Politicians woo farming lobby ahead of Brexit trigger

There has been a sudden burst of interest from top Scottish politicians in this year's NFU Scotland's AGM, annual dinner and conference in Glasgow in a fortnight's time.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson will be among the politicians addressing delegates at the NFU Scotland event. Picture: Greg Macvean
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson will be among the politicians addressing delegates at the NFU Scotland event. Picture: Greg Macvean

If a six-way battle for inclusion in the organisation’s own top team wasn’t enough excitement to fuel the two-day event, the ongoing battle for hearts and minds over the Brexit issue has also galvanised big hitters from the Scottish Parliament to take the opportunity to address what is likely to be the farming industry’s most talked-about bash of the year.

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With the industry representing one of the staunchest supporters of “remain” – in both the Brexit vote and in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – politicians will be keen not only to gauge its current mood on both these fronts, but also to make their party’s vision known to this key sector of the rural community.

It was confirmed last week that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would address delegates at the event shortly after the results of the union’s own elections are announced on the second day of the conference, after which she will be joined for a question and answer session by rural economy and connectivity secretary Fergus Ewing – who will also speak to the gathering ahead of the union’s showcase annual dinner on the Monday evening.

And it was announced yesterday that Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson will also take to the conference stage, closing the first afternoon’s session with an address on “Scotland in a post-Brexit Landscape”.

A spokesman said that the union’s conference came at a time of great challenges and opportunities for Scotland’s farming, food and drink sectors.

He said that the conference debate on the opening day would, justifiably, focus on Brexit as the UK edged closer to triggering Article 50.

“The exciting conference programme that day will also include sessions on how innovation may provide the key to farm businesses surviving and thriving and see agricultural and environmental stakeholders map out their vision for future farm support systems post-Brexit.”

On the Tuesday morning, voting for the positions of president and two vice-presidential posts will take place at the union’s council meeting. Current president Allan Bowie will be challenged for the top job by the two vice-presidents, Andrew McCornick and Rob Livesey.

Under the union’s constitution, Bowie will have to gain more than 50 per cent of the votes in the first round or stand down, leaving the second vote to be a straight race between the two remaining candidates.

And with none of the existing top team putting their names forward for re-election to the vice-president position, the two posts will be contested by three time-served committee and regional board chairmen, LFA chairman and Highland Perthshire farmer Martin Kennedy, Dumfries & Galloway regional chairman Gary Mitchell and Forth & Clyde regional chairman Tom French.