Paterson ‘doing Salmond’s job for him’ - Cameron

A FORMER head of NFU Scotland has made a surpise entry into the debate on Scottish independence, accusing the Conservative government’s Secretary of State for the Environment, Fisheries and Food of “acting on behalf of the Scottish First Minister”.

John Cameron, who has remained apolitical throughout four decades as a farming leader in Scotland, said he had been driven into making such an accusation by the “intransigence” of Owen Paterson MP over his refusal to back linking future support payments to beef farmers.

During the current common agricultural policy (CAP) reform talks, Paterson had made his opposition to any coupled subsidies clear but claimed he had negotiated sufficient leeway for the Scottish Government to pay up to 7 per cent of the total support package coming to this country as linked subsidies if it so wished.

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That was not good enough for Cameron, who wanted at least parity with the higher level of coupled support (12 per cent) which French farmers will receive under the new CAP.

Last week saw both the Scottish cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers – representing the red meat industry – attack Paterson’s stance on coupled payments.

For the meat trade, the issue was one of maintaining critical numbers of cattle for their processing plants and the best way of keeping livestock on farms was to pay farmers for doing so.

Cameron agreed: “It is obvious that the present position of no re-coupling by the UK government is totally unacceptable. Quite apart from the requirement to maintain breeding numbers to create a critical volume of production, the role of our livestock industry in Scotland is quite different from that in the south and is the backbone of Scottish farming.”

Then in a stinging sally, he continued: “Has it not occurred to the coalition government that if the UK agricultural minister does not listen to his regional ministers and our cabinet secretary in particular then our rural communities will be driven down the road of self determination for Scotland. The question is ‘is Mr Patterson doing Mr Salmond’s job?’”