Royal Highland Show 2012: Battle to make the CAP fit

THE sharp divide between UK and Scottish political ambitions in the forthcoming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy was the main feature of an extremely wet opening day at the Royal Highland Show.

Scottish rural affairs minister, Richard Lochhead, set the pace with a demand that the UK government had to negotiate a better deal for Scotland, adding that previous UK governments had let Scotland down.

After listening to Lochhead, UK farming minister Jim Paice retaliated by stating that while he was aware that the Scottish minister had a referendum he wanted to win, the priority was what affected Scottish farmers and the rest of the Scottish people and not what the Scottish National Party wanted.

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He added it might have suited Lochhead to claim that the UK government was riding roughshod over Scottish interests but that was not the case. Paice then denied his visit to the Highland Show was part of a unionist charm offensive linked to the forthcoming referendum debate.

While more than a decade has passed since the last Defra minister attended the show, Paice claimed that he had previously come to the Ingliston showground on several occasions as an Opposition spokesman.

He added that the best way of getting a good CAP deal through Brussels was not as a small nation such as Luxembourg, with only a single vote or, by inference, an independent Scotland, but by gathering support from “big vote” countries.

Paice admitted that the biggest issue in setting the CAP would be the decision on the size of the European Union budget, with several member states beset with economic problems looking at reducing their central commitment.

Even after the EU budget decision has been taken later this year, most of the detail will still have to be hammered out. Paice expressed his hope that this would be achieved under the Irish presidency of the EU in the first six months of 2013.

On the details which he hoped to push through, he stuck to his government’s line that farmers had to get more from the market in these times of high commodity prices.

This was in contrast to Lochhead’s position, where he wanted to see a continuation of direct or Pillar One support to farmers. Lochhead called this a fundamental point of principle in his vision of the reform package.

But Paice thought support should be moved from farmers just getting a cheque for some historic reason and he wanted future subsidies to be channelled through the so called Pillar Two of the CAP, which funds environmental projects. This was far more sustainable and acceptable to the public. “Where I differ from Lochhead is he believes that [direct] support should continue forever and a day,” he said.

Both politicians visited the NFU Scotland stand where the union continued to push for a smooth transition into the new CAP. Union boss Nigel Miller described the farming industry as currently being “surrounded by a sea of uncertainty” and that the income of every farmer, and especially those in the less favoured areas, would be affected by the new CAP.

He said that on the current rate of progress, the new CAP was unlikely to be introduced until 2015 and that the union wanted to see as smooth a transition as possible from the current single farm payment to the new area-based payment.

Miller also called for a support package for those farmers in the less favoured areas to ensure the impact of change could be managed.