Farmers' concerns show why Humza Yousaf needs to break with Scottish Greens – Murdo Fraser

Relations between farmers and the Scottish Government have hit a low ebb as the Greens make their influence felt

Most political parties sizzle when they are in line with public opinion. The Scottish Greens crackle when they are against it. And more than an autocrat would dream of, they are given licence to impose their will on the Scottish people by the First Minister Humza Yousaf. Understandably, it grates.

The Royal Highland Show at Ingliston last week was sizzling in the sunshine. This annual event attracts thousands of families to what is a showcase of Scottish agriculture and the countryside. It is both a social occasion and an opportunity to do business. Judges’ awards are much sought after for livestock, while there is the chance to catch up with old friends and discuss the latest developments in rural policy.

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I spotted a number of Scottish Conservative colleagues at the show, along with politicians from the SNP and other parties. But as far as I could see, there was no representative present from the Scottish Green party. Perhaps this is not surprising given the concerns being expressed by the farming community about what they call the “hardening of the Green agenda”.

There is no better illustration of the tensions that exist within the Scottish Government on rural issues than the case of Asulox. This herbicide is used to control bracken on hills and uplands and is regarded as an essential land management tool by the rural community.

Uncontrolled, bracken will spread quickly and develop as a nature-deplete monoculture, carrying ticks which are a substantial risk to livestock and to human beings. Having had friends who have fallen seriously ill with Lyme disease following a tick bite, I can well understand why those who work in rural areas regard Asulox as an essential product.

The UK Government has authorised the use of Asulox in England this year, recognising the very serious health consequences to both humans and animals should it not be permitted. The Scottish Government has taken a different view. Perhaps with a Green tail wagging the dog yet again, it is refusing to approve Asulox for use here.

In her statement on the issue, the SNP Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon stated: “The Scottish Government is committed to science-based decision making…” – words that will come as something of a surprise to those who have looked on aghast as the SNP administration has rejected GM foods, gene editing, nuclear energy, and continues to hold the view that a woman can have a penis.

Predictably, the Scottish Government’s decision provoked a furious reaction from the National Farmers Union of Scotland. Its president, Perthshire farmer Martin Kennedy, demanded the decision be reviewed urgently. But the government’s stance on Asulox is only one example of many concerns farmers have about the influence of the Greens in decision-making. Martin Kennedy quoted a number of other issues, including concerns about the management of species such as beavers, white-tailed eagles and geese. These are creatures whose activities can gave a negative impact on farming activities.

Previously the SNP government accepted the need for a balanced approach and for the management of numbers. But now they’ve been greened. The pendulum has swung the other way against the farming community. The translocation of beavers will increase the likelihood of farmers suffering severe agricultural damage, whilst the growth in numbers of white-tailed eagles will see more sheep and lambs lost.

What concerns the NFUS is that the collaborative approach they have had with government and its agencies over decades has been lost. The Bute House Agreement between the SNP and Greens has meant an end to the Scottish Government’s relationship with rural and farming communities.

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They see the burgeoning influence of the tiny Green party on the policies of the Scottish administration as nothing but damaging. The Asolux situation is just one illustration of the wrong-headed approach of the Scottish Government which is now a household of adolescents without an adult to guide it.

The Greens are actively hostile to economic growth. They explain that in a mosaic of seemingly small acts which stifle the activities of those who simply want to run a business. The image which is left when you draw back is inimical to the Scottish Government’s wider objectives of supporting Scotland’s economy.

Just last week we saw the veteran SNP MSP Fergus Ewing vote with the Scottish Conservatives on a motion of no confidence against the hapless Green minister Lorna Slater. In good conscience, he had little other option.

There are many other SNP backbenchers who share my concern about the unhealthy influence of the Greens in government. The Perthshire MSP Jim Fairlie has been outspoken in recent weeks, calling for Asulox to be approved for use by farmers and crofters in Scotland, to help control bracken and reduce the health risk from ticks.

Now that his calls have been rejected, it will be interesting to see whether he is prepared to continue the fight on behalf of his farming constituents and line up with Fergus Ewing in taking on the Greens. Yet for Humza Yousaf, it appears that the views of SNP MSPs count for less than those of Patrick Harvie or Lorna Slater. With independence now clearly off the agenda for at least another decade, SNP MSPs are increasingly asking the question: “What is the point of the Bute House agreement?”

The undue influence of the extremist, or perhaps increasingly eccentric, Greens, whether on rural issues, on highly protected marine areas, or on the deposit return scheme, is damaging the reputation of the Scottish Government with the business, rural and fishing communities. Surely it cannot be much longer before Humza Yousaf bows to the inevitable and puts the Greens back into opposition.

The SNP no longer sizzles with Scottish public opinion. The Greens continue to crackle against good sense. It is a test of the First Minister’s leadership of when or whether he decides to say ‘pop’.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife



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