Farming policy '˜must be decided in Scotland'

There should be no question that the responsibility for Scotland's agricultural policy should remain anywhere else other than with the Scottish Parliament '“ that was the clear message to farmers from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday.

Nicola Sturgeon said powers 'should not be sucked away to the centre at Westminster'. Picture: John Devlin
Nicola Sturgeon said powers 'should not be sucked away to the centre at Westminster'. Picture: John Devlin

Speaking at NFU Scotland’s national conference in Glasgow she said: “Anything else would not be grabbing powers from Europe but grabbing powers from the Scottish Parliament and – that would be unacceptable.”

However, Sturgeon made it clear that such an approach did not preclude some areas being covered by a UK-wide framework, arguing that the fundamental point was that the decision should be made north of the Border.

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“Even in an independent Scotland there would be areas where a UK-wide framework would make sense but the decision should be taken by the Scottish Parliament, not imposed – power should not be sucked away to the centre at Westminster.”

And, reflecting a theme running through the conference, she added: “I suspect we’re in for a bit of a battle about some of this in the months ahead.

“It is really important to the industry, not just to the government, to make sure that the very distinctive needs of Scottish agriculture are not lost in a UK-wide approach.”

Sturgeon said that getting a “clear and unequivocal” statement that this power would remain would allow things to advance but stated that the UK government kept muddying the waters around the issue.

Backing up this line, rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said that Westminster was now “derelict in its duty” in respect to providing clarity on the issue and providing a firm indication on the share of the future support budget which would come to Scotland.

Sturgeon also announced that the Scottish Government was set to conduct a wide-ranging review of its greening policy, overseen by the chairman of the country’s independent regulatory review group, Professor Russel Griggs.

She said that the review would be much broader than simply looking at the current greening measures and would represent a fundamental re-examining of how greening policies could be taken forward while ensuring not only environmental benefits but also to ensure a profitable and sustainable future for agricultural businesses.

A number of changes to the current greening scheme were, however, also revealed. Under the proposals hedges will be able to count as a separate type of ecological focus area (EFA), agro forestry supported under the Forestry Grant scheme and located in temporary grass will count as EFA and the period during which maintenance of field drains was prohibited on EFA fallow would be shortened.

NFUS head of policy Jonnie Hall welcomed the news as a step in the right direction and said the union would work with officials on implementing the changes while seeking “further valuable improvements” to the scheme.