Despite questions being raised both at home and abroad over the country’s ability to negotiate its place in the EU from within, speaking during a visit to a beef farm in Airdrie yesterday, Lochhead assured farmers that there would be no disruption in common agricultural policy (CAP) payments to Scottish farmers:
“The administration of payments from the CAP is already conducted by the Scottish Government. As the European Commission pays CAP payments in arrears, [we] plan that an independent Scotland will underwrite payments to farmers, as Westminster does today, ensuring a smooth transition for Scottish farmers.”
Speaking at the launch of Scotland’s Future and Scottish Farming – a nine page extract from the 670 page white paper released on Tuesday, focused on agricultural issues – he said that a “yes” vote would give 18 months for Scotland to negotiate its transition to a member state.
“Even our UK advisers see this as a reasonable time-scale in which to negotiate terms and conditions,” he said.
Commenting on the warning from Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy that an independent Scotland would have to leave the EU and then renegotiate re-entry, Lochhead said that Rajoy had a political stance over Spain’s own situation with Catalonia, stating: “It is not in any member state’s interest to make life awkward for Scotland – we are already signed up to all the EU laws and are part of the CAP. We have no doubts that the rest of the EU will respect Scotland’s democratic will – as indeed the UK government has pledged to do.”
He added that if there was a threat to continued EU membership it lay with the UK government’s own proposals for a possible referendum on the issue after the next general election.
However, Scottish Euro MP George Lyon, challenged Lochhead’s ability to deliver, claiming the comments from Rajoy had “blown the SNP’s case out of the water” and stated that, with every EU member state holding a veto over Scottish membership, his remarks needed to be taken seriously.
“Scottish farmers receive one of the highest average single farm payments in the EU and the EU market is hugely important for our food and farming industries,” he said. “If independence would take us out of the EU, as the Spanish prime minister has stated… farmers face the prospect of losing the money they need to help them produce their goods and the market they need to sell their produce.”
Lochhead in poultry move
Moves were made yesterday to help retain poultry production in Scotland following last week’s announcement by the 2 Sisters group that they were cutting throughput at their Coupar Angus processing plant.
After meeting a number of the poultry producers affected by the decision, rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said he would be seeking a meeting with 2 Sisters.
The producers told the minister that the company would effectively be cancelling their contracts from early next year after encouraging them to invest millions of pounds in upgrading their premises.
Even after selling the former Mitchells of Letham plant last week to an unknown halal chicken processor, 2 Sisters hold a majority stake in the Scottish poultry processing sector.
Lochhead said: “The Scottish Government will be seeking further meetings with 2 Sisters to explore further how we can keep these farmers in business and we are speaking to retailers, who clearly have a big role to play.”
He claimed there was sufficient demand in Scotland for chicken to keep the home-based producers in business. “Consumers want to buy Scottish chicken and a number of retailers are committed to stocking it,” he said. “The farmers I have met today are key to meeting that demand and we have agreed to work together to ensure these businesses have a future.”
Lochhead also announced the setting up of a poultry producers’ group which would look at other opportunities to supply chicken to the market. “In the longer term, we’re setting up a working group – involving the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, NFUS and the poultry producers – to examine the future of the poultry industry in Scotland.”
And NFUS president Nigel Miller said there seemed to be some disconnection between what retailers were saying and what the firm was saying. He said: “There is a clear commitment to Scottish product and a real expectation of growing demand. We will be continuing to seek retailer input as to how shelf space for Scottish chicken can increase. It appears that limitations on the provision of cut portions may be a weakness in the present Scottish offer.”