Stephen Jardine: Food now on the political agenda

Food now on the political agenda

Food also helps define who we are. This month we feast on the haggis and approach it without the squeamishness of others. We love our porridge but in our own way, with salt rather than sugar. And whisky is a drink definitely not for the faint-hearted.

But constitutional independence could have immense consequences for our food and drink sector. Food is already a devolved responsibility for the Scottish Parliament although Westminster negotiates in Europe on behalf of Scottish farmers and fishermen.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Food has actually been one of the real success stories for the SNP. The Scottish Government has set ambitious growth targets aiming to build the value of the industry from £10 billion to £12.5 bn by 2017. Last year food exports from Scotland broke through the £1bn mark.

On top of that, the minister responsible for food and drink in Scotland is widely respected. Popular politicians are an endangered species nowadays but Richard Lochhead has been a force for good for the food and drink sector. For the SNP, food and drink is a key economic driver and many believe it is our best route out of recession. The Nationalists see total political control of all aspects of food and drink post-independence as the only way to ensure the interests of Scotland’s farmers, fishermen and food producers are best served.

So it was a wonderful coincidence that brought the UK secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Caroline Spelman, up from London this week. Although planned some time ago, her visit to meet farmers and fishermen began just hours the 2014 independence referendum was announced.

I caught up with her at Glenkinchie Distillery near Pencaitland.

Face to face, she was quick to praise the progress that has been made in the food and drink sector under the SNP. “The success that the industry achieved in 2011 was phenomenal and brought enormous benefits to the economy of not just Scotland but the whole of the UK,” she said.

Surely food and drink would be even more successful in an independent Scotland ? “The future for Scottish farmers and fishermen depends on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy and that can best be achieved from a position of strength by UK negotiators.”

And with that she was off to meet Mr Lochhead in Edinburgh. Their meeting took place in private but from now on, food and drink is likely to become a very public battleground in the struggle for hearts and minds in the run up to the referendum.