to speak up or we're at back of queue

David Mundell failed to offer the NFUS any Brexit details. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA WireDavid Mundell failed to offer the NFUS any Brexit details. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
David Mundell failed to offer the NFUS any Brexit details. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

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Politicians delivered a ­simple message to farmers at last Friday's NFU Scotland national conference which concentrated on Brexit: Get busy and tell us what you want '“ but, by God, you'll need to fight your corner to get it.

It might have been meant as a rallying call to the industry to draw its thoughts together – but while we always knew we faced an uphill battle in convincing those in power to deliver the sort of market access the industry needs to survive, alongside other recent developments the call might have cast doubts on the support side too.

Regardless of whether or not the car manufacturer Nissan was offered some sort of financial incentive to maintain production in the UK, the move has prompted other major industries to line up with their hands held out too – with the pharmaceutical sector alone reportedly looking for a don’t leave sweetener in the region of £1 billion.

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So, where agriculture stands in what is likely to be a very long queue remains open to speculation.

Later this week, the new Defra secretary, Andrea Leadsom, travels north of the border to meet with industry leaders in Scotland.

While she might just surprise the industry and reveal a master plan for the post-Brexit future – including some sort of budgetary proposals – past experience and the tone of last Friday’s conference would make it a very long shot.

Our farming industry has been warned that any ­policy demands will need to be good – because we’ll have to convince one or two people and organisations that we merit consideration.

Firstly, there’s the ­general public. Then there’s the monstrous regiment of lobbying organisations out there – ranging from those who want to reintroduce the tiger to those who want us all to eat only hand-reared tofu – to keep happy.

Then it’s got to be sold to the Scottish Government – after which we’ve got to get the UK ­government on side too. Once that’s done, the deal will have to be sold to the 27 remaining states in the EU.

Then it’s just a simple matter of convincing ­every other nation we want to trade with – quite possibly on a one to one basis – that our idea is flawless.

Oh – and we’ll also need to come up with a new ­formula for calculating Scotland’s share of any UK agriculture budget – as the Barnett formula used to calculate public spending in other sectors would see current support halved.

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Just in case all this sounds a bit of a daunting task, Scottish Secretary of State David Mundell told the conference that once all the noise was taken away it boiled down to two simple questions – where do we want the farming industry to be in 20 years time and what’s the journey to get there?

But while the event was addressed by both Holyrood and Westminster parliamentarians of ­different political persuasions, there was absolutely no sign that our political ­leaders were going to weigh us down with any ideas of their own.

The union has drawn up a list of pointers to help the industry discuss in which general direction we should be aiming –but it looks like it’ll be down to us as individuals to pick the actual targets.

Now, as a general rule, consultation should be looked upon as good thing, certainly when compared with the alternative – but it is the job of the political classes to back this up with leadership and guidance.

It appears, however, that with the EU always painted as the overbearing ­nanny state, no one wants to be cast in this role in the future.

With two governments of our own with fairly ­divergent ideological beliefs there is plenty of room for a full and frank exchange of views on what should be the best way ­forward.

But the UK and Scottish governments appear to be involved in a Mexican stand-off as far as making the first move on outlining a new policy.

However, with this ­vaccum in existence, there is a real danger that ­without political diktat against which to rail, the industry itself will ­inevitably develop ­widely conflicting views – with divergent sectoral interests leading to internecine ­warfare within the union and within the industry.